GOP rift has far-reaching consequences for party

Updated: May. 12, 2021 at 5:09 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Experts say the current rift in the GOP exemplified by Congresswoman Liz Cheney’s ouster from a top House leadership post, has far-reaching implications for party politics, including in Vermont.

North Country Congresswoman Elise Stefanik is poised to take the reigns as the number three Republican in the House this week. She gained national attention during former President Trump’s impeachment hearings by becoming one of his staunchest supporters. Though she has a more moderate voting record than Cheney, some see her as the future of the Republican party. “She’ll speak exactly what’s on her mind without fiddling around and skirting issues,” said Vermont Rep. Brian Smith, R-Derby.

Analysts say her rise to power reflects the changing ideology of the Republican party. “Populist leaders both within the U.S. and internationally make political parties less about program and policy and more about personality,” said Bert Johnson, a political science professor at Middlebury College.

Governor Phil Scott, a moderate Republican who is frequently at odds with his own party, on Tuesday described the power struggle in Congress as a litmus test of party loyalty and say he hopes there are more Republicans who just aren’t speaking up. “I don’t think this is a step in the right direction for the House Republicans,” Scott said.

Former Vermont Republican Governor Jim Douglas says Stefanik’s rise to power isn’t monumental in the shift of the party, despite the fact she voted against certifying election results in four states. He says Republicans need to accept the results of the presidential election and focus on growing and diversifying the party. “I’ve been a Republican for nearly 70 years. Donald Trump has been one for even... I don’t think he defines the Republican Party. It’s those of us that have toiled in the vineyards for many decades,” Douglas said.

Vermont GOP officials declined a request for an interview but said in a statement that Stefanik’s rise to power has nothing to with the party’s work in Vermont, which is focused on growth. “Congresswoman Cheney and Representative Stefanik are both important members of the Republican Caucus. Their voices need to be heard. Ms. Cheney voted for President Trump’s policies around 93% of the time while her potential successor Ms. Stefanik supported these conservative policies only 78% of the time. I hope that the Governor will allow those who support the successful Make America Great Again policies into his big tent, because we need to all come together to stop the Biden agenda that is hurting middle-class Americans,” wrote Jay Shepard, Republican National Committeeman for Vermont.

Even though Donald Trump lost to President Joe Biden, analysts say the words and actions of the former president still carry weight, and candidates such as Stefanik who hitch their political fortunes to Trump will do well. “There’s strength in numbers. It helps each of the individual members when they think about running for the House or the Senate. It doesn’t help Phil Scott, it doesn’t help Charlie Baker,” said Matt Dickinson, a political science professor at Middlebury College.

Now that Cheney has been removed from her leadership role for speaking out against Trump, The GOP now sets its sights on the midterm elections in 2022, where they have a chance in regaining the House. It remains to be seen if there’s enough room in the party’s “big tent” for those who support Trump and those who don’t. For Stefanik’s part, she says she’s focused on a unified conservative message focused on key issues and empowering all Republicans. She has declined repeated requests for an interview.

Related Stories:

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Scott: Cheney ouster critical litmus test on future of GOP

Rep. Stefanik emerges in Republican power struggle

Welch weighs in on Stefanik’s possible rise in House leadership

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