Republicans don’t want to dwell on the apparent fact that, to be a member of GOP leadership, one must be willing to go along with President Trump’s stolen election claims.
Their procedure to oust Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) — the most prominent Republican willing to say outright that those claims are false — from her position as House Republican conference chair lasted barely 15 minutes and was carried out by voice vote.
Even those who were against her removal were ambivalent about putting that vote on the record, according to one of her supporters. Cheney and her most vocal House ally, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), were the only Republicans willing to get in front of a camera to speak out about the significance of the move.
Meanwhile, to explain why she had been replaced, Republicans stretched for reasons not related to the 2020 election lie — or they brushed past the question altogether.
“I’m not going to get drawn into that,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) told TPM Wednesday when asked about the vote hours earlier. Cole serves as House Republicans’ deputy whip.
“I’m sorry everything happened the way it did, and I’m glad it’s over,” he said.
To hear Cheney tell it, whether to endorse or deny Trump’s rigged election fantasy is a defining question for the Republican Party and the future of the republic. And Trump himself agrees.
Amid statements calling Cheney a “bitter, horrible human being” who was “bad” for the Republican Party, Trump has also reiterated his claims that “massive” fraud cost him the election, while calling on Republicans to “UNIFY” around that belief.
“If a thief robs a jewelry store of all of its diamonds (the 2020 Presidential Election), the diamonds must be returned,” Trump said in a statement on Monday.
But in the hours after the vote, the post-Cheney spin stressed a need to promote messaging that would help Republicans win in 2022, while playing down her refusal to get behind Trump’s election lies.
“People were just looking at it from the perspective of, if you’re the conference chair, you’re the messenger, right?” the top House Republican, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), told reporters Wednesday.
He ticked through a laundry list of policy items — infrastructure, gas prices, Middle Eastern politics, Russian ransomware, immigration, unemployment checks — then concluded: “I think we want to be looking at that, that’s all that was.”
When pressed, Republicans suggested that their leaders were free to disagree with Trump about whether or not the election was illegitimate — but that they should keep those disagreements to themselves.
“If you’re running around and going to all the syndicated shows and talking about it everywhere and anywhere that you can — and have a real vendetta, truthfully, against the President — I don’t know that that’s productive, and I don’t know that that would be possible. And, quite frankly, nor should it be,” Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-NJ), said.
Van Drew — who switched from Democrat to Republican in 2019, and subsequently got a rally from then-President Trump — noted that Cheney had already survived one vote on whether she should remain conference chair. “She got a second chance,” he said. “There were those of us that felt, even the first time around, that it was time for her to go.”
“Whether you liked him or didn’t like him, he was a Republican President of the United States,” the congressman added of Trump. “And at this point it’s much better to leave that alone.”
Cheney’s defenders say their colleagues are fooling themselves if they think the removal vote will actually help them move on.
“I think that we have to deal with this narrative at some point,” Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO) said, referring to Trump’s narrative that the election was stolen. “There are major issues — the border spending, there are major issues — but to suggest that the American people, in 2022, won’t consider the fact that we were unwilling to stand up to a narrative that the election was stolen, I think will be taken into consideration with their vote.”
“I think what they’re hoping is that these other issues will supplant or overwhelm that narrative,” he added.