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The Learned Helplessness of Republican Elites

GOP donors and thinkers and writers are all very concerned about what's happening to Liz Cheney. And none of them are interested in doing anything about it.
May 5, 2021
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“Can you believe what’s happening to the House Republicans?” a big GOP donor texted me yesterday.

“Actually,” I texted back, “I can believe it. Some of us have been saying for some time that this is precisely what’s happening to the Republican party.”

“It’s terrible what they’re doing to Liz Cheney,” a prominent conservative commentator emailed me last night.

“Actually,” I responded, “I’m not so sure it’s terrible. This may be the best thing that could happen to Liz—liberated from a party enthralled to a demagogue and dedicated to a proposition that is a Big Lie.”

But I now see that these immediate replies on my part were self-indulgent (even though I believe they are correct). I didn’t make the point I should have made, which I will make now.


To donors, business leaders, trade association heads, operatives, commentators, and other powers-that-be in GOP circles:

Don’t just call me to commiserate and lament.

Call them. Call the Republican members of Congress you’ve supported. Call the National Republican Congressional Committee. Call your fellow donors.

And tell them: “No. No more support. If you’re going to purge Liz, we’re gone. Really. For this entire cycle. A party that purges a truth-teller isn’t one I will support. And I’ll say this publicly and I’ll rally my fellow donors to follow my lead.”

And I’d add, to GOP-supporting conservative writers: No more angst.

Say the truth loudly and clearly. Say that the behavior of Republicans is a danger and a disgrace. If all you can muster is concern about how purging Cheney for telling the truth might “diminish” the GOP and hurt its chances with swing voters—if you lack the fortitude to do anything other than play for triple bank shots with an eye toward preserving your place—well, better not to write anything at all.

So, to GOP donors and conservative elites: Enough with the comfortable posture of learned helplessness. Enough with the ineffectual finger wagging. Just Say No.

Alas, the Republican donors and the conservative elites are unlikely to say No. Learned helplessness is a balm for people who would rather avoid taking an uncomfortable stance.

And so they stand athwart history, clucking their tongues and wringing their hands.

William Kristol

William Kristol is editor-at-large of The Bulwark.