Liz Cheney, the GOP, and Us

Liz Cheney is headline news. The sole member of the House from Wyoming, population just under 600,000, is — as of this writing — the third ranked Republican in the House. But her position as House Republican Conference chair is in jeopardy because she voted to impeach Donald Trump after the January 6 insurrection.

The current campaign against Liz Cheney is going full-bore.

The Wyoming Republican party voted to censure her. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) — currently under investigating for sex trafficking of a minor girl and paying for sex workers — went to Wyoming to campaign against her. And a vote was held in the House on February 3 to strip her of her leadership position, but she survived that.

She may not survive House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) on a hot mic saying he had “had it with her.”

Why is McCarthy so upset with Cheney? Because Cheney refuses to repeat what is known as The Big Lie: That Donald Trump, not Joe Biden, won the 2020 election.

In the upside down conspiracy-driven world of the current GOP, this stance is anathema. On May 4, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) posted a photo of himself on Twitter having dinner at Mar-a-Lago with Trump. Cruz said the two talked about their plans to retake the House and Senate in 2022. That midterm election will be pivotal for Democrats, especially in Pennsylvania, where the Senate seat currently occupied by Pat Toomey is up for grabs.

Cruz, who was publicly humiliated time and again by Trump, who called his wife Heidi an ugly psycho and said Cruz’s father was involved in the assassination of JFK, was doing what Liz Cheney refuses to do: catering to Trump and his delusion that he won 2020.

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), House Minority Whip and the second-ranking House Republican, also wants Cheney ousted from GOP leadership. In a statement given to NPR on May 5, Scalise called for Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), a Trump loyalist who spoke in passionate defense of Trump at his second impeachment, to replace Cheney as House Republican Conference chair.

“House Republicans need to be solely focused on taking back the House in 2022 and fighting against Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi and President Biden’s radical socialist agenda, and Elise Stefanik is strongly committed to doing that, which is why Whip Scalise has pledged to support her for Conference Chair,” said Scalise’s communications director, Lauren Fine.

Trump also endorsed Stefanik. “We want leaders who believe in the Make America Great Again movement, and prioritize the values of America First,” Trump said in a statement May 5. “Elise Stefanik is a far superior choice, and she has my COMPLETE and TOTAL Endorsement for GOP Conference Chair. Elise is a tough and smart communicator!”

Why should we care about this internecine GOP battle? Liz Cheney is, after all, an extremist in her own right. She supported her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, and his brutal stance on torture, two wars and other bad actions. And as recently as April 29, the day after President Biden’s presidential address, she tweeted “Biden, Pelosi and Democrats are set on abusing their power and infringing on our freedoms as they try to pass their radical agenda into law.”

Earlier she had tweeted a checklist:

“President Biden’s first 100 days:

*Bitter partisanship 

*No attempt at unity or bipartisanship

*Caving to the far-left’s dangerous policies

*Bad results for Wyoming & America.”

And after the speech, she had issued a statement in which she inveighed against Biden and his progressive policies.

So when it comes down to it, Cheney is a rote GOP in nearly every way — except her refusal to bow and scrape to Trump and reinforce The Big Lie. Cheney even voted against the Equality Act twice even though her only sibling, Mary Cheney, is a lesbian.

The Liz Cheney story matters to Pennsylvanians because this state is in the GOP crosshairs. On Jan. 6, Pennsylvania was at the pivot when Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise led nearly 150 other House Republicans — including gun-toting, anti-LGBTQ extremists Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert — in attempting to decertify the election.

McCarthy and Scalise weren’t just perpetuating The Big Lie, they were working to undermine a free and fair election and subvert democracy. Liz Cheney’s sole saving grace is that she refuses to do that.

But 2022 — and 2024 — may hinge on Trump loyalists. Recent polls show that 70% of Republicans believe Trump won the election and that Biden and the Democrats rigged Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona and Michigan to win the White House. Yet another audit of the Arizona vote is being conducted right now. Is Pennsylvania next?

With that prized Senate seat at stake — a seat the GOP views as its own — how focused will the GOP leadership be on Pennsylvania in the coming months? And will the plethora of Democratic candidates cancel each other out as happened in 2016, allowing Republicans to hold the seat?

There is a larger issue at stake in the fight for Liz Cheney’s power position. It’s not about integrity. Cheney has proven with her voting record that she has a deficit in that area. It’s about the Republican party being subsumed by their worst actors. McCarthy wants to “wait and see” how the FBI investigation goes into Matt Gaetz before he strips that Trump loyalist from his committees. But he’s itching to oust Cheney solely for her refusal to adhere to a verifiable lie that has now become GOP dogma.

The Trump years were among the worst this country has seen since Ronald Reagan tanked the economy with a smile, put a half million Black people in prison with his racist three-strikes laws and his assault on crack cocaine addicts, and his refusal to address the AIDS epidemic that killed tens of thousands.

The Trump years were terrible for the nation as a whole and for marginalized communities like LGBTQ people in particular. It will take a very long time for Biden and the Democrats to fix the damage Trump wrought.

But this strong phalanx of Republicans willing to perpetuate The Big Lie should alarm everyone, not just those who are most vulnerable to the GOP’s dangerous policies. Right now the Brennan Center and the ACLU report there are hundreds of bills in process to subvert voting rights. Pennsylvania has a dozen or more.

Make no mistake: however reprehensible Liz Cheney might be, her battle is also our battle. If the GOP wins 2022, we revert back to the Trump version of everything. And we cannot afford more of that assault on our republic, our democracy and on our very real freedom.