Liz Cheney, the representative of Wyoming, the daughter of a former vice president, and a lifelong conservative Republican, is facing a purge.
Cheney’s transgression? She has continued to insist, truthfully, that former President Donald Trump’s claims about the 2020 election are false, after having voted to impeach him in March for inciting a mob that stormed the Capitol in an attempt to overturn the result.
Yesterday, Steve Scalise, the No. 2 Republican in the House, publicly advocated for removing Cheney from her leadership post as the third-ranking House Republican, and replacing her with Elise Stefanik, who has obsequiously amplified Trump’s lies about voter fraud. “This is about whether the Republican Party is going to perpetuate lies about the 2020 election and attempt to whitewash what happened on January 6,” Cheney’s spokesperson, Jeremy Adler, told The New York Times. “Liz will not do that. That is the issue.”
The Times reported that Republican leadership, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, hoped that “after surviving [a] February vote of no confidence, Ms. Cheney, as an elected leader, would make like the rest of the party and simply move on.” This is a ridiculous claim; the Republican Party has not moved on at all. The falsehood that the 2020 election was rigged against Trump has become the justification for voter-suppression laws in Republican-controlled states across the country. A majority of Republicans voted against certifying the election even after the Capitol riot; fully 60 percent of Republicans believe that the election was stolen.
“I am a conservative Republican, and the most conservative of conservative values is reverence for the rule of law,” Cheney wrote in a Washington Post op-ed yesterday. “The Republican Party is at a turning point, and Republicans must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution.”
The conflict here does not stem from Cheney’s refusal to move on from the lies that sparked the Capitol riot, but from the fact that the Republican Party has embraced those lies as foundational to Republican identity in 2021. Trump has not moved on, and therefore the GOP base has not moved on, and therefore the legislators beholden to that base must repeat the lie as a condition of good standing in the party. Cheney’s fall will ensure that ambitious Republicans eschew the folly of respecting the outcome of elections that the GOP loses. They will all understand that the only acceptable outcome of political contests is Republican victory, and that any system that allows for the possibility of defeat is illegitimate.
As I have written in the past, the belief that the 2020 election was stolen, like the claim that former President Barack Obama was not born in America, is not amenable to fact-checking. The assertion of fraud is an ideological statement that political opposition to the Republican Party in general, and to Donald Trump in particular, is illegitimate. Even if Joe Biden got more votes, this logic holds, those votes should not count, because the people who cast them are not Real Americans the way Trump supporters are. To oppose Trump is to be The Enemy, and to be The Enemy is to surrender any claim to fundamental political rights.
Even a lifelong conservative Republican like Cheney becomes The Enemy if she is willing to uphold essential democratic rights—such as the opposition’s right to govern if it wins the most electoral votes—above the whims of King Trump. Cheney’s brave stand looks likely to cost her the leadership position she holds, and has left her isolated within the caucus, one of the few Republicans who have chosen their vow to the Constitution over their loyalty to the party. Yet the party’s rejection of the rule of law is also an extension of a political logic that Cheney herself has cultivated for years. [Continue reading…]