This isn’t your father’s Republican Party. It isn’t Liz Cheney’s father’s party either. Dick Cheney held the third-ranking leadership position of House Republican conference chair in charge of party messaging back in 1987, a position that catapulted him to House minority whip, Defense secretary, vice president, and the epitome of Republican power for decades. That catapult has backfired for the current chair, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY). Her vocal challenge of President Trump’s future in the party and his continuing attacks on the 2020 elections has left her persona non grata. “I’ve had it with her. You know, I’ve lost confidence,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said on a hot mic yesterday.
Cheney may be saying publicly about Trump what several Republican lawmakers say in private. But Republicans care more about winning back the majority in 2022 than confronting Trump. The overwhelming opinion among Republicans is that party unity is of the utmost importance, which means not confronting Trump and his sizable grassroots support who continue to question the legitimacy of the 2020 election. To that end, Cheney will likely be out of her leadership position next week. The favorite to replace her is Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY). Up until this point, Stefanik was seriously considering a run for governor in 2022 and it’s unclear how redistricting in New York, which Democrats ultimately control, will change her congressional district. Early analysis has her surviving redistricting changes. The 36-year old, who came into Congress as a George W. Bush and Mitt Romney Republican but enmeshed herself with Trump, is well-positioned to claim the spot if she chooses to run for it.
However, whether it’s Cheney, Stefanik, or someone else in the number three spot, it makes little difference in Republican dynamics. When the elder Cheney was conference chair, there was no such thing as Fox News. Twitter was a sound a bird makes. Republican leadership in the House has less control over messaging today. But that’s a McCarthy problem for 2023, as is the issue of Trump’s place in the party and a potential for another presidential run in 2024.
Today, Republicans remain in good shape at this early stage to take advantage of the historical advantages of the out-of-power party heading into the midterms. To that end, vulnerable Democrats are taking notice. Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL) yesterday announced that he is running for governor in 2022. The former Republican governor turned Independent turned Democrat, won his 2020 House reelection by six points in a swing district President Biden won by just four points. Republicans are in control of the redistricting process in the state, with Crist’s district in danger of becoming inhospitable for Democrats. Rep. Val Demings (D-FL), who represents a safe seat in Orlando, is also seriously considering a run for governor. Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL), who won her district by 12 points and which Biden won by 10 points, is taking a serious look at running for senator in 2022. Her seat may also be at risk from redistricting. Crist (who once held higher office), Demings (who was a finalist for Biden’s VP pick), and Murphy (who is co-chair of the moderate Blue Dog Coalition) are all ambitious Democrats who may see a brighter future in taking a gamble in uphill races for higher office (Republican Governor Ron DeSantis and Senator Marco Rubio are both early favorites for their reelections) than in sticking around the House.
It’s not just a Florida sentiment. Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL), one of seven Trump-district Democrats announced her retirement this week. Two other Trump-district Democrats, Reps. Cindy Axne (D-IA) and Ron Kind (D-WI), are taking real looks at a run for higher office. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) already announced his bid for Senate. He won his blue-collar district by about eight points when Biden won it by a little over three points.
In 2020, more House Republicans retired than Democrats, but Republicans were the ones who ended up netting 12 seats. Yet it’s clear where the sentiment is among many vulnerable House Democrats today. According to an analysis by The Economist, retirements are not predictive of election outcomes in presidential years, but they are in midterms. This makes Democratic retirements a more important variable to watch than the latest Republican intra-party hoopla.
This Democratic acknowledgement of a tough 2022 environment also creates something of a crisis mentality in the party to get as much of their legislative agenda passed as possible this year while they still control both chambers of Congress.