The Latest Example of the Nonhierarchical Nature of US Parties

A minor story that illustrates a far bigger problem in our politics.

Via the Casper Star-Tribune: Wyoming GOP votes to no longer recognize Rep. Cheney as a Republican

Wyoming Republican leaders voted this weekend to no longer recognize Rep. Liz Cheney as a member of their party.

The resolution, which does not strip Cheney of any tangible power, passed the Wyoming GOP Central Committee by a vote of 31-29 during a Saturday meeting Buffalo.

Does this vote stop Cheney from calling herself a Republican or being a member of the Republican caucus in the House?

No.

Does it stop her from running in the Republican primary next year?

No.

Does it stop her from being the Republican nominee should she win the primary?

No.

This illustrates, yet again, the basic lack of control that US parties have over their labels.

Indeed, note the headline: the Wyoming GOP no longer recognizes Cheney as a Republican and wants others to follow suit.

The end of the resolution made an appeal to congressional Republicans by asking that the “House Republican Conference Leadership immediately remove Representative Liz Cheney from all committee assignments and the House Republican conference itself, to assist and expedite her seamless exodus from the Republican Party.”

Frank Eathorne, chairman of the state GOP, did not respond to request for comment.

This is kind of like me deciding that I will no longer call James Joyner “James” and that, indeed, he can no longer use that name, and wouldn’t you all join me in my choice?

Ok, so why comment on this?

First, it helps make an overarching point about our parties. They are not coherent, hierarchical organizations that put forth a platform that their members must conform to. They do not provide the clarity of representation choice that parties should in a representative democracy.

Second, it still shows the power and significance of these labels and the ways in which parties nonetheless play a pivotal role in our system. Cheney needs the label for re-election. And since the name of the game in the House is the numbers needed to control the chamber, the GOP causes doesn’t want to kick her out. A PITA RINO is more valuable than a party-switcher any day.

This sums to a great deal of dysfunction in our politics. Parties are central to winning elections and to governing. Cheney knows she would have a lesser chance of winning an election as an independent or with a new party label, even in Wyoming (due to a combination of electoral math and the fact that most voters are deeply tied to their partisan team). Further, the Republicans in Congress know that they need as many seats as they can get for their goal of taking over the majority, so kicking people out isn’t to their advantage, no matter how big of a pain in their collective rears Liz Cheney is to them.

While I certainly understand that in theory, Liz Cheney could go independent (a la Bernie Sanders), or even form her own party, she diminishes her electoral prospects doing that, because such a move would split the deeply Republican vote in her state.

In other democracies, the changing political culture and zeitgeist lead, often, to new party formation. Really, all it often takes is a strategic need without some major shift in public thought. (I can think of recent examples in Germany and Israel, and I could drone on for a while about Colombian examples). The power-seeking actors can create new vehicles with new labels to appeal to voters. In the US, the institutional structures (such as parties that do not really control their own labels and primaries to nominate candidates) lead the existing parties to absorb changes and so you get weird fights like Cheney v. the Wyoming GOP (and other such fights in recent years).

If parties are supposed to be vehicles to signal policy goals and political values (and they are), the US structure is not doing a very good job. And, as I have noted, this mess is how people who hear “Republican” and think it means “small government, low taxes, conservative social policy” will vote for a Marjorie Taylor Green or a Paul Gosar (and then get incensed when their team is attacked in the press or on the floor of the House).

I fully recognize that there are voters out there (especially in the primaries) who very consciously vote for MTG, Paul Gosar, et al. and all they represent (although I would argue that even in many of those cases, the enthusiasm and support is fueled by only having two real choices, if that, on the ballot).

The irony is that by objective measures, Liz Cheney is far more the ideal type of how a lot of us would have defined a “Republican” than is MTG. Or, more likely, Cheney is what an ideal type Republican was and MTG may be closer to what it is becoming (or, at least, a major faction thereof). It is our system (again, especially primaries) that allows MTG types a foothold in the party. I am not saying there aren’t a lot of voters who like MTG-style politics, as sadly there are. But in a more representative system, the MTG QAnon Party would be its own thing and the Cheney-style GOP another. Instead, our system sticks them in the same basket, which is part of why the GOP is well-positioned to retake the House in 2022 and for the MTG faction to have disproportionate influence over our government.

The rules and structures that we create to govern ourselves have consequences and ours very much create strict bipartism and a lack of representation (made worse by a host of other factors).

Our political signalling is all screwed up and the structures we have reinforce it.

FILED UNDER: US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. James Joyner says:

    With the primary system, we’ve essentially flipped the script. The party bosses are no longer the boss of anything. The hoi polloi decide what the party is. The party of Romney became the party of Trump despite every effort of the Establishment to stop it.

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  2. Michael Reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:

    The party of Romney became the party of Trump despite every effort of the Establishment to stop it.

    Well, not every effort. Just every effort that could be carried out by corrupt invertebrates.

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  3. MarkedMan says:

    This is why I roll my eyes whenever someone bemoans the lack of two viable parties in this or that city or state. The recent New York City mayor’s race gives a perfect example of just how meaningless such a complaint is.

    NYC is a racially diverse city full of immigrants. If the Republican bosses had a) control over the nominating process and b) a lick of sense, they would pick a right of center candidate laser focused on crime and quality of life issues. But, as Steven points out, because of the primary system the Republican nominee was a racist clown who, due to his years on talk radio and TV, has hundreds of recordings of disparaging comments against minorities and immigrants. The Republican electorate is deeply, deeply racist and that’s who they want speaking for them, party leaders be damned, and if better yet that he offended the immigrants and minorities. As in most places, the Republican electorate is more interested in giving people they don’t like the finger than in accomplishing anything positive, and there are a whole lot of people they don’t like.

    So in NYC contest of ideas took place entirely within the democratic primary, where the voters had a wide variety of politicians vying for their vote. In the end, they essentially chose someone who in past eras would have been a Republican.

    The Republican primary electorate, weak and effectual and small in number, nationalized their primary. Turning it into a mirror of Trumpian values. In contrast the Democratic electorate (correctly) didn’t take the Republican nominee seriously and so were free to focus almost exclusively on local issues. Having a viable Republican candidate in play would have been a detriment to the voters choices, resulting in a focus on party orthodoxy rather than NYC issues.

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  4. Barry says:

    Adding on – once Trump was clearly winning, 90% of resistance evaporated.

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  5. James Joyner says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I’m not sure what more they could have done to sway the nomination to a more reasonable candidate. The Dens did a really good job this cycle of convincing all the other moderates to drop out and endorse Biden. But there was no obvious default candidate in 2016 (Jeb never gained traction and dropped our early and there were multiple also-rans).

    In an ideal world, the leadership would have endorsed Hillary at that point. But there’s no way they were going to do that and I’m not sure it would have even mattered.

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  6. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @James Joyner: @Michael Reynolds: And what is Romney (or anyone else in the GOP as far as that goes) objecting with FG on policy about? Nothing significant that I’ve seen or heard. Everyone objects to FG as a boor. Even Ted Cruz when he was running against FG in the primary did that–while he was also asserting that he would be better at Trumpism than FG. The Senatorial Caucus in the GOP wouldn’t convict FG even after he’d been voted out of office despite the fact that it would have solved all their MA(Even)GA 2024 problems. “The party of Romney has for a long time been became the party of Trump despite every and this is why no one ever expends even minimal effort of the Establishment to stop it.” FTFY.

    The horse is tired. And nearly dead. Stop trying to spur it to go further.

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  7. PT says:

    So this is what I’ve been struggling with –

    The irony is that by objective measures, Liz Cheney is far more the ideal type of how a lot of us would have defined a “Republican” than is MTG. Or, more likely, Cheney is what an ideal type Republican was and MTG may be closer to what it is becoming

    Yes. So why aren’t there more R’s in leadership positions taking a stand on principle? I know it isn’t so simple an answer, and Trump and all that, but it seems to be largely because our primary system and the motivation to stay in power. So how do we create incentives, and why aren’t isn’t anything being done by responsible adults, to change our primary system? Of course, I operate on the assumption that there are those more responsible than I in elected office. Maybe its past time I reevaluate that. And if what the R’s are becoming ala MTG is palatable because power is the point, then we really are sliding in the wrong direction lately.

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  8. EddieInCA says:

    @James Joyner:

    @StevenTaylor

    Look at this poll: https://www.mediaite.com/news/new-poll-most-white-women-without-college-think-biden-didnt-legitimately-beat-trump-in-2020/

    72% of self-identifying Republicans think the 2020 election was stolen from Trump by Biden.
    82% of Fox viewers believe the same thing.

    My question to you both is how can Democrats compete in an arena where facts don’t matter? I’m genuinely asking because as long as there is money to be made with misinformation, people are going to misinform and people are going to believe the misinformation.

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  9. Michael Reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:
    1) Exclude Trump from debates as a man clearly unqualified for the job.
    2) If nominated, cut off any party funds going to the Trump campaign.
    3) Issue a unified statement from previous GOP presidents, SecStates, SecDefs etc…
    4) GOP congresspeople could have announced that if Trump were to win, they would switch parties.
    5) Pick one reasonable guy and unite behind him.

    I could go on. If we assume that Republicans care nothing about the country, nothing about anything but their own careers, then yes, they were helpless. But that makes my point: corrupt invertebrates failed, but had they possessed spines they could have stopped him. And if all their measures failed to stop him from being nominated, the GOP congress could have castrated him by sending members over to Team Blue.

    How is it we send soldiers into combat where they risk, life, limb and sanity, while excusing generally wealthy politicians who’d risk only career advancement?

    These people are cowards. They are weak. Spineless. Corrupt.

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  10. gVOR08 says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Quite agree. They could and should have stopped him. But that would have required, as you say, caring about anything except their own pathetic careers.

    All they’d have to do now is support Ds and pass a bill requiring all prez candidates to publish their last ten years of tax returns, subject to IRS certification of authenticity. Good chance that alone would be sufficient to keep TFG from filing for prez.

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  11. Gustopher says:

    This is kind of like me deciding that I will no longer call James Joyner “James” and that, indeed, he can no longer use that name, and wouldn’t you all join me in my choice?

    I could be open to this. What are we calling the Blogger Formerly Known As James now?

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  12. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I don’t think they could have done Number 5, but all the rest.

    Of course, I also think McCain did his country a great disservice when he didn’t fire Palin.

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  13. @Michael Reynolds:

    #1 is a choice for TV networks and the groups that put on debates, not the parties.
    #2 Money is mostly raised by candidates. (And Trump could have self-financed).
    #3 There was some of that, but not from former presidents, which was disappointing.
    #4 This is not only unrealistic, it is a massive collective action problem.
    #5 This was the only viable option, but as a James noted, there wasn’t an obvious choice (and the GOP primary rules for delegate allocation made it difficult).

    BTW, you are basically making my point about the institutional weakness of the parties.

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  14. (In other words, very little of what you list is actually something the party, as an organization, could do. It is mostly a list of things in someone else’s hands, or is a collective action problem requiring substantial coordination and cooperation).

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  15. @PT: There is a lot that could be said, but part of my point is that since there is no central control over Party label you can get drift to MTG types or others and there is no centralized way to make sure that the party looks one way or the other.

    In stark terms, the white nationalists have direct access to the party label. They don’t have to form their own new party.

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  16. In Germany, for example, you get the Alternative for Germany emerging as the populist far right as distinct from the CDU/CSU center-right.

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  17. wr says:

    @EddieInCA: “My question to you both is how can Democrats compete in an arena where facts don’t matter? I’m genuinely asking because as long as there is money to be made with misinformation, people are going to misinform and people are going to believe the misinformation.”

    Uh-huh. And this is kind of my point when certain posters around here keep screaming about how terrible progressives are killing the democrats by saying stupid things. It doesn’t matter what they say, it doesn’t matter what they do, the Republicans are going to make up whatever they want and the morons will march in line. It’s time to end the circular firing squad and start focusing on the real enemy while there is still a tiny chance this country survives as a democracy.

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  18. Stephen says:

    Mr. Taylor,

    I’ve read multiple posts of yours regarding the relative weakness of US political parties. I’m curious what your preferred alternative looks like? FWIW I am whole-heartedly on board with your other reform suggestions (increasing the size of the house, multi-seat districts, eliminating the filibuster, etc.) I can appreciate how it would have made Trump’s rise more difficult. But it also seems to be in some respects anti-democratic in a way you (or I) would find problematic in other contexts. Which is to say, as much as I might hate it, Trump IS the candidate that represents the will of the Republican party majority. Conversely, as someone who feels the Democratic leadership is a bit too geriatric and unresponsive to the concerns of younger folk (subjective I admit), I can see possible changes on this front stifling positive change as well in that dimension. For example, like her or hate her I think AOC represents her district well and can see a strong party ensuring her predecessor maintained his position.

    Maybe you’ve fleshed it out more and I’ve missed it, or maybe you are just commenting on our system as is. I am curious to hear if you think this is a problem that can be fixed or just a fact of life within our current system, and if you could change it what you’d think the downsides would be.

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  19. Erik says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: would it be possible for the parties to trademark their names or something like that to control their brand? I would guess that it isn’t since they haven’t done so, but my Google-fu is too weak to learn why.

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  20. Gustopher says:

    @wr: I’m with you, buddy.

    Anything Democrats do will be called extreme socialist Kenyan tyranny or something. And if Democrats don’t do anything, they will be accused of harvesting children.

    We can’t live in fear of what the Republicans will make of any utterance that is slightly to the left of center, or too tolerant or whatever.

    We have to learn to fight lies and misinformation. That’s a very different problem and I have no clue where to go. Maybe reform our laws so anyone publishing/promoting content to large audiences is liable for the effects of that content?

    If Washington and Oregon were able to sue Fox, Facebook and YouTube for some of the costs of caring for covid patients, it would have an effect. Require large audiences, and put a high burden on what is misinformation, and it wouldn’t prevent you from sharing your idiot uncle’s rants, but it would put a hard stop on it going too viral.

    Also, if Republicans are saying that it’s all tyranny and we are going to round them up and stick them into FEMA re-education camps, we might as well do it, so at least we won’t have to hear from them again. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Shrug.

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