WASHINGTON – The first time supporters of Donald J. Trump came for Rep. Liz Cheney, for the offense of voting to impeach her, Republicans closed ranks to save her leadership position, Rep. Kevin McCarthy boasting that their “big tent” party had enough room for the former president and a staunch critic.
Obviously not anymore.
Barely three months after pushing back a no-confidence vote by uneven margins, Ms. Cheney of Wyoming, the third House Republican, faces a much more powerful challenge that increasingly seems likely to end in her ousting from The direction. This time, Mr. McCarthy, the minority leader, encourages efforts to replace her.
Her transgression, her colleagues say: Ms. Cheney’s continued public criticism of Mr. Trump, her exposure of her lies about a stolen election, and her demands that the GOP tell the truth about how her supporters assaulted the government. democracy during the January 6 riot at the Capitol. .
The turnaround again reflects the passion with which Republicans embraced Mr. Trump and the voters who revere him, and the willingness of many party members to perpetuate – or at least tolerate – the lies about the 2020 election that he continued to spread.
What started as a battle for the future of the party after the violent end of the Trump presidency has collapsed into a one-sided stacking on the part of the Trump team, with critics like Ms. Cheney, the offspring of a legendary Republican family and the lone woman in her party’s House leadership, ostracized or heading for exits.
The final test for Ms Cheney could take place as early as next week, when a growing group of Republicans consider another attempt to dethrone her, with Mr McCarthy’s blessing. Many of her colleagues are now so confident that it will succeed that they are openly discussing who will replace Ms. Cheney.
Tensions escalated on Tuesday, when Mr. McCarthy took to Mr. Trump’s favorite news program, “Fox & Friends,” to question whether Ms. Cheney could actually fulfill her role as the party’s main messenger. (Previously, he told a Fox reporter, “I got it with her” and “I lost confidence,” according to a leaked recording of the exchange released by Axios.)
“I’ve heard from members concerned about her ability to take on the role of conference chair, to get the message out,” McCarthy said during the portion of the interview that aired. “We must all work together, if we can win the majority.”
As former allies grow closer, Ms. Cheney, known for her steel temper, has only digged harder. Minutes after Mr McCarthy’s television stunt, she sent her barbed-wire response through a spokesperson, in effect suggesting that the Minority Leader and Republicans acting against her were complicit in the cover-up. Mr. Trump.
“The question is whether the Republican Party is going to perpetuate lies about the 2020 election and attempt to whitewash what happened on January 6,” said Jeremy Adler, the spokesperson. “Liz won’t do that. This is the problem. “
One of the few Republican voices willing to stand up for Ms. Cheney was Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, who was himself attacked by his party for his unrepentant criticism of Mr. Trump – even booed at the convention of the Utah Republican Party on Saturday. .
“Anyone of conscience draws a line beyond which they will not go: Liz Cheney refuses to lie,” Mr. Romney written on twitter. “As one of my colleagues in the Republican Senate told me after my impeachment vote, ‘I wouldn’t want to be a member of a group that punishes someone for following their conscience.'”
Many House Republicans insist they have no problem with Ms. Cheney’s vote to impeach Mr. Trump, which she described as a vote of conscience. They say they are also not bothered by his neoconservative political positions, which skew – like those of his father, former Vice President Dick Cheney – towards a hawkish stance that is at odds with the ‘American’ trend. first “of the party that Mr. Trump cemented.
But they fear that Ms. Cheney’s refusal to stop criticizing Mr. Trump or condemning the events of January 6 could weaken the party’s message as the 2022 midterm elections approach, as they hope to present the Democrats like big government socialists who are so mean as they should be. voted out of the majority. It also infuriated Mr. Trump.
Many, including Mr McCarthy, had hoped that after surviving the no-confidence vote in February, Ms Cheney, as elected leader, would do like the rest of the party and simply move on.
Instead, she doubled down and occasionally turned fire on her colleagues. The last straw for many came last week in Orlando, where Republicans gathered for their annual political retreat in the hope of demonstrating unity.
Ms Cheney told Punchbowl News she would campaign in Wyoming – where she faces a major challenge – to defend her “every day of the week” impeachment vote. She told reporters that any lawmaker who ran the bid to invalidate President Biden’s electoral victory in Congress should be disqualified from running for president. And she broke with the main Republicans when she said that a proposed independent commission to investigate the January 6 riot should focus on the attack on Capitol Hill by a pro-Trump mob, rather than on the violence of the antifas and Black Lives Matter, as Mr. McCarthy and other Republicans have demanded.
Days later, she drew attacks from the right for slamming Mr. Biden’s fist during his speech to a joint session of Congress, and took to Twitter to defend herself from hailing the president. in a civil, respectful and dignified manner ”.
“We are not sworn enemies,” she wrote. “We are American.”
On Monday, after Mr. Trump issued a statement calling the 2020 election “fraudulent” and “THE BIG LIE,” Ms. Cheney quickly said tweeted his rebuttal, writing that anyone who made such statements “poisoned our democratic system”.
Some Republicans have privately compared her performance to picking a scab, and many of Mr. Trump’s allies saw it as an opening to try again to impeach her.
“Liz tried (seriously fails) to divide our party,” said Rep. Lance Gooden, Republican of Texas, written on twitter Tuesday, emulating Mr. Trump’s caustic Twitter style. “Trump is still the GOP LEADER, Liz! Can’t wait for it to be deleted SOON! “
Ms. Cheney’s unrest marks a rapid change for the Republican Party in the few months since Mr. Trump left Washington. At first, she was part of a small but influential group of Republicans that included Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, and condemned Mr. Trump’s role in stoking the riot with false claims of stolen elections. But many of those lawmakers have since remained silent, leaving Ms. Cheney, once enthusiastically talked about as a future speaker or president, in isolation.
Ms Cheney declined through a spokesperson to comment, and several of her House allies have not officially spoken in her defense, pointing to the tense nature of the vote and the pessimism that some of between them feel about his chances of surviving another challenge. A spokeswoman for Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, another Republican who voted to impeach Mr. Trump and who has been a main critic of the former president, said in a statement that the congressman “Unequivocally supports Liz Cheney for the presidency of the conference”.
Those who know her best say privately that Ms. Cheney’s predicament reflects both her principles and her personality, including a stubborn tendency that sometimes leads her to act against her self-interest. An ally who has been infuriated by her in recent months has described her actions as a Liz Cheney classic: she will always do what she thinks is right, the Republican said on Tuesday, but she will never stop to think that she is wrong.
With the hemorrhagic support from Ms Cheney, Republicans have already begun to scour the names of possible replacements for a post traditionally seen as a stepping stone to the top positions in the party. Conscious of the prospect of replacing the only woman at the head with another man, Republicans are considering choosing a woman.
The leading candidate appears to be Representative Elise Stefanik from New York, a rising star in her fourth term who has long worked to increase the number of women in the Republican ranks and more recently has become a fierce supporter of Mr. Trump.
Ms Stefanik, 36, began contacting Republican lawmakers to gauge their support, according to two people familiar with the private conversations, and on Tuesday night one of her political aides retweeted speculation that she ‘would make a great president. conference. . “
Rep. Guy Reschenthaler of Pennsylvania, a member of the Republican leadership who initially whipped the votes for Ms Cheney, said he was counting potential votes for Ms Stefanik and believed the job would come to him if she ran.
Republicans have also launched Rep. Jackie Walorski of Indiana as a possible alternative. As the top Republican on the ethics committee, Ms Walorski this year managed to balance the work of condemning Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s past conspiracy statements while arguing that she should not be kicked out of her committees.