Conservatives Should Challenge Establishment Republicans in 2022

Last week, Wyoming Republican Liz Cheney voted to impeach President Trump.  Conservatives were outraged.  The Wyoming GOP denounced her. Congressman Jim Jordan threatened to oust her from House Republican leadership.  Pundits called for someone to challenge Cheney in her 2022 primary.

Meanwhile, establishment Republicans rallied to Cheney’s defense.  Dan Crenshaw said that Cheney was “principled” and “fierce.” Peggy Noonan defended Cheney in a lengthy Wall Street Journal opinion piece.  When reporters asked a National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman about Cheney’s vote, he sidestepped the question and focused on the 2022 elections, saying the Committee’s “job is to take back the [House] majority.”  

Heading into those 2022 elections, conservatives should expect GOP leadership to defend establishment Republicans like Cheney.  The argument will go like this:  Liz Cheney voted with Trump 90% of the time, while Democrats in swing districts never voted for Trump.  Therefore, conservatives should focus on flipping swing districts instead of challenging the establishment.

That argument is wrong, and conservatives should reject it.  

To begin with, nothing forces conservatives to choose between either challenging the GOP establishment in the primaries or beating democrats in the general election.  They can do both.

More importantly, if conservatives want the Republican party to reflect their values, they need to change the party.  That change will only happen when America First conservatives replace establishment Republicans.

The rise of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez teaches that lesson.

In 2018, Democrat congressman Joe Crowley expected to be reelected to an eleventh consecutive term.  He was the fourth-highest ranking Democrat in the House, and the Party’s big donors loved him.

To be sure, Crowley was not as liberal as his New York constituents -- he opposed universal free healthcare and free college.  But no Democrat had challenged him in a primary since 2004.

Then Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez entered the race.  The unknown 28-year-old fired-up the left-wing base.  She emphasized free healthcare, free college, and abolishing ICE.  She also embraced identity and class politics, declaring that the election was “not only... about gender and race, [it’s] about class.” 

When Ocasio-Cortez raised $600,000 from small donors, the Democrat establishment rushed to defend Crowley.  He raised over $3 million, mostly from big donors.  Then Charles Schumer and Andrew Cuomo endorsed Crowley with the standard establishment line: Democrats should focus on fighting Trump and winning the House majority.

In the end, it was a blowout.  Ocasio-Cortez beat Crowley by thirteen points and then easily won the general election in her far-left district.

Since winning her seat, Ocasio-Cortez has relentlessly pushed Democrats to the left.  She introduced the Green New Deal, reduced Drug Enforcement Agency funding, and pushed to expand government housing.  Along the way, she built a “political army” and a “fundraising machine” to support others in the far left.

According to YouGov, 39% of Americans have a positive opinion of Ocasio-Cortez, while 32% have a negative view.  That makes Ocasio-Cortez the eleventh most popular Democrat in the country.  More popular than establishment Democrats like Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and Michael Bloomberg. 

Ocasio-Cortez’s rise has empowered the Left.  She energizes the base and forces centrist Democrats to support far-left ideas.  The media recognizes her as the face and future of the Democrat Party.  All of that success is due to the Democrat base ignoring the party establishment and voting their values.

Conservatives may dislike Ocasio-Cortez.  They may recognize her as dishonest, misguided, and evil.  But if they want an America First Republican Party, they must learn the lesson of Ocasio-Cprtez’s rise: in the long run, replacing an establishment Republican with an outspoken conservative achieves more than installing a centrist Republican in a swing district.

To beat establishment Republicans, conservatives can look to Ocasio-Cortez’s winning formula in 2018.

That formula starts with challenging out-of-touch incumbents in safe red districts.  For instance, Liz Cheney.  Just like Joe Crowley in 2018, Liz Cheney represents a safe district, holds a party leadership position, and has completely lost touch with her voters.

The Wyoming GOP already highlighted Cheney’s failure on impeachment:

Representative Cheney has aligned herself with leftists who are screaming that what happened last Wednesday is the “worst thing ever in our history” (or similar such claims). That is absurd and shows their lack of knowledge of history as well as their willingness to skew the facts to further their corrupt agenda.

Aside from impeachment, Cheney is a neoconservative who is wrong on foreign policy.  Republican voters want to end forever wars in the Middle East.  Only 22% of Republicans believe America should ensure a democratic government in Afghanistan, while over 70% support withdrawing troops.  Only 23% of Republicans oppose bringing troops home from Syria. 

In contrast, Liz Cheney is an outspoken supporter of the wars in Afghanistan and Syria, and she opposed President Trump’s attempts to withdraw troops.

Cheney is also wrong on trade.  The Trump administration worked to bring jobs back to America by renegotiating trade deals and slapping tariffs on China.  Cheney consistently opposed those efforts.

Finally, Cheney is a disappointment on immigration.  NumbersUSA, an advocate for reducing immigration, gave Cheney a score of 85% over the last two years -- about average for a House Republican.  However, Cheney represents a conservative district that Trump won by over 40% in both 2016 and 2020.  Wyoming conservatives can do better than Cheney on immigration.

Liz Cheney is just one example.  There are dozens of others establishment Republicans who represent conservative areas and are vulnerable to a primary challenge.

The second part of Ocasio-Cortez’s formula is using a simple, strong message that fires up the base.  Conservatives should adopt President Trump’s America First message: end the forever wars, restrict immigration, bring jobs back home, and stop Big Tech censorship.  These issues divide the conservative base from the establishment, making them an effective tool in primary races.

The final part of the formula is small donors.  Ocasio-Cortez refused Corporate Political Action Committee (PAC) donations and raised money from individuals.  Can a conservative win with the same strategy?  Absolutely.  Florida congressman and staunch Trump ally Matt Gaetz already refuses all PAC donations.  And in the 2020 cycle, six of the ten congressional candidates who raised the highest percentage of money from small donors were Republicans.  Those donations often came from small conservative donors across America.

Small donations can close the gap between conservative challengers and establishment incumbents.  If conservatives donate to America First primary challengers in 2022, those challengers can win.

Defeating the Republican establishment should be the first priority for conservative voters in 2022.  When a real conservative wins a primary in a red district, it guarantees better representation in Congress.  It also sends a message to centrist Republicans: vote America First or lose your job.  Finally, and most importantly, an outspoken conservative can energize the base and change the face and future of the Republican Party.

Two years ago, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez galvanized the left, beat the Democrat establishment, and changed her party forever.  If conservatives adopt her tactics, they can do the same thing to the Republican establishment in 2022.

Photo credit: YouTube screengrab (cropped)

Jack R. Carlsson is an attorney from Boise, Idaho.  Follow him on Twitter at @JackRCarlsson.