“The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack,” Cheney said in a now famous/infamous quote. “Everything that followed was his doing.”
The next day, on the floor of the House, Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said he would not vote for impeachment, but added this:
“The President bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding. These facts require immediate action of President Trump.”
Which sounds pretty similar to what Cheney said, right? And which makes McCarthy’s announcement over the weekend that he was backing New York Rep. Elise Stefanik to replace Cheney all the more ironic.
See, Cheney is being run out of Republican leadership — a vote to oust her as Republican conference chair is expected later this week — because she has been insufficiently loyal to Trump and willing to speak out on it. And McCarthy is allowing it all and even spurring it behind the scenes because, uh, Cheney isn’t focused enough on the GOP message. Or something.
Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R), a regular Trump critic within the party, took note of the hypocrisy on Sunday during an appearance on CBS’ “Face the Nation”:
“Liz Cheney is saying exactly what Kevin McCarthy said the day of the insurrection. She has just consistently been saying it. A few weeks later, Kevin McCarthy changed to attacking other people. I think what the reality is, as a party, we need to have an internal look and a full accounting as to what led to January 6. Right now it is basically the Titanic. We’re in the middle of this slow sink.”
Why did McCarthy flip-flop?
Well, in the immediate aftermath of the January 6 riot, there were some indications that Trump’s handling of that day might be a sort of final straw in Republicans’ willingness to enable him. Shortly before McCarthy came out condemning Trump for his actions (or lack thereof) on January 6, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had signaled that he would be open to the possibility of convicting the President on impeachment. (McConnell ultimately voted against conviction.)
But once the impeachment vote failed and Trump left office, any semblance of momentum within the GOP behind moving on from Trump ended. It became clear in the weeks and months that followed that there was zero interest within the GOP base to put Trump in the rear-view mirror. Which meant that the likes of McCarthy needed to, um, finesse their initial positions on Trump and January 6.
Which McCarthy did. In an appearance on “Fox News Sunday” in late April, McCarthy had totally changed his tune. Asked about his contentious call with Trump during the riot, McCarthy said this:
“What I talked to President Trump about, I was the first person to contact him when the riots was going on. He didn’t see it. What he ended the call was saying — telling me, he’ll put something out to make sure to stop this. And that’s what he did, he put a video out later.”
So, we went from Trump “bears responsibility” for the attack to “he didn’t see it” in the space of three-ish months. Which, I mean, come on.
The simple fact is this: Liz Cheney and Kevin McCarthy were in a very similar place about Trump and the January 6 attack in the immediate aftermath of the riot. McCarthy flip-flopped to appease the Trump base (and his GOP colleagues). Cheney didn’t — and for that she will be punished.
Make no sense? Welcome to the Republican Party at the moment.