Politics & Policy

Liz Cheney Is Not the Problem

Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R., Wyo.) participates in a news conference with House Republican leadership at the U.S. Capitol, March 9, 2021. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

Representative Liz Cheney has likely talked herself out of a Republican leadership position.

Cheney was already on the hot seat early this year for breaking with most of her party and voting to impeach President Donald Trump, saying of the January 6 Capitol riot, “The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack.” Despite a move against her, Republicans ended up voting to retain her as conference chair in early February.

Shortly after surviving the attempt to oust her, Cheney responded to a reporter’s question about Trump’s looming speech at CPAC by saying, “I don’t believe that he should be playing a role in the future of the party or the country.” This was directly opposed to the response of House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, who was standing next to her.

To be sure, McCarthy himself, on January 13, said that Trump “bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters.” But weeks later, he went to Mar-a-Lago to make peace with Trump.

Cheney has not, and won’t. Both in response to questions and when not directly prompted, she has taken every opportunity to assail Trump and the stolen-election narrative. She drew headlines in February with a speech hosted by the Reagan Institute framing the Capitol riot thus: “You certainly saw anti-Semitism. You saw the symbols of Holocaust denial . . . you saw a Confederate flag being carried through the rotunda.” She gave an interview with Neil Cavuto on Fox saying she would not vote for Donald Trump in 2024. She defended, on Twitter, greeting Joe Biden civilly at his joint address to Congress.

None of these things are objectionable, but the cumulative effect of them has been to keep her name in the headlines for her personal views, when that’s not what’s expected of the conference chair. She now is almost certain to lose her job, and indeed, seems to be embracing her role as a martyr of her own conference.

Of course, at the end of the day, the problem isn’t that Cheney is making controversial statements; the problem is that Republicans consider her obviously true statements to be controversial.

In a recent tweet that sent the move to ditch her into overdrive, Cheney wrote in response to a Trump statement calling his election defeat THE BIG LIE: “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.” This should not be considered provocative.

It isn’t Cheney who is preventing Republicans from moving on and repairing the wounds from the 2020 election. It is Trump himself. Six months after being defeated, he still won’t drop it — in statements, in TV appearances, and in impromptu speeches to small crowds at Mar-a-Lago.

These statements are divisive and false, yet the same people now coming after Cheney don’t raise a peep about them. Indeed, Cheney is being accused of distracting from the fight against Biden when some Trump supporters have displayed more passion about taking her out than opposing Biden’s $6 trillion agenda. If Cheney’s enemies think we should be talking about Biden and not Trump, they’ve certainly picked a funny way to show it.

It’s also worth noting that Cheney is not in danger because she is a RINO who has broken with the party on policy. She has maintained an overwhelmingly conservative voting record and, while noninterventionists may object to her hawkishness, that does not explain the movement to oust her.

If there was any doubt, this was made all the more clear when Trump endorsed Representative Elise Stefanik to succeed Cheney. While Cheney voted 92.9 percent of the time with Trump’s position on actual issues, according to FiveThirtyEight, Stefanik only did so 77.7 percent of the time. As for hawkishness, Stefanik disagreed with Trump’s proposed withdrawal from Syria. And when Trump wanted to withdraw from Afghanistan, Stefanik proudly co-sponsored the Ensuring a Secure Afghanistan Act, declaring that, “The consequences of President Obama’s premature withdrawal from Iraq were far too significant for us to risk making the same mistake in Afghanistan.” The lead sponsor of that bill was none other than Liz Cheney.

But unlike Cheney, Stefanik stood with Trump by peddling his mendacious claims and voting against certification of President Biden’s Electoral College victory.

It’s a sad commentary on the state of the House GOP that this has now become a condition of advancement.

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