Thursday, May 13, 2021

Sane Vampires and Unrecorded Votes -- more notes on a defenestration

Writing Tuesday night (we don't actually get up at six a.m. to post these) on the Cheney affair, we pointed out that Republican officials were caught between needing to distance themselves from an increasingly toxic leader and having to appease a cult-of-personality base that will tolerate no sign of disloyalty.

Yesterday, Josh Marshall explained how the sane vampires of the GOP are trying to cope:

The big story is that Liz Cheney was ousted from her leadership position for not supporting the Big Lie of the stolen election and for not endorsing the insurrection. But we knew that was coming. The big story today had to do with how the vote was held. These are usually recorded votes and secret ballots. That was the case last month when Cheney retained her position by a decisive margin. Today it was a voice vote. After the vote, as Tierney Sneed notes here, a request for a recorded vote was denied.

This tells you the real story of what happened here.

To be clear, I’m confident that Cheney would have been defeated in a secret ballot. I’m not saying there’s a secret pro-Cheney or anti-Trump majority. But I’m pretty sure the vote wouldn’t have been as decisive as Kevin McCarthy and Donald Trump wanted. That’s why they didn’t take a recorded vote.

When asked why there wasn’t a recorded vote, Rep. Jim Jordan, a prime mover of Cheney’s ouster, said the voice vote was “overwhelming” and that “you can’t have a conference chair who recites Democrat talking points.”

A recorded public vote would have been a problem too. Even many of those who want Cheney out probably didn’t want to have to commit themselves to it publicly. Many who either oppose Cheney’s ouster or are uncomfortable with it would not want to be put on the spot to go on the record and risk Trump’s wrath.

The great law of legislative politics is safety in numbers. On most divisive issues, most backbenchers just want to stay out of the spotlight. The spotlight is dangerous.


  1. Mark:

    I guess they're making the following calculation:

    1. Most congressmembers are in very safe seats so they have close to zero worry about losing reelection to a candidate of the other party.

    2. But they are vulnerable to being challenged in the primary.

    3. They think that in 2018 they'll regain the House from the usual out-party gains.

    4. It's not such a big deal to them personally if Democrats continue to hold the presidency; also there's the chance they can win in 2024 by just having compliant state legislatures and judges throwing the election for them.

    #4 is the new one. Otherwise, #1,2,3 hold for both parties and it's pretty much the Republican playbook in 2009 and the Democratic playbook in 2017. This is not to say the two parties are equivalent here, just that the general factors seem so strong that it's worth trying to understand what's different right now.

    1. I'm less concerned about #4 than most. Unless you can slip it past like 2000, there's likely to be serious blowback and you start losing sane vampires as we saw in 2020 where few establishment Republicans were willing to die on that hill.

    2. Where I see a bigger and potentially more significant asymmetry (starting around 25 years ago) is in the modern GOP's culture of party loyalty. I think the calculation of the loyalists is to humor the cult members while maintaining distance and plausible deniability until the fever burns out. The trouble is the cult now insists on constant public displays of loyalty.