In criticizing House GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney's repeated condemnations and refutations of former President Donald Trump's "big lie" about his electoral loss last fall, Republicans have said that the party needs to look forward and that she is distracting from messaging against the Biden administration.
"Republicans are almost completely unified in a single mission to oppose the radical, dangerous Biden agenda and win back the majority in the midterm election," Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., said on "Fox News Sunday." "And any other focus other than that is a distraction from stopping the Biden agenda."
One Republican leader who apparently did not get that message: Trump.
Within the past six weeks, Trump has released more than 20 statements falsely claiming that the election was characterized by "massive fraud," that it was "rigged" or "stolen" and that he "won by a landslide," among other assertions. He has praised "great patriots" overseeing a partisan audit of ballots in Arizona, as well as an audit in a small New Hampshire town.
In the last week, Trump tried to reframe language around "the big lie" — which has been used to describe his claims about a stolen election — and referred to "vote dumps." He also wrongly proclaimed that if only Mike Pence, then the vice president, and Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., then the Senate majority leader, had "fought" harder, he'd still be president — language he used in the immediate run-up to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
On the flip side, Trump has posted just one statement directly criticizing the Biden administration, lambasting it over its temporary pause on using the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine.
In the weeks after the riot, which featured his second Senate impeachment trial and his departure from office, Trump has mostly curtailed such election messaging. But Cheney's recent criticism of his falsehoods has coincided with a much greater push on his end. In the past week alone, Trump released about a half-dozen statements questioning the legitimacy of the election.
A Trump representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Trump did publicly comment Sunday about Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit's failed drug test, which he tried to tie to his election loss.
His recent messaging comes as Facebook's Oversight Board said the social media giant was justified in barring Trump from its platform after the riot, citing the "ongoing risk of violence," while Twitter suspended an account that was posting Trump's statements, circumventing its ban on him.
"We're four months after Jan. 6," Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., said on CBS' "Face the Nation." "An insurrection, something that was unthinkable in this country. And the message from people who want to get rid of Liz Cheney is to say, 'It's just time to focus on the future and move on.' Like this was 10 years ago and we've been obsessed with it since.
"It's been four months, and we have so many people, including our leadership in the party, that has not admitted this is what it is, which was an insurrection led by the president of the United States well deserving of a full accounting from Republicans," said Kinzinger, one of 10 House Republicans, including Cheney, who voted in February to impeach Trump over his conduct around the riot.
The long-simmering House GOP leadership feud heated up last week when Cheney, R-Wyo., responded to Trump's statement trying to reframe "the big lie" by saying rhetoric claiming that the election was stolen was "poisonous" to American democracy. In a Washington Post op-ed published Wednesday, Cheney argued: "While embracing or ignoring Trump's statements might seem attractive to some for fundraising and political purposes, that approach will do profound long-term damage to our party and our country."
Banks, chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, who objected to certifying the Electoral College votes in January, defended his vote and a Texas lawsuit that he signed seeking to overturn the electoral results. In his interview Sunday, Banks recognized Joe Biden as president and said he had never claimed that the election was stolen.
"The focus on this program and on other news shows about Liz Cheney and Jan. 6 and Donald Trump distracts us from what we need to do to win back the majority to save this country," Banks said, adding that Cheney has "failed in her mission" as the party's chief spokesperson. "We should be pushing back on the radical Biden agenda, and this is all a distraction from our ability to do just that."
Cheney could be voted out of her leadership position, which leads House GOP messaging, as early as Wednesday. Many Republicans, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, have decided that the path to retake majority control of Congress next year requires embracing Trump — which means either repeating his false assertions about a stolen election or keeping quiet, neither of which Cheney has been willing to do.
"Any member can take any position they believe in," McCarthy told Fox News on Sunday. "What we're talking about is a position in leadership.
"As conference chair, you have one of the most critical jobs as messenger going forward," McCarthy added, saying that person must deliver anti-Biden messaging "day in and day out."
Top Republicans, including McCarthy and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, have coalesced around Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., as a potential Cheney replacement. Cheney's voting record is considered to be more conservative than hers, but Stefanik has embraced Trump and echoed his language around the election.
On NBC's "Meet the Press," Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican who has often criticized Trump, said he is bothered that "you have to swear fealty to the 'Dear Leader' or you get kicked out of the party."
"It just doesn't make any sense," he said. "It's sort of a circular firing squad where we're just attacking members of our own party instead of focusing on solving problems."
Pointing to remarks from an interview Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., gave to Fox News last week, when he expressed the belief that Republicans "can't grow without Trump," Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., said on "Meet the Press" that the party must welcome both the Trump and the Cheney constituencies.
"I would argue there are some that still see him as the messenger of that set of policies that they felt was incredibly positive for our country," said Cassidy, one of seven Senate Republicans who voted to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial. "If you look at polls, there's a whole group of folks that agrees with Liz Cheney. So for us to win in 2022 and 2024, we need everybody. We need those who feel as Liz. We need those who feel as Lindsey."