Forget the old “never-Trumpers” vs. pro-Trump Republican Party split.

Today’s party divisions are shaped explicitly by the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, with Republican supporters of former President Donald Trump on one side, and Republicans for whom the attack was a final straw on the other. Each wing of the party sees themselves as the real Republicans, and their loosely stated top priorities even sound similar: America First vs. Country First.

In the House, that split is manifesting itself as talk builds to oust Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming from leadership. Cheney was never a traditional never-Trumper, voting with him nearly 93% of the time, according to data from FiveThirtyEight (compare that to Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., who some want to replace Cheney and who voted with Trump about 78% of the time).

Still, Cheney finds herself on the outs for voting to impeach Trump for incitement of insurrection in January, and for calling out his false claims of a stolen election as lies. For the pro-Trump “America First” wing, booting Cheney would send a powerful statement to the insurgent “Country First” wing about who charts the future course of the party.

Banning Trump, booing Romney, pushing out Liz Cheney — it is not the way forward

Top House Republicans have recently criticized Cheney, including Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., who told Axios her comments about Trump were “an unwelcome distraction.” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said on Fox News Tuesday that Republicans were concerned about Cheney’s ability to “carry out the party’s message,” and he was caught on a hot mic saying he’s “lost confidence.”

In response to McCarthy’s comments on Fox News, Cheney spokesperson Jeremy Adler said, “This is about whether the Republican Party is going to perpetuate lies about the 2020 election and attempt to whitewash what happened on Jan 6. Liz will not do that. That is the issue.”

Cheney wrote in an editorial published Wednesday in The Washington Post that the Republican Party is “at a turning point, and Republicans must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution.”

“Republicans need to stand for genuinely conservative principles, and steer away from the dangerous and anti-democratic Trump cult of personality,” Cheney wrote. “Reagan formed a broad coalition from across the political spectrum to return America to sanity, and we need to do the same now. We know how. But this will not happen if Republicans choose to abandon the rule of law and join Trump’s crusade to undermine the foundation of our democracy and reverse the legal outcome of the last election.”

Cheney and McCarthy were at odds last month over the scope of a potential 9/11-style independent commission into Jan. 6. Cheney wanted the commission to focus narrowly on the Capitol attack, and McCarthy wants it expanded to political violence more broadly, according to The Hill. A motion to remove Cheney from her leadership post could happen as soon as next week, when the House is back in session.

The battle cry for a post-Trump GOP
The GOP is not dead yet

The fight over House Republican leadership isn’t the first test for the post-Trump party. Texas’ 6th Congressional District special election was held Saturday, and Country First PAC, a political action committee formed to defend Cheney and the nine other House Republicans who voted to impeach, endorsed Michael Wood, a veteran who voted for Trump in 2020 but said Trump’s actions “forfeited him the right to ever lead this party again.” The endorsement didn’t do much good, though, as Wood came in ninth.

In first was Susan Wright, whom Trump endorsed just five days earlier, and who will face off against fellow Republican Jake Ellzey in a runoff. One special election does not a trend make, particularly this race, which was to fill the vacancy left by Wright’s late husband Rep. Ron Wright, who died in February after being hospitalized with COVID-19. Still, it wasn’t a good first showing for the Country First PAC.

“Taking back the narrative from liars isn’t easy but it’s a fight worth having, and we will win,” tweeted PAC founder Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., a staunch “America First” Republican, responded to the special election outcome by saying Country First is out of touch.

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“You aren’t fighting for the soul of the GOP,” Greene tweeted. “You sold your soul & sold out the GOP bc you are clueless about what Republican voters think and feel, which is #AmericaFirst and loyalty to Trump.”

Greene has a point about loyalty to Trump in today’s Republican Party. As evidenced recently by the boos Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, faced at his state party’s convention and an ongoing election audit in Arizona inspired by Trump’s false claims of widespread voter fraud, Trump and his message remain popular among Republicans.

She also has a point about knowing what Republican voters think and feel. An April Reuters-Ipsos poll found about 50% of Republicans believe the Capitol attack was largely nonviolent or carried out by left-wing activists, and about 60% believe the election was stolen because of voter fraud.

In the fight over the future of the Republican Party, right now the America First wing has the upper hand.

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