In a speech on Tuesday in Washington, Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney said something remarkable.
“It’s very important, especially for us as Republicans, to make clear that we aren’t the party of White supremacy,” she said at an event at at the Reagan Institute. Of the January 6 riot at the US Capitol, Cheney added: “You certainly saw anti-Semitism. You saw the symbols of Holocaust denial. … You saw a Confederate flag being carried through the rotunda. We, as Republicans in particular, have a duty and an obligation to stand against that, to stand against insurrection.”
Consider that. Cheney, the third-ranking Republican in the House, felt compelled to make clear to her fellow Republicans that they can’t be the party of White supremacy. To borrow a phrase from my childhood: No duh!
It speaks to how far the Republican brand has fallen that one of its top leaders needs to say publicly that the party has to make sure it’s not associated with White supremacists. And trust me, Cheney wouldn’t say something like this if she didn’t have real concerns that her party is currently seen as in the same tent as White supremacists.
The damage done by Donald Trump’s presidency and its culminating event – the Capitol riot – on this front is extensive.
This is a President who suggested, in the wake of White supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, that there were “very fine people” on both sides of the protests. And who, when offered the chance to condemn the Proud Boys, a prominent far-right hate group, during a debate in 2020, said only “stand back and stand by.”
Then there is Trump’s behavior on January 6. Arrests made in the wake of that riot have shown that a number of far-right and White supremacist groups were involved. As The New York Times wrote earlier this week:
“As federal prosecutors unveil charges in the assault on the Capitol last month, they have repeatedly highlighted two militant groups — the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys — as being the most organized, accusing them of planning their strategy ahead of time and in some cases helping escalate a rally into an attack …
” … The groups differ in their focus and tactics: The Oath Keepers are part of an anti-government militia movement that emphasizes military-style training, while the Proud Boys espouse an ideology of male and Western superiority, with members often expressing white-supremacist and anti-immigrant views.”
While Trump spent most of the day refusing to speak out against the emerging violence, when he finally did address the rioters, he said this:
Which, um, doesn’t add up to a condemnation of anyone involved in the riots – including White supremacists.
It’s no coincidence given Trump’s seeming condoning of intolerance – or, at the very least, his willingness to weaponize hate and bigotry for his own political purposes – that in the first three years of his presidency the number of White nationalist groups increased by 55%, according to a study conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Trump’s presidency allowed these hate groups to come out from under the rocks they had been driven to. And now the work of the Republican Party is to drive them right back where they came from – or run the risk of being associated with the hate and intolerance that these groups embrace.
That Cheney feels as though the party doesn’t grasp this reality sufficiently and/or isn’t acting on it appropriately speaks to the dismal state of the Republican brand. And the need for party leaders to start taking active steps ASAP to change the perception that they are in any way, shape or form tolerating the White supremacist movement.