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In the midst of an escalating feud over the future of the Republican Party and her position in its leadership, Rep. Liz Cheney on Wednesday laid down a bracing challenge to other members of her party.
“The Republican Party is at a turning point, and Republicans must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution,” Cheney wrote in a Washington Post op-ed in which she doubled down on her determination to confront former President Donald Trump’s continued lies about the 2020 election.
Trump’s campaign of falsehoods led to the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol, which itself was an attempt to stop the certification of the presidential election.
And yet the former president has continued, with increasing frequency of late, to repeat the baseless lie that the election was somehow stolen.
“Trump repeats these words now with full knowledge that exactly this type of language provoked violence on Jan. 6. And, as the Justice Department and multiple federal judges have suggested, there is good reason to believe that Trump’s language can provoke violence again,” Cheney wrote.
“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. No other American president has ever done this,” she added.
Cheney said that Republicans should “support the ongoing Justice Department criminal investigations of the Jan. 6 attack,” and also “a parallel bipartisan review by a commission with subpoena power to seek and find facts” about the insurrection.
And she said that “we Republicans need to stand for genuinely conservative principles, and steer away from the dangerous and anti-democratic Trump cult of personality.”
“History is watching. Our children are watching. We must be brave enough to defend the basic principles that underpin and protect our freedom and our democratic process. I am committed to doing that, no matter what the short-term political consequences might be,” Cheney wrote.
The op-ed was published Wednesday afternoon, in the middle of a week in which it appeared that the rest of the House GOP leadership would side with Trump over Cheney.
Cheney has forced House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and the rest of the House GOP to choose between accepting the reality of the election’s results and bowing the knee to Trump. On Monday, she once again called out Trump for continuing to lie about the 2020 election results, hours after he once again made false claims about them.
“The 2020 presidential election was not stolen. Anyone who claims it was is spreading THE BIG LIE, turning their back on the rule of law, and poisoning our democratic system,” Cheney tweeted.
The two House Republicans ahead of Cheney in leadership positions — McCarthy and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise — have both since indicated they want her out of the No. 3 spot in the House. Trump has attacked Cheney repeatedly in public statements and on Wednesday endorsed Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., to replace the Wyoming congresswoman. Scalise also backed Stefanik’s bid to replace Cheney on Wednesday.
In her op-ed, Cheney called out McCarthy by name, quoting what he said on Jan. 13. “The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding,” McCarthy said at the time.
“Now,” Cheney remarked simply in the op-ed, “McCarthy has changed his story.”
House Republicans could vote by secret ballot as soon as next week on whether to strip Cheney of her post as Republican conference chair, under the pretense that the House GOP isn’t able to present a unified message because Cheney is being divisive. Cheney’s break with her colleagues, however, stems from her refusal to accept the lie that the presidential race was stolen.
McCarthy and Scalise, meanwhile, are unsettled by the prospect of being attacked by Trump and his allies. Just this week, McCarthy came under fire from another powerful figure on the right: Fox News personality Tucker Carlson.
But even if Cheney is ousted from her leadership position, political observers back in Wyoming say, she won’t lose her seat in Congress.
“She will be in Congress. There’s no way that these two or three crazies are going to beat her in a primary,” former Wyoming Republican Sen. Alan Simpson told Yahoo News. “She’s going to win. She will. She will beat whoever the hammerheads are that are running against her.”
Two Republicans in the state Legislature have so far said they plan to challenge Cheney in the Republican primary for Congress.
University of Wyoming political science professor James King also told National Public Radio he thinks Cheney will retain her seat. “I don’t see that she’s in a position where she’s going to lose in Wyoming,” King said.
So Cheney will likely remain a political figure and continue to have access to a robust fundraising and political operation. She’s likely to be even more outspoken against Trumpism if she is removed from leadership, and will likely try to move the party more in a post-Trump direction.
And while Scalise and Stefanik have said that Cheney needs to be removed so the GOP has a better shot at winning the House majority in 2022, there is political danger in doubling down on a lie about the election and downplaying the threat to democracy that the Jan. 6 insurrection represented.
“Republicans will look foolish, or worse, to swing voters if they refight 2020 in 2022. They can truthfully say that Democrats used lawsuits to exploit the pandemic to change the election rules in some states. They can also say Democratic judges on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court let Democrats get away with it. Democrats did a better job of exploiting the pandemic election rules than did the GOP,” the conservative Wall Street Journal opinion page said this week.
For Cheney, the battle is over the direction of her party but also of the country and democratic rule.
“We can’t embrace the notion the election is stolen. It’s a poison in the bloodstream of our democracy,” Cheney said Tuesday. “We can’t whitewash what happened on Jan. 6 or perpetuate Trump’s big lie. It is a threat to democracy. What he did on Jan. 6 is a line that cannot be crossed.”
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