House Republicans are preparing to remove MP Liz Cheney (R-WY) from her leadership position for repeating the crime of strongly condemning former President Donald Trump's attempt to overturn the 2020 election result.
Back in February, for the same reason, the House GOP had made initial efforts to oust Cheney from her role as House No. 3 Republican. She easily survived in a secret locked door vote, 145 to 61. Cheney's views have not changed since then. The only problem now is that she kept talking about these views.
“The 2020 presidential election was not stolen. Anyone who claims it's THE BIG LIE is spreading, ”Cheney tweeted on Monday, referring to Trump's false claim that the 2020 election was rigged against him.
Cheney's tweet was just one of several recent statements that upset Republicans who believe that accurately describing Trump's attempted election theft, as most GOP voters mistakenly believe the election was stolen from Trump, does not help the party's message been. As a result, House Minority Chairman Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has said he is fed up with Cheney and supports an offer from Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) to replace her. Cheney's fall is now considered almost certain. (Cheney is not giving in, as she made clear in a comment posted Wednesday.)
Some Democrats have claimed that any Republican who refuses to support Trump's false election fraud narrative will now be expelled from the party. Things are not that simple – at least not yet. Senator Mitch McConnell, who also strongly condemned Trump's actions on Jan. 6, remains entrenched in the Senate as Republican leader despite the former president's urging senators to dismiss him.
But McConnell's own behavior shows the limits of what is acceptable. Criticizing Trump, he faced his own dissatisfaction during his conference and eventually voted to acquit the former president during his second impeachment trial. Since then, McConnell has been cautious and cautious about his comments on Trump, and he fully agrees with the GOP strategy of focusing on criticizing the excesses of the Biden administration and trying to win in 2022.
The problem is that the supposedly "sensible" Republicans who find it difficult to point out that Trump's allegations of a stolen election are nonsense, those allegations are spreading uncontrollably in conservative spaces (as evidenced by the troubling "test" of the elections in Arizona emerges).
And yet, while the media and Democrats may love a doomed view of principle, it's hard to see how much they help when Republicans who speak out against Trump's lies are quick to see their careers implode and by Trump loyalists is replaced – because they won. I'm no longer here to temper the GOP's response to a future electoral crisis.
What did Liz Cheney do?
Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, was a rising star in the House's GOP. After joining Congress just four years ago, she had already risen to become conference leader, making her the third-highest-ranking Republican in the House, and she was seen as a potential future Speaker of the House or even a presidential candidate.
Then Donald Trump started trying to discard the 2020 election results. Trump made false claims about massive election fraud and tried to get Republican officials in key states not to confirm legitimate Biden victories. When those efforts failed, he tried to get the Republicans of Congress to reject these state results on the day Congress would count the votes of the electoral college: January 6th.
In the days leading up to the Capitol storm, Cheney shied away from Trump's behavior. She wrote a 21-page memo to House Republicans saying there was "no adequate basis" for rejecting state results and that doing so would "set an extraordinarily dangerous precedent." Then, when audio leaked of a Trump call pressuring Georgian Foreign Secretary Brad Raffensperger to find voices for him, Cheney said it was "deeply worrying."
Then, on January 6, Trump delivered his infamous speech on the Ellipse (in which he criticized Cheney by name), and his supporters broke into the Capitol afterwards. "A violent mob attacked the United States Capitol to stifle the process of our democracy and stop the counting of the votes in the presidential election," Cheney said in a statement the following week. "The President of the United States called this mob, gathered the mob and lit the flame of this attack." She added: “There has never been a major betrayal of his office and oath on the Constitution by a President of the United States. I will vote to indict the president. "
Cheney's political future has since been in question, with Trump pledging to support a major antagonist against her in 2022.
But, as noted above, the majority of Republicans chose to keep Cheney in her leadership position when she was first challenged in early February. What has happened since then is she keeps being the skunk at the garden party.
The current drama started early last week during the GOP's political retreat in Orlando. Cheney made headlines by telling a reporter for the New York Post that anyone who supported Trump's efforts not to confirm the 2020 election result would not be eligible for the GOP's presidential nomination. Politico's Melanie Zanona reported that House Republicans "raved about Cheney" at the retreat, viewing it as an "unwanted distraction" from the party's message, and McCarthy said leaders must be part of a "single team".
Cheney's punch with President Joe Biden during his address to Congress a few days later didn't help, but things really got worse on Monday when Trump issued a statement that the "fraudulent 2020 presidential election" should be known as "THE BIG LIE." . – Trying to turn back the rhetoric of his critics by insisting on Biden's victory was the lie. Cheney then shot back on Twitter:
The 2020 presidential election was not stolen. Anyone who claims this is spreading THE BIG LIE, turning their back on the rule of law and poisoning our democratic system.
– Liz Cheney (@Liz_Cheney) May 3, 2021
The next day, Kevin McCarthy, minority chairman of the House of Representatives, said in an appearance on Fox News that he had heard a lot of criticism of Cheney, then told the host on a hot microphone that, according to Axios, he "had it" with Cheney. He claimed the problem was not with her views on the election, but that because of her leadership role, she needed to be a team player and put aside disagreements with her Republican counterparts instead of emphasizing them. Cheney's spokesman replied, "This is about whether the Republican Party will perpetuate lies about the 2020 election and try to whitewash what happened on January 6th. Liz won't do that."
And it was. Leaks poured, suggesting Cheney was doomed, and Stefanik (a rising star himself who at key moments has proven eager to defend Trump) decided to play a piece for her job. By Wednesday, McCarthy, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) and Trump Stefanik had approved, making their victory in the upcoming GOP in-house vote – and Cheney's effective excommunication – inevitable.
Republicans need more strategic pro-democracy elites
Of course, many Democrats' response has been to condemn the Republican Party's terrible intolerance and cravings of its leaders, and to praise the few who tell the truth, like Cheney.
However, there is a practical problem here. If Cheney is telling the truth, has no more GOP for it, and is replaced as a Wyoming representative with a hardcore Trumpist who would try to overthrow the 2024 election – how does that make things better?
The fact that stands out above all of this is that most Republican voters genuinely believe that Democrats stole the election for buying into Trump's alternate reality. Most elected Republicans know this is not the case, but many publicly pretend otherwise for political reasons. (Although many Republicans supported Trump in their public rhetoric and cast votes for his doomed challenges, the unilateral secret ballot in Cheney's favor in February suggests that there was broader agreement with her privately under the House's GOP.)
As experience has repeatedly shown, if you are a Republican politician who is viewed as an enemy of Trump, your own constituents have no backs. Vocal Trump critics such as former Sens. Jeff Flake and Bob Corker withdrew instead of facing Republican primary voters again. Another, Rep. Mark Sanford, lost his elementary school. A fourth, Rep, Justin Amash, resigned from the party to avoid that fate and then decided not to run for another term.
Surviving as an elected Republican who has deep disagreements with Trump requires diplomacy and strategy. This is easier in the Senate, with a six-year term, than in the House of Representatives, where lawmakers can get an area code every two years.
In particular, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE), a one-off “Never Trumper”, silenced virtually every criticism of Trump that he had about the year before his elementary school in 2020. With his re-election on the books (and his next not until 2026), he was encouraged to speak again, divulge vital information about Trump's conduct on Jan. 6, and convict him on his second impeachment trial. It's easy to call Sasse craven, but if he had spoken out and lost his elementary school, it would have been one less senator to hold Trump accountable.
It is important to note why, with things chaotic last winter, Trump never really got close to the election result. This is because, despite the public rhetoric and doomed votes of many GOP members, most key Republicans – governors, state officials, lawmakers, most senators, and the vice president – actually failed to use the powers of their offices in Help Trump, to steal the elections when Republican voters largely wanted to. The elites rejected the preferences of their voters in favor of observance of the law, facts and democratic norms.
McConnell, then the Senate majority leader, was among them. At the crucial moment, he resisted Trump's efforts to get Congress to reverse the election results. Despite the ostentatious silence when the Georgia elections tumbled, he stood up for democracy on Jan. 6 (before the rioters broke into the Capitol) and said his vote to uphold the result was “the most important voice that I have ever given up. “And in part because of the signal he sent, Republican Senators overwhelmingly voted to reject the Trump allies' challenges to the election results in Arizona and Pennsylvania.
Of course, Republicans who turn against Trump at the right time could doom their careers anyway – as Georgian Foreign Secretary Brad Raffensperger may have done. But Raffensperger's defense of Georgia's results as legitimate had a very important role last year. If a more ruthless actor were in that position and proved to be pliable to pressure from Trump, things could have gotten a lot uglier. And if Raffensperger had spent a lot of time criticizing Trump over the past few years and lost his 2018 primary to a Trump loyalist, he would not have been able to play that role in 2020.
To preserve American democracy, the Republican Party needs elites willing to act at key moments to defend it. The uncomfortable reality is that in order to hold on to their work these elites may have to lie a lot, or at least shut up before these key moments. Otherwise, they will be cleaned up and replaced by true Trump believers or cynical opportunists. This ensures that in the event of the next electoral crisis there will be no one left willing to do the right thing.