While Representative Liz Cheney’s political fate hangs in the balance, she has been visibly silent.
After voting to impeach President Trump three weeks ago and strongly denouncing his actions in the run-up to the Jan.6 riot on the U.S. Capitol, the Wyoming Republican kept her head down. Even when another member of the Republican House, Representative Matt Gaetz from Florida, went to her district to call on her constituents to reject her in the next election, Cheney kept his mouth shut.
Given her senior leadership role in the House GOP, it briefly seemed that many of her colleagues might decide to back her and back impeachment. Instead, only a handful of Republicans have done so, and her colleagues will now vote on Wednesday on whether she will retain her position as president of their conference.
Cheney’s actions since the impeachment vote contrast sharply with those of Republican Adam Kinzinger, a Republican from Illinois, who was one of nine other Republicans who voted to impeach Trump on January 13. Kinzinger has launched a new political action committee in the past. week and aggressively berated Trump, saying in press interviews and in a carefully produced video for his PAC that the GOP needs to get rid of the former president’s influence.
“Until we push back and say, ‘This isn’t a party for Trump, it’s a party for the country’ … we’re kind of going to chase each other’s tail,” Kinzinger said on ” Meet the Press ”from NBC on Sunday.
“It’s not the hour of silence,” he says in the video.
This may be truer for Kinzinger than for Cheney. He’s a Republican in a strong Democratic state whose path to a state-wide office could be improved by his strong and clear anti-Trump rhetoric. But there’s still a Republican primary to be won in the future, of course, whether it’s in the Kinzinger neighborhood of suburban Chicago – which Trump won by 16 points – or statewide.
The Illinois GOP, for its part, is discussing a vote to censor Kinzinger for his criticism of Trump. Still, if Kinzinger were to operate statewide, a reprimand from his own party could work in his favor.
Cheney not only represents a much more conservative state, but she’s also working to gain the support of a small, unique constituency. She needs at least 118 other House Republicans to vote for her to keep her leadership position. And his calculation was that waging a public messaging battle to defend his vote, or respond to Gaetz, or attack Trump, would hurt his chances of getting those votes.
“I think it’s better for her not to be seen as in a fight with anyone – not other members or Trump – and rather just defend her vote when the time comes,” said Brendan Buck, who has worked for two Republican House speakers in the past decade. “For the members, it can’t harbor the idea that it causes friction, even though Gaetz has stepped up.”
Minority House Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California, urged his conference to avoid infighting, and Cheney’s strategy has been to minimize internal strife and be seen as working towards unity, while personally lobbying members for their support.
A Republican consultant close to many members of the House said Gaetz’s stunt could have done his cause more harm than good, sparking unease among Republicans who might imagine themselves in Cheney’s position. Buck said that Cheney “hopes enough people see this as [Gaetz] overplaying his hand.
“He’s not very popular” with his Republican colleagues in the House, Buck added.
But beyond the nuances of the particular political circumstances of Cheney and Kinzinger, their respective fortunes raise a question that has plagued the Republican Party since 2015: how to solve a problem like Donald John Trump? Do you stand up to him and the forces he unleashed inside the GOP or do you try to accommodate them? Fight or run away?
For Cheney, this question will receive a partial answer Wednesday during the vote of the Republican leaders in the House. But if she is kicked out of her managerial position, it could free her up to fight more. She could raise money to play in the primary campaigns against Republicans seeking to turn the GOP from the Republican Party into the Trump Party.
“The vast majority of Republican voters, volunteers and donors are no longer loyal to the GOP. Their loyalty now rests with Donald J. Trump, ”said Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, the first-year MP who quickly became well known for her belief in the conspiracy. theories and his unconditional dedication to Trump.
This transfer of allegiance – from a party that is true to a certain set of principles and beliefs to a party that is primarily devoted to one person – is what rubs many Republicans the wrong way. They are trying to avoid alienating Trump supporters while reorienting the GOP around first principles.
“I have no disrespect for President Trump but the party must move forward. The party is bigger than any candidate, ”said Henry Barbour, member of the Mississippi Republican National Committee. “We have to accept the things he did well and reject the mistakes he made.”
“If Republicans focus on politics rather than conspiracy theories, this is how we win a national election with over 50% of the vote,” he said in an interview. He also said he would not have voted to challenge the 2020 election results or seek to have them overturned, as the three Mississippi Republicans did in the House. Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch has also joined the lawsuit to overturn the election result.
Barbour said he disagreed with Kinzinger that the US Senate should find Trump guilty of the impeachment charge and convict him, which would prevent the former president from taking political office at the to come up. But he said he respects Kinzinger’s willingness to speak up and is growing frustrated that many politicians are unwilling to do so.
“We are a republic, not just a democracy. We really need strong leaders, people who are ready to lead because they believe in something and think it’s going to be good for people, and they understand that they have more information than the average voter. ”Said Barbour. “You can’t just follow the rhetoric of the news and the whims of voters.”
But Terry Sullivan, a Republican consultant who served as campaign manager for Senator Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign, said it was increasingly difficult for politicians to do whatever their most intense constituents – those who participate in party primaries – do not support.
“Shortly after leading, most of them have alumni after their titles,” Sullivan told Yahoo News.
Sullivan, who also oversaw the 2004 campaign for former South Carolina GOP Senator Jim DeMint, said he was first concerned about extremist currents within the Republican Party more than ten years. Sullivan no longer worked for DeMint – one of the most conservative members of Congress – in 2010, but as he watched him campaign for reelection during the rise of the Tea Party, “I thought [DeMint] should be careful what he started.
Some discussed “thoughtful politics” as the Tea Party movement took root in the early 2010s, Sullivan said, but “the rhetoric was getting out of hand and getting more intense and by the end of the day it was losing. His attention. on conservative politics and just become anti-establishment and anti-institution.
“You can start a revolution, but the crowd can finish it for you,” Sullivan said.
That spiraling sense of chaos is now shaping the decisions of the two Republican leaders in Congress, McCarthy in the House and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
McCarthy has less room to maneuver than McConnell. The House is a hot chamber where each member is re-elected every two years, unlike the Senate, where members get a six-year term. McCarthy has sent mixed signals on just about everything from Greene to Cheney to Trump. But his trip to meet Trump last week in Florida and the photo of the two together is the most significant gesture he’s made.
McConnell also fought Trumpism – and a bit of leaking. He voted not to go ahead with the impeachment trial, having previously signaled that he was prepared to vote to condemn Trump.
But the Republican Senate leader, known to be a tactician primarily interested in holding power, has nonetheless taken a more confrontational approach to Trumpism in recent weeks. More recently this week, he denounced Greene for endorsing “wacky lies and conspiracy theories” which are “cancer of the Republican Party.”
McConnell also backed Cheney, calling her “an important leader of our party” and someone “with deep convictions and the courage to act on it.”
It was a clear attempt to signal Republicans in the House that they should support Cheney and it pressured McCarthy to punish Greene.
A Republican strategist said Greene’s lightning rod profile could hurt Republicans in the 2022 midterm election if she was not condemned and defeated, in the same way polls indicate Democrats were hurt in the elections. 2020 elections through discussions of socialism and radical proposals tacitly adopted by some. of their legislators, for example by defeating the police.
Referring to one of the conspiracy theories Greene has speculated on in the past, the strategist said: “There is no return to majority if our candidates explain Jewish space lasers next fall.”
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