There’s been a lot of self-celebration among House Republicans about the tolerance and “maturity” they showed on February 3 in decisively voting down an effort to dump impeachment-supporting Liz Cheney from her post as chair of her party’s House Conference (the No. 3 position in the leadership). Paired with the same conference’s refusal to support a (successful) Democratic effort to deny the wildly right-wing Marjorie Taylor Greene committee appointments, the Cheney gesture was supposed to illustrate the GOP’s Big Tent character in the absence of Donald Trump as the ever-present party leader.
If Wyoming Republicans were supposed to be grateful for Cheney retaining her clout in Washington, they clearly didn’t get the memo. Three days after the House Republican vote on Cheney, Wyoming’s GOP Central Committee overwhelmingly voted to censure Cheney for her impeachment position. She already has two primary opponents for 2022, and her 2016 primary opponent, Darin Smith, is considering a run as well, after saying this about impeachment:
We need to honor President Trump. All President Trump did was call for a peaceful assembly and protest for a fair and audited election … The Republican Party needs to put her on notice.
That she is. Another pro-impeachment House Republican who is in even hotter water than Cheney is South Carolina’s Tom Rice, who was censured by his state’s Republican Party committee in a 43-0 vote (with two abstentions) on January 30. Four potential primary opponents are circling Rice, who doesn’t have Cheney’s Washington clout or connections, and is accordingly looking pretty toasty.
Washington supplied two of the ten Republican votes for impeachment in the House, and while their state party didn’t formally censure the defectors, its “central committee condemned the impeachment of Trump in a 111-to-2 vote, [and] expressed ‘particular disappointment’ in [Jaime] Herrera Beutler and Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, who both voted to impeach,” as the Seattle Times reported.
Similarly, two Michigan Republicans, Peter Meijer and Fred Upton, voted to impeach Trump, and they have been rebuked by county Republican committees in their districts. So has Illinois’s Adam Kinzinger.
Now the Republican senators who voted to convict Trump are getting a pounding of their own from back home. State Republican committees have censured North Carolina’s Richard Burr and Louisiana’s Bill Cassidy in unanimous votes. Similar condemnations are in the works in Maine (aimed at Susan Collins), Nebraska (Ben Sasse), and Pennsylvania (Pat Toomey), and local Republican committees have condemned Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski. Even in Utah, where Mitt Romney is a legend and personal support for Trump has been relatively low, there’s a petition circulating among Republicans to condemn their junior senator for supporting conviction.
Even aside from impeachment, state and local Republicans have been expressing unhappiness with elected officials who were insufficiently Trumpy, like Arizona governor Doug Ducey, who was censured by his state’s Republican Party for his imposition of emergency measures to fight COVID-19.
Will all this angst fade in time, or is it the leading edge of an impending Trump-inspired purge of Republican elected officials thought to have “betrayed” him? That may vary by place and the particular pol under attack. Burr and Toomey are lame-duck senators, having already announced an intention to step down when their terms end in 2022. Collins, Cassidy, and Sasse were just reelected last year to new six-year terms; Collins also represents a state handily carried by Joe Biden. Romney, who likely remains more popular in Utah than Trump, isn’t up until 2024.
Arguably the most vulnerable pro-impeachment Republican senator on paper is Lisa Murkowski, who has committed multiple heresies against the MAGA cause (e.g., voting against both Obamacare repeal and Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation). She’s up for reelection in 2022, and Trump himself has already threatened to campaign for her defeat. But Murkowski has already survived one conservative coup effort, in 2010, when she won reelection on a write-in vote after losing the Republican primary. And Alaska voters just made it easier for her by instituting voting reforms that include the abolition of party primaries in favor of a top-four system that virtually guarantees someone like Murkowski a spot in the general election.
All in all, with the exception of low-hanging fruit like Tom Rice, a post-impeachment purge has no easy immediate targets, and its ultimate success will depend on the 45th president’s long-term role in the GOP. As for Trump himself, his furious blast at Mitch McConnell (also just reelected) this week is an indication that he wants a purge that includes not only those Republicans who voted to impeach or convict him but also those who dared criticize his conduct at all.