Liz Cheney’s leadership position threatened as GOP support drains away

Prominent Trump critic looks set to fall prey to party still in thrall to former president

Liz Cheney on Capitol Hill in Washington. Photograph: Melina Mara/Pool via The New York Times

Liz Cheney on Capitol Hill in Washington. Photograph: Melina Mara/Pool via The New York Times

 

It is no longer a question of “if” but more likely a question of “when”. The days of Liz Cheney in a leadership position in the US House of Representatives appear to be numbered.

The Wyoming representative, who is the third-highest-ranking Republican in the House, faces a serious threat to her leadership position as the head of the House Republican Conference – the main organisational body for the GOP in the House.

Cheney is from solid Republican stock. Her father, Dick Cheney, was vice-president under George W Bush and widely regarded as one of the most powerful to hold that position in US history given his central role in many of the most controversial foreign policy decisions of the Bush years.

But in a measure of how much the Republican Party has changed, Liz Cheney has become a champion for millions of Americans who abhorred the presidency of Donald Trump and the lies and mistruths he has spun since his election defeat in November.

Cheney is now likely to face a vote of confidence as early as next week, when Congress reconvenes after a recess. Her sin? Questioning Trump’s unsubstantiated claims that the 2020 presidential election was rigged and marred by widespread election fraud.

Cheney became the unlikely face of an anti-Trump movement within the congressional Republican Party in the dying days of the Trump presidency. She was one of 10 Republicans in the House to vote to impeach the president in January over his role in inciting the January 6th attack on the Capitol.

Raised hackles

Her uncompromising stance against Trump raised the hackles of some of the former president’s acolytes within the party. A vote on her leadership was held in February but she easily survived. At the same time House Republicans voted to remove QAnon sympathiser Marjorie Taylor Greene from her committee positions – a sign to many that the more centrist, reasonable wing of the Republican Party was in the ascendant. Three months later, however, the tables appear to have turned on Cheney.

The 54-year-old congresswoman has reiterated her attacks on Trump in recent weeks, most notably at a Republican retreat in Florida last week. In doing so, she has infuriated many in her own party – most significantly Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader in the House.

McCarthy was caught on hot mic this week saying he had “lost confidence” and “had it” with Cheney, ahead of an interview on Fox and Friends. “I think she’s got real problems.”

He went on to say during the interview that members of the Republican caucus were “concerned” about Cheney’s ability to carry out her duties.

The comments by the top-ranking Republican triggered a swift chain of events. Senior Republicans – including crucially Steve Scalise, the second-highest Republican in the House – publicly backed a challenge to Cheney’s role.

An emboldened Donald Trump issued a statement denouncing Cheney as a “warmongering fool who has no business in Republican Party leadership”.

“We want leaders who believe in the Make America Great Again movement, and prioritise the values of America First,” he said.

Trump defender

Elise Stefanik, a fourth-term congresswoman from New York, has emerged as the strong favourite to replace Cheney, and has the backing of Trump and Scalise.

The 36-year-old shot to national fame as a strong defender of Trump during his first impeachment trial. Though she was elected as a moderate in 2015, she has moved closer to the Trump wing of the party in recent years. However, analysis of Stefanik’s voting record in Congress shows that she is much less conservative than Cheney. In today’s Republican Party, however, fealty to Trump rather than loyalty to the conservative ideals of the GOP appears to be the only metric that matters.

Elise Stefanik has emerged as the strong favourite to replace Cheney. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty
Elise Stefanik has emerged as the strong favourite to replace Cheney. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty

Though Cheney has indicated she will not go down without a fight, the absence of Republican voices backing her publicly has been notable in recent days. The Wyoming representative defended her decision to confront Trump over his election lies in a Washington Post opinion piece this week, warning that the future of the Republican Party was at stake.

“Trump is seeking to unravel critical elements of our constitutional structure that make democracy work – confidence in the result of elections and the rule of law,” she wrote.

“The Republican Party is at a turning point, and Republicans must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the constitution.”

In an apparent jibe at her colleagues, she continued: “While embracing or ignoring Trump’s statements might seem attractive to some for fundraising and political purposes, that approach will do profound long-term damage to our party and our country.”

Whether Cheney’s appeal to Republicans’ better nature will be heeded remains to be seen. Ultimately, loyalty to Donald Trump appears to be the defining ideology of the current Republican Party.

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