Observing the ouster of Rep. Liz Cheney, Wyoming Republican, from her House leadership position and her criticism of former President Donald Trump, reminded me of a ’70s TV ad for Listerine mouthwash. The company attempted to use the product’s bad taste to its advantage. The ad said: “It’s got the taste people hate — twice a day.”
The Republican establishment may hate Donald Trump, but they would be hard-pressed to deny how effective his policies were, pre-COVID-19. The 74 million people who voted for him is a formidable number. Whatever some may think of his personality — and I deplore how he demeans others — no one can credibly deny he was more successful than any modern Republican president. The question is, can he do it again? Last year’s election was unique due to the pandemic with many using mail-in ballots, fearful of going to the polls. That appeared to drive up the number of voters.
Ms. Cheney’s main distaste for Mr. Trump is that he continues to claim the 2020 election was fraudulent and that he should have been declared the winner. I won’t go down that dead-end road again. I will point out that people have short memories, especially when the major media do not report that contesting election outcomes is not unique to Donald Trump.
An exception was a New York Times opinion column in January 2020. University of Iowa law professor Derek T. Muller, who specializes in election law, wrote: “After Republican victories in 2000, 2004 and 2016. … Democrats in Congress used the formal counting of electoral votes as an opportunity to challenge election results.”
How soon we forget.
Liz Cheney appeared last week on Fox News’ “Special Report” with Bret Baier. She berated the network for what she said was their enabling of Mr. Trump’s election fraud narrative and for promoting “The Big Lie.” Ms. Cheney failed to mention four years of claims by Democrats — augmented by the major media — that Russia helped Mr. Trump “steal” the 2016 election. Special counsel John Durham, who was appointed by former Attorney General William Barr, has spent two years investigating the source of that hoax but has not issued a report.
Mr. Trump could help himself not only with Republican leaders, but also voters, especially should he choose to run again in 2024, by focusing on the future, not the past. Joe Biden will not be removed from office, but if Mr. Trump stopped reliving 2020 and started concentrating on congressional races next year (while also continuing to attack President Biden’s failed policies), Republicans would be in a far stronger position to retake the House and possibly the Senate. This would set the stage for a Republican presidential victory in 2026, assuming the issues and not Mr. Trump’s personality are the focus.
Ms. Cheney is obsessed with Mr. Trump. She can’t let him go and he won’t let her go. Without his Facebook and Twitter accounts, Mr. Trump still issues statements — sometimes several a day — promoting people who support and praise him and calling people names who oppose him.
Name-calling doesn’t persuade or win issues. Perhaps his rants, directed at people he dislikes, as well as his praise for those he admires is not his main goal. It is meant to keep his base engaged. Trump followers hate the Washington Establishment (aka The Swamp) and are preparing for the next battle with Mr. Trump as their leader. Mr. Trump’s planned resumption of rallies next month may show how strongly he retains his base. He must also attract swing voters who largely abandoned him last year because they were turned off by his denunciation of others.
Like that old Listerine ad, some Republicans and a lot of Democrats and the media may hate him, but they are using him more than twice a day. He is also using them.
• Cal Thomas, a nationally syndicated columnist, is the author of “America’s Expiration Date: The Fall of Empires, Superpowers and the United States” (HarperCollins/Zondervan, January 2020).