Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to remove Liz Cheney as conference chair, the third-highest post in Republican House leadership. They ousted Cheney for her repeated condemnations of former President Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 elections and for calling on the party to distance itself from Trump. Cheney’s removal is the latest sign that the Republican party remains in thrall to Trump, despite his electoral defeat in November and second impeachment in January. With the Democrats now controlling the presidency, the House, and the Senate, and as the Manhattan district attorney steps up his investigation of Trump’s business, why is the Republican Party still loyal to Donald Trump?

Seth Masket is a professor of political science at the University of Denver and the author of three books on American political parties. According to Masket, Republican Party leaders believe that Trump alone can attract voters who would not otherwise vote Republican. At the same time, party officials are terrified by Trump’s ability to destroy his internal critics’ political careers—and by the prospect that he could destroy the party altogether by starting or supporting a new political alternative to it. As Masket sees it, the Cheney drama in the House of Representatives shows the extent to which Trump remains in control of Republican politicians and the Republican Party as a whole.

Michael Bluhm: How is this happening?

Seth Masket: It really is striking, considering the last few months have been among the most silent of Donald Trump’s career. There was this moment, shortly after the January 6 insurrection, where it seemed like a fair amount of the Republican Party had decided they were done with him. That night, even folks like [South Carolina Senator] Lindsey Graham were saying effectively, Okay, this is over. We need to move past this now, because this is getting dangerous and stupid, and he lost.

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