Athenaeum talk explores identity politics in the GOP

Jon A. Shields and Stephanie Muravchik at Ath talk.

GOP stalwart Liz Cheney may have lost her Congressional seat, but she remains a potent political force, who recently crossed party lines to endorse Democrats and denounce election deniers in the approach to the 2022 midterms.

What does it mean for the Republican party that Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney and herself a high-ranking Republican, is at the forefront of the battle against MAGA Republicans?

The answer, according to CMC Professors Stephanie Muravchik and Jon Shields, is tied to the triumph of identity politics, a topic they explore in their forthcoming book with the working title, The Republican Civil War: What Liz Cheney’s Wyoming Tells Us About the Past, Present, and Future of the American Right.

At the Athenaeum discussion on Oct. 25, the duo presented a sample of their research findings, including photos, gleaned from multiple trips to the “Cowboy State,” which served as a case study. Over the past year, they interviewed political activists and leaders, fundraisers, candidates, campaign consultants, state legislators, and Trump supporters — even attending a “Save America” rally in Casper featuring the former president.

Professor Stephanie Muravchik with students at the Ath.

Muravchik teaches government at CMC and is the co-author of Trump’s Democrats with Shields. Her research explores the intersections of politics with class, family, and religion. Shields, a professor of American politics and the co-director of The Open Academy, chairs the government department. He is the author of Passing on the Right: Conservative Professors in the Progressive University.

According to Muravchik and Shields, Cheney “made Wyoming ground zero for the fight over the future of the GOP.” They explained that Cheney, an “Old Guard Republican” who, as Wyoming’s lone member of Congress, voted to support Trump’s policies 93% of the time, nevertheless drew ire for her role as vice-chair of the January 6 Select Committee and as an avid Never Trumper.

Her crusade against Trump highlighted a rift within the party, which Shields noted, “began long before Trump arrived on the political scene as a political candidate,” although he “certainly intensified it and changed it.”

Muravchik told the Ath audience that through their current research she and Shields sought answers to some fundamental questions. “What's behind the conflict inside the Republican Party? It’s not primarily about policy,  ideology, or even Trump. Why is the party coming apart now?” she said.

“It’s deeper than ideology,” said Shields. “It's over the very nature of politics. It's a disagreement over what politics should fundamentally be about. The governing conservatives in Wyoming don't think the ‘Identitarians’ are doing politics the right way. In fact, there's a sense in which they don’t even think they’re doing politics at all; they're performance artists.”

Shields continued, “It’s identity politics that are partly rooted in social class, but it's also about proving to others that you’re a truly committed conservative. Some of the new insurgents are comfortable members of the professional class. They come from money and they simply style themselves as one of the people. But to their credit — and we have to give some credit here — the new identity politics in Wyoming have done something kind of amazing in this new Gilded Age of American politics, by elevating genuinely working-class folks into positions of power.”

Professors Jon A. Shields and Stephanie Muravchik discuss GOP future at the Ath.


After their presentation, Muravchik and Shields sought “critical and skeptical questions” from the audience to assist them in shaping their book.

A CMC sophomore asked if Muravchik and Shields have seen a difference in how religion has manifested itself in the old-guard Republican Party compared to the insurgent wing of the party.

Given data that shows how “more and more Americans are unchurched,” Muravchik noted that a lot of “these MAGA insurgents do actually have church homes” representing “various stripes of evangelicals” just as Old Guard Republicans do. However, Muravchik added, what struck her about the January 6 Capitol invasion was that the “ceremonial” leader “was a man known as the ‘QAnon Shaman’ wearing a Viking costume. This is not Christian iconography; this is really very much a pagan iconography So there’s a lot of interesting movements among the kinds of social spaces that a lot of insurrectionists come from.”


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Anne Bergman


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