With Trump loyalists consolidating their power over the Republican Party, Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) today launched the Republican opposition.
Cheney is currently the House Republican Conference chair, managing committee assignments, media appearances, and certain debates in the House. Her refusal to whitewash the January 6 insurrection and to support the former president has led him to press for her removal from her position as the third most powerful House Republican.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy appears to have caved to that pressure. A vote will likely take place next week, and observers expect Cheney to lose. Trump loyalist Elise Stefanik (R-NY), who voted against counting the electoral votes for Joe Biden on January 6, appears to be the front-runner to replace the Wyoming representative.
Cheney laid the stakes of this political moment out starkly in an op-ed in today’s Washington Post. Trump continues to lie that he won the 2020 election and that Biden is an illegitimate president. That language provoked the violent insurrection of January 6 and, according to judges and prosecutors, still threatens to rally his supporters to attack the government.
And aye, there’s the rub: Trump has borne no consequences for the January 6 crisis, and there is every reason to believe he will spur his supporters to make similar efforts to install him as president again in the future. “Trump is seeking to unravel… confidence in the result of elections and the rule of law,” Cheney said. “No other American president has ever done this.”
She called for a bipartisan review of the January 6 insurrection by a commission with subpoena power to dig into what happened, and said that no member of Congress currently serving should participate. Instead, she proposed tapping former officials, judges, and other prominent Americans who can be objective. Rejecting calls of Trump loyalists to muddy the waters with a general commission that looks into the Black Lives Matter movement as well as the insurrection, Cheney wrote that a careful examination of the events surrounding January 6 is imperative to stop the “misinformation and nonsense circulating in the press and on social media.”
Such a commission would almost certainly want to interview a number of Trump loyalists, including McCarthy, who had a phone exchange with the former president during the insurrection that observers say devolved into a shouting match. It seems unlikely that all of those interviewed would come out looking good. Having thrown in their lot with the former president, Republican leadership is now yoked to the testimony about the insurrection—and the videos—that will come out in the future.
“The Republican Party is at a turning point, and Republicans must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution,” Cheney wrote. “History is watching. Our children are watching. We must be brave enough to defend the basic principles that underpin and protect our freedom and our democratic process.”
Cheney is no Democrat. She voted with Trump nearly 93% of the time (compared with Stefanik’s nearly 78%). It is impossible to argue that her opposition to Trump is partisan, which makes it all the more powerful. She looks to be trying to reclaim the Republican Party from Trump and his supporters, and she has a decent shot at it.
First of all, she is already getting a lot of airtime, and being tossed out of House leadership for refusing to lie will get her even more. She has the backing of the low-tax, no regulation, military hawk, business side of the party, which also happens to be the side with the most money. Corporations have been dragging their feet at supporting the Trump wing; she will offer Republican policies without the overthrow of the government.
The anger of Republican lawmakers at corporations withholding money from those who backed the insurrection suggests they are keenly aware that they will have to turn entirely to the Trump base for cash. According to Greg Bluestein of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham brought this up last night when he spoke at the annual fundraiser for the Georgia Republican Party. Informed that corporations had been reluctant to chip in for the event, Graham said: “I don’t know how much money you lost from these corporate sponsors not giving you money but I’m gonna get on Sean Hannity’s show we’re going to raise every penny of it back—and these people can kiss my ass as far as I’m concerned.”
That quest for money from the grass roots is behind at least part of today’s outpouring of fury from Trump loyalists after Facebook upheld the former president’s ban. Facebook was key to Trump’s power: he used it to gin up his base’s anger and then to get his supporters to send him money. Losing that platform weakens him.
For his part, the former president today attacked Cheney, and also Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and former Vice President Mike Pence, whom Trump blamed for refusing to stop Biden’s election. Far from abandoning the Big Lie, Trump doubled down on it, insisting that the 2020 election was fraudulent. If only Pence and McConnell had been stronger, he wrote, “we would have had a far different Presidential result, and our Country would not be turning into a socialist nightmare!” He ended with words that proved right the concern that he will continue to back attacks on our government: “Never give up!” he wrote.
Pro-Trump Republican leadership is now tied to that mess. Cheney and those who might rally to her side are not.
While today’s drama played out among the Republicans, Biden and his administration kept moving forward. When asked about his support for Cheney, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said simply, “One-hundred percent of my focus is on stopping this new administration.” Asked about McConnell’s comment at today’s press conference, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, “I guess the contrast for people is 100% of our focus is on delivering relief to the people and getting the pandemic under control.”