In this summer of Republican discontent, a handful of GOP House members have identified what’s ailing the party: Liz Cheney.
The two-term Wyoming congresswoman, chair of the House GOP Conference, and daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney was called out at a conference meeting for myriad alleged sins, including insufficient loyalty to President Donald Trump.
This episode is much more telling about Cheney’s internal GOP critics than Cheney.
She rightly refuses to play by the dumb rule insisted on by MAGA and Never-Trump Republicans from their respective parts of the spectrum, that the only two options are to submit to the president totally or to oppose him totally, with no honorable space in between.
Cheney is a Republican and a member of leadership, which imposes its obligations, but she hasn’t checked her mind or conscience at the door.
She has deeply held views on foreign policy and doesn’t hide them, even when they depart from those of the president.
She has also been a consistent voice for taking the pandemic seriously and wearing masks and has defended Anthony Fauci. Can anyone doubt that if Trump had taken her tack, he’d be in a stronger position today? That the president felt compelled to hold a Covid briefing again on Tuesday and strike a more sober tone implicitly concedes as much.
But some of Cheney’s colleagues are upset with her rather than the president.
Her occasional dissents supposedly endanger the project of taking back the House, a absurd notion.
This is a variant of the odd political accounting of the most fervent Trump supporters. By their lights, if, say, the president stumbles his way through a “Fox News Sunday” interview, that’s not the problem. No, the problem is only if someone who is right-of-center points out that the president stumbled his way through a “Fox News Sunday” interview.
This logic has put an accent on whispered conversations on the GOP—even the most vociferous defenders of the president will often admit in private that they are disquieted or even outraged by something Trump has said or done, but won’t dare say it openly.
It is also a way to deflect any responsibility from the president, when, obviously, if the worst comes in November, it will be because of what he did in office with the biggest megaphone on the planet, not because Liz Cheney said it’s a bad idea to pull U.S. troops out of Germany.
Whatever you think of Cheney’s views on national security, she has a well-thought-out worldview that she defends resolutely and thoughtfully. The same can’t be said of one of the leaders of the fusillade against her, Trump epigone Matt Gaetz, the Florida Republican.
Gaetz long ago realized the power of clownishness—it generates interest, and interest means cable TV bookings, and TV bookings equal a kind of notoriety. Why be an unknown backbencher from Florida with zero substance when you can be a known backbencher from Florida with zero substance?
It’s not surprising that at the center of ethics questions raised by a recent POLITICO report on Gaetz is a home television studio—since he clearly conceives of being on TV as the bulk of his job.
The Cheney episode shows how loyalty, or purported loyalty, to Trump is used as a political bludgeon in internal GOP fights.
According to Rand Paul, who took shots at her in the press after the GOP meetings, “She tries to sabotage everything he tries to do in foreign policy, so I don’t know whether she’s a good advocate for the president or not.”
But it’s not as though when Trump makes a decision that Paul strongly disagrees with that he salutes smartly and marches in lockstep.
Earlier this year in the wake of the Soleimani killing, Gaetz himself was one of only four Republicans to vote in favor of an amendment to deny the Pentagon funds for unauthorized military actions against Iran.
According to a FiveThirtyEight.com tracker, Cheney has voted with Trump 96 percent of the time during her two terms; Gaetz has voted with him 85 percent of the time during his two terms.
One backdrop to the Cheney conflict is internal House leadership politics with Rep. Jim Jordan, who lost a bid against Kevin McCarthy for minority leader, still looking for a spot—Gaetz said in a podcast that Cheney should step aside, while talking up his friend and mentor, Jordan.
Another is a broader fight over foreign policy. At the moment, that takes the form of a struggle to influence Trump’s policy decisions. If the president loses, it will be one of a host of ideological conflicts over the direction of a post-Trump party.
Whichever way it goes, Cheney is going to be a formidable voice for her views, and her willingness to speak her mind, even at time when it is discouraged, redounds to her credit.