It is very likely that next week House Republicans will call for a vote to remove Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the No. 3 House Republican, from her leadership position as House Republican Conference chair. The reason? She believes in our country’s foundational democracy, and she’s not afraid to say it — over and over and over again.
This is the leadership Republicans should be backing. Instead, they are standing in the shadows and hoping she either disappears or shuts up.
She’s also not afraid of former President Donald Trump, nor is she afraid of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. Cheney has repeatedly called the Jan. 6 insurrection “a threat to democracy” — a surprisingly controversial statement given what all of America witnessed on live television.
This is the leadership Republicans should be backing. Instead, they are standing in the shadows and hoping she either disappears or shuts up. Instead of backing from her peers, one of Cheney’s biggest supporters right now is House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who hardly agrees with her colleague on anything — except, perhaps, the danger posed by Trump.
This should sound familiar. Back in February, Cheney’s leadership position was on the line because of her vote to impeach Trump. She told her conference it was a vote of conscience — a word that many in the room probably had to look up.
At that closed-door meeting, Cheney also spoke of furthering Republican values, like lower taxes and limited government, and of furthering American ones — like rooting out white supremacy. But her sense of conviction was too much for colleagues like Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Kelly, who responded with the kind of misogyny that would have made Trump proud.
“You look up into the stands and see your girlfriend on the opposition’s side,” Kelly said. “That’s one hell of a tough thing to swallow.”
The conference vote was conducted by secret ballot. Perhaps this anonymity saved Cheney: While most members of her party are too scared to stand up to Trump publicly, 145 members voted with her, with 61 against.
Since then, Cheney has stayed true to values. She has maintained the importance of a bipartisan commission to investigate the Capitol violence. She believes President Joe Biden was lawfully elected president of the United States. These two facts should be obvious to any member of Congress who supports and believes in the U.S. Constitution. And yet here we are.
What has the GOP been unified about, except something to do with Mr. Potato Head and Dr. Seuss?
The Republicans in Washington know Cheney is right. They simply do not care. They talk about the need for unity as they work to take back control of the House in 2022. But what has the GOP been unified about, except something to do with Mr. Potato Head and Dr. Seuss? The Republicans (in the House especially) have not offered one constructive policy position, nor have they shown much interest in working with the Democrats on any reforms.
With the exception of a few other dissenters, the only messaging coming out of the Republican House conference is their support for Trump’s “Big Lie.”
On Monday, with the likely upcoming vote to strip her of her leadership position making headlines, Cheney doubled downed in a tweet. This time she called out her Republican colleagues: “The 2020 presidential election was not stolen. Anyone who claims it was is spreading THE BIG LIE, turning their back on the rule of law, and poisoning our democratic system.”
Plenty of former Republicans and current Republicans who supported Biden (myself included) applauded. We appreciate Cheney planting her flag on the right side of history. But our appreciation was short-lived. Because, while her stance is admirable, the reality is that being right, principled or honorable no longer matters to Republicans in Washington or to Republicans in leadership positions at the state party level.
Trump still owns the Republican Party, and most of its members don’t even realize they have sold him their souls. Trump has sold the conservative base a narrative in which they are victims, even though it is he and his allies who are attacking American democracy.
You cannot punch through this wall of delusion; the truth is warped, and Trump’s carnival of fun-house mirrors is not leaving town anytime soon.
As impossible as this may seem, the GOP has not hit rock bottom — not even close. The party does not want to leave Donald Trump and Trumpism behind; it would rather knock the stuffing out of true conservatives like Utah Sen. Mitt Romney and Cheney. I hear a lot of people discussing the emergence of a “new wing” of the Republican Party. But that’s not going to happen. The Cheneys and Romneys of the party will be long gone by the time the Republican Party turns itself around.
Until then, the GOP will continue to nominate the most extreme representatives. Perhaps, eventually, such extremism will knock state and local leaders out of power. But when? It will be a long and ugly time for the party. We thought Trump was the worst. But it turns out the worst is yet to come.