Exiling the wrong Republican

It’s clear the only way the GOP will get the message that Donald Trump is a toxic force inside the party is to keep losing, and they should.


U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming

Ernst Jonathan/Pool/ABACA

The woodshed: It’s a popular place in politics, meaning somewhere you metaphorically go when you’ve done something bad. Parties go there when they lose big elections. Presidential advisers are sent there when they mess up.

In 2010, Gen. Stanley McChrystal was summoned to the woodshed by President Barack Obama over comments he’d made to Rolling Stone.

In the winter of 2013, it was the appropriate destination for Obama himself, whose fumbling Obamacare rollout was creating a crisis of confidence.

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In her book “Hard Choices,” former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recounted the time Obama sent her to the mythical spot over a PR flap in Egypt.

The real genesis of the political woodshed comes from a 1981 incident involving President Ronald Reagan and Budget Director David Stockman, who said some less than supportive things about Reagan’s supply-side economics promises. Stockman told the press at the time that he was summoned to the White House for a talking to and, harkening back to his upbringing on a farm, likened the meeting to “a visit to the woodshed after supper.”

Despite the woodshed’s prolificness in subsequent years, what most people don’t know is that it was made up. According to Stockman’s memoir, he and a cadre of Reagan advisers devised the story to make it only appear as if Stockman was being humbled and rebuked, and indeed he kept his job. The woodshed wasn’t invented as an actual punishment, but as an outward-facing messaging strategy.

Republican Rep. Liz Cheney has had a post office box there for the past few weeks, as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy attempts to punish her for refusing to promote former President Trump’s “Big Lie,” the false claim that the 2020 election was a massive fraud.

But Cheney is refusing to make the woodshed her permanent address, instead remaining defiant in the face of her own party’s back-stabbing. It seems she’d like to make the woodshed her springboard to a new chapter as the GOP’s courageous — and conservative — Trump alternative.

She was removed on Wednesday from her conference chair position, and will likely be replaced by newly minted Trump-supporter, Rep. Elise Stefanik.

Presumably, McCarthy believes that will settle that. In a letter to his GOP colleagues, he explained the rationale for ousting Cheney, implying that she’s been an unhelpful distraction in efforts to take back the House in 2022.

“If we are to succeed in stopping the radical Democrat agenda from destroying our country,” McCarthy wrote, “these internal conflicts need to be resolved so as to not detract from the efforts of our collective team.”

Of course, it’s inarguable that McCarthy himself has created the distraction, choosing to obsess over one Wyoming legislator’s disapproval of the former president.

It’s a distraction McCarthy clearly wants — to shore up his shrinking base, make an example out of a perceived traitor and, most notably, hide the fact that Republicans haven’t found a convincing line of attack against President Biden’s first few months in office as of yet.

While some Republicans in the Senate were mixed on the approach to Cheney, Sen. Lindsey Graham was fully on board, saying, “When you make these political decisions, you need to understand the consequences.”

But in this case, the consequences are misguided. The GOP is, of course, sending the wrong person to the woodshed. It’s the political decisions made by Trump, not Cheney, that resulted in the party’s loss of the Senate, House and White House in just four years. It’s Trump’s, not Cheney’s, corruption, incompetence and inflammatory rhetoric that saw wide swaths of voters swing from Trump to Biden, from white suburban women to independents seniors to rural voters.

And it was the Jan. 6 insurrection, where thousands of Trump, not Cheney, voters stormed the Capitol to overturn an election and, in some cases, harm members of Congress, staffers and police officers, that should have cemented fatal consequences for Trump and Trumpism.

But in the days after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the capitol, McCarthy was being pulled in two opposing directions by Republicans: Finally cut Trump loose or quadruple down on the ugliness that tore the party — and the country — apart.

He chose ... poorly.

It’s clear the only way the GOP will get the message that Trump is a toxic and unsustainable force inside the party is to keep losing, and they should. Because of redistricting and other sleights of hand, Republicans will likely pick up House seats in 2022, but the party’s base will continue to shrink and concentrate. It’s hard to imagine Trump can pull off another win in 2024.

And yet, Trump seems to be the party’s only idea. And as long as that’s the case, the GOP has nowhere to go. Except one place. Maybe sending Republicans to the woodshed for the foreseeable election cycles is the only way to bring it back from the dead.

S.E. Cupp is the host of “S.E. Cupp Unfiltered” on CNN.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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