Battle to unseat Republican congresswoman seen as litmus test for the direction of party as it grapples with enduring power of Trump
The battle to unseat Republican congresswoman Elizabeth Cheney from her leadership position in the party is a dispute that goes far beyond simple jockeying for power by politicians.
It is instead widely seen as a litmus test for the direction of the Republican party as it grapples with the enduring power of Donald Trump, the former president who remains hugely popular with its base and thus a force to be reckoned with by party leaders.
Cheney has emerged as a vocal critic of Trump, especially since the attack on the Capitol on 6 January by Trump supporters. But her price for her outspokenness has been an attempt to oust her from party leadership – and maybe even to lose her congressional seat to a Republican challenger.
Who is Liz Cheney?
Cheney is a congresswoman from Wyoming and a staunch conservative who is also the daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney – a man who previously occupied the position of “liberal hate figure” before Trump appeared. She is also one of the most senior women in a party with few in top positions.
Why does the party want to oust her?
Cheney has angered Trump, and by extension his base and other Trump-supporting politicians, by slamming the former president for the attack on the Capitol on 6 January. She also been critical of Trump’s propagating of false claims that the 2020 election that Joe Biden won was somehow carried out fraudulently.
So what is happening?
Congressional Republicans are meeting to hold a secret ballot to vote on whether to oust Cheney from her leadership position in the House of Representatives, saying she is out of touch with the grassroots of the party. She is also being challenged in her Wyoming congressional seat.
What does it mean?
Bluntly, Cheney should be untouchable on paper. She’s a high-profile woman in a party that desperately needs them. She’s a true conservative and daughter of a powerful party elder. On policy, she is widely seen as more conservative than the woman many now tip to succeed her, the New York congresswoman Elise Stefanik.
But in the post-Trump Republican party none of that seems to matter as much. Policy and networking have fallen prey to one thing: a Trump loyalty test. And with her outspoken criticism of the former president, Cheney has failed that exam spectacularly.
If Cheney is ousted – as seems very likely – the few other prominent anti-Trump voices will see it as a chastening moment that will keep their already weak movement even more in the background of Republican politics. It will send a message that to thrive in the next few years in the current incarnation of the party, loyalty to Trump is the be all and end all as the US looks to the 2022 midterm elections and the 2024 presidential contest.