It took a strong woman and a House Republican conference that threatened her. It took GOP leadership more interested in regaining power than in abiding by the Constitution. And it took a Republican Party devoted to nothing other than Donald Trump.
So finally, Liz Cheney did it. It was clear she was going to be voted out of leadership, so she broke with her fellow leaders. She did it loudly and purposefully, saying the quiet part out loud, taking on the former guy directly inside the room with his defenders.
“We cannot let the former President drag us backward and make us complicit in his efforts to unravel our democracy. Down that path lies our destruction, and potentially the destruction of our country,” she told them.
She was booed by some of her colleagues, according to a source in the room.
What Cheney did was nothing short of definitional — both in terms of history and of the Republican Party, or what’s left of it. She drew a neon line in the sand, calling for the truth about the 2020 election and saying that a party that calls itself conservative and doesn’t accept that truth is, well, not legitimate. In fact, it’s a fraud.
Leadership fights are almost always parochial. And House Republicans at first saw it that way. One told me, “We’re just tired of it. Sometimes your friends are too brave for their own good. You don’t have to prove you’re right every time.”
In other words, Cheney had the temerity to challenge Leader Kevin McCarthy, and speak ill of Trump, so off with her head.
But in trying to curtail Cheney’s ascent as a leader within the party, they handed her a bigger megaphone. She’s not just a House GOP someone, she’s now a national leader — with national exposure. And so Cheney is now a national story.
There’s a possibility that all of this could boomerang against Republicans, but it’s hard to say now. After all, most people don’t care about leadership fights, and they don’t vote on them. But Cheney isn’t giving up, and the louder Trump and his minions become, the louder she and other like-minded conservatives will become. No doubt Democrats will use her words against Republicans to try to urge those who don’t believe the election was rigged to join forces. Sixty-nine percent of independents believe Joe Biden was freely and fairly elected. Just sayin’.
Of course, House Republicans were against Cheney, and 70% of Republicans believe Trump was robbed. In fact, just after Cheney lost her leadership post, some House Republicans were in a hearing with two men who had been involved in trying to curtail the US Capitol riot. Rep. Paul Gosar, for instance, made it clear that he believes the Justice Department is harassing “peaceful patriots” across the country who forced their way into the Capitol on January 6, as if they were a bunch of tourists on a stroll.
“Propaganda and lies are being used to unleash the national security state against law-abiding US citizens,” Gosar said.
Trump would love it. Maybe he’ll send an email out about it.
It’s been a long day for McCarthy, who also had to go to a leadership meeting at the White House. He did his best to try to talk policy after that session, but that Cheney issue came up again. He rejected the notion that anyone in his conference was questioning the results of the election. (Note to self: Then why is Cheney’s successor in leadership likely to be Rep. Elise Stefanik, who has continuously objected to the 2020 results? And why did McCarthy himself object to the Arizona and Pennsylvania counts?)
Oh, well. McCarthy was happy to talk infrastructure and about his commitment not to repeal the 2017 Trump tax bill. In fact, he seemed extra happy to be back on message terra firma.
The purge of Cheney may be over, but the story isn’t. Her words, succinct and direct, will be a big part of the political echo chamber to come.
“I will do everything I can to ensure that the former President never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office,” she said in front of the TV cameras. “You can see the danger that he continues to provoke with his language. We have seen his lack of commitment and dedication to the Constitution.”
It’s going to be a political civil war, sure. But it’s going to be fought, and rightly so, with the fervor of a religious crusade. In those battles, those who worship false idols tend to lose.