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The country's polarization has made political dynasties irrelevant

: [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this report, Allan Lichtman mistakenly says Liz Cheney voted with former President Bush 90% of the time. He meant to say she voted with then-President Donald Trump 90% of the time. He also mistakenly says George P. Bush lost a statewide election in Florida; he meant to say Texas.]


There was a moment when it seemed that Liz Cheney's brand, her family name, might sustain her. She is, of course, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney. He was a graduate of the University of Wyoming more than half a century ago. And he was, himself, elected to Congress in Wyoming as long ago as 1978. Allan Lichtman is professor of history at American University. Good morning.

ALLAN LICHTMAN: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Isn't there a tradition of politics as a family business?

LICHTMAN: You know, that genteel tradition has been shattered in America by two enormous historical forces. One is political polarization, which has made ideology or adherence to the party line - in this case, the Trump party line - vastly more important than name recognition, political connections and organization. Based on all of those factors, Liz Cheney, a household word, should have won overwhelmingly in Wyoming. She got slaughtered. The other thing that has undermined political dynasties, of course, is the rise of social media, which is an alternative way to raise funds and to organize. So it's not just Liz Cheney who kind of marked the end of a dynasty. It's also George P. Bush in Florida, who got slaughtered in a primary election against a very vulnerable attorney general.

INSKEEP: I think you're telling me that in a past era, if someone like Liz Cheney had broken with the president of her party, she might have been able to rely on that family name, might have been able to rely on that brand to make connections of her own with voters.

LICHTMAN: That's absolutely right - at one time, but no longer. Brands mean very little. Name recognition means less and less. And family connections have now become, essentially, irrelevant. The Clinton dynasty, the Cheney dynasty, the Bush dynasty - all gone, swept away by history.

INSKEEP: And it's interesting also here that we're talking about social media, because one thing that that has done is increasingly nationalized politics. We could not say that the Cheney's have deep roots in Wyoming and a deep connection to Wyoming because that election, that primary election yesterday, was about national issues and, essentially, what do you think of Donald Trump?

LICHTMAN: Yeah. It wasn't about issues at all. Let me make that clear. Liz Cheney is a staunch conservative. She voted over 90% of the time with Bush. She's perfectly in step with the conservative ideology of her party. She rarely voted with Joe Biden. This had nothing whatsoever to do with issues and everything to do with adhering to the big lie, which has now become the basis of the Republican Party.

INSKEEP: But you're pointing to an interesting irony here. You're saying that family name doesn't mean anything, but there is one name that means everything. I think you're telling me that wherever Donald Trump wants to go, whatever he wants to say - and this is a thing that the former president has explicitly said since his remark about shooting someone on Fifth Avenue. Wherever he wants to - anything that he wants to say, anything that he attaches his name to, a large number of voters will follow there.

LICHTMAN: That's absolutely right. And, you know, in a sense, we now have a party built on Trump's lies because Trump's entire brand is based upon lies upon lies, upon lies, because for him, truth is purely transactional. What is in it for me? That's why I am utterly baffled by all of these experts who say, oh, in considering the prosecution of Trump, does he really believe he won the election? That's, you know, the Zen word; unask (ph) that question. That's not how Donald Trump operates.

And, you know, they're kind of - the Republican Party is in danger of going down the same dark corner as the Democratic Party in the 19th century, when you had - in the South, when you had a party built upon lies, upon the lie that Black people were inferior and could not be integrated into American society. And you had to adopt segregation. And Jim Crow was very authoritarian. And Republicans are going down an authoritarian and dangerous path as well. That's why...

INSKEEP: Let me ask about - in the few seconds we have left, though, let me follow up on that, because I talked to enough Republicans to know that there are a lot of Republicans who know that Trump lied. Even if they still support Trump, they - even if they vote for him again, they know that he lied. And you have Cheney, who, even if she's defeated, is not done. As we heard Deirdre Walsh report, she is planning to launch a new organization to, quote, "educate the American people about the ongoing threat to our Republic." And she has millions of dollars. Could she still make an impact?

LICHTMAN: Absolutely. She has her eye on history. Look; it could be one of 435 in the House. This person who defeated her will be historically irrelevant. Cheney is trying to make her mark on history. That's where she has her eye. But it's going to be very, very difficult to move the Republican Party, as we saw the Republican Party, the party of the police, calling for dismantling the FBI because they launched a perfectly legal search on Donald Trump's home, where apparently, he has national security secrets that endanger the nation.

INSKEEP: Allan Lichtman, professor of history at American University, pleasure talking with you. Thanks so much.

LICHTMAN: Same here. Take care. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: August 17, 2022 at 10:00 PM MDT
In this report, Allan Lichtman mistakenly says Liz Cheney voted with former President Bush 90% of the time. He meant to say she voted with then-President Donald Trump 90% of the time. He also mistakenly says George P. Bush lost a statewide election in Florida; he meant to say Texas.