House Republicans are preparing to remove Rep. Liz Cheney (WY) from her leadership position, Chair of the House Republican Conference, because she lost faith in the word of Donald Trump and is telling the truth about him. Ms. Cheney has publicly and powerfully stated that the 2020 presidential election was not rigged and that Joe Biden was duly elected president. She has also publicly blamed the former president for inciting an insurrection at the Capitol on January 6th.
The once-rising star, three-term House member, and daughter of the former Republican vice president of the United States has fallen. However, there is a bold, stark, and uncomfortable reality: Liz Cheney has absolutely no business serving in House Republican leadership.
Former Brookings Expert
Director of the Office of Cannabis Policy - Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services
Has she been caught up in a personal scandal? Absolutely not, and for the Republican members who have, the party has opted not to punish them. Has she done a poor job at representing her state? No. She was reelected in 2018 by nearly 34 points and in 2020 by 42 points. Has she failed to support conservative policy proposals that put her out of step with her colleagues? Certainly not. According to ProPublica, in the 116th Congress (2019-2020), she voted with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy 92% of the time and with House Minority Whip Steve Scalise 93% of the time.
Instead, Ms. Cheney is being pushed out because of her position on a single, non-policy issue: Donald Trump. Her opposition to the former president’s false claims of a rigged and stolen election puts her wildly out of step with Republicans in Congress. Republicans in Congress have replaced policy positions like low taxes, a strong military role, pro-police, and pro-life with one position that matters above all: undying idolatry of the former president. One’s policy record among House Republicans does not matter if you are unwilling to unquestionably support Mr. Trump. And Ms. Cheney’s lifetime commitment to Republican Party policies and values is worthless because of her criticism of Mr. Trump.
For proof of this, one need look no further than Ms. Cheney’s likely successor, Rep. Elise Stefanik (NY). According to ProPublica, in the 116th Congress, Ms. Stefanik voted with Leader McCarthy only 84% of the time, and with Whip Scalise only 78% of the time. Ms. Cheney has a lifetime score of 78 points from the American Conservative Union, while Ms. Stefanik’s lifetime score is 43.6 points. There are stark differences between Ms. Cheney’s record and Ms. Stefanik’s record. The former is more consistently conservative and has been a loyal supporter of the House Republican leadership’s policy goals. The latter has been a moderate Republican from a blue state who has voted with Democrats far more often than the Representative from Wyoming.
In fact, on what is widely regarded as the most significant piece of legislation passed during the Trump presidency, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, Ms. Cheney loyally advanced the cause of lower taxes, voting in favor of the legislation. Ms. Stefanik was one of only 12 House Republicans to vote no on the bill.
Legislation like the 2017 tax law is as close to what Reagan- and Bush-era Republican orthodoxy used to be. In some political environments, a Republican vote against such a bill and against the president of your party would be a huge political risk. However, along the way, Ms. Stefanik learned that such a potentially risky position (which was reflective of interests in her district with regard to state and local tax provisions of the law) could be overcome by the embrace of the most important position among Republicans in Congress: support for Donald Trump.
During Mr. Trump’s first impeachment trial, Ms. Stefanik suddenly and surprisingly—given her past statements on Donald Trump’s character and rhetoric—became one of the president’s most ardent, public defenders through her committee assignments and on television. She continued her vocal opposition to impeachment during the president’s second impeachment in the wake of the January 6th insurrection at the Capitol.
This odd situation in which a conservative Republican from a conservative state will be replaced in House leadership by a moderate Republican from a liberal state actually makes perfect sense. The Republican Party in Congress is no longer about conservative principles. It is solely focused on genuflecting to the party’s deity. And while Ronald Reagan once said the 11th Commandment is “thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican,” in Republican Party scripture of 2021, the 1st Commandment is that “Donald Trump is the political Lord, thy God.” And Liz Cheney will rightfully be excommunicated for what the party now considers its most mortal sin.
My colleague Elaine Kamarck wrote on this blog that Liz Cheney’s current situation could mean she may one day be the Republican nominee for president. That may well be true, but not before the party itself endures a Reformation of sorts.