Cheney tests Trump grip on GOP post-presidency

Rep. Liz Cheney’s (R-Wyo.) leadership position in the House GOP is turning into a test for former President Trump’s grip on the conference and the Republican Party.

Trump allies are seeking to remove Cheney from her role as House Republican Conference chair over her vote last week to impeach the president for inciting a mob to attack the Capitol.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), a fierce Cheney critic and one of Trump’s most vocal advocates, said having her at the helm of GOP messaging is “problematic” for the base Trump built.

“I think it’s problematic for a future of the Republican Party,” Gaetz told The Hill. “Liz Cheney represents a vision of the Republican Party that does not energize anyone outside of the Washington, D.C., Beltway.”

A number of prominent conservatives who opted not to join Cheney on impeachment are nonetheless backing her, setting up an internal fight in the House GOP over her future.

Removing Cheney from leadership would require a high threshold in which a two-thirds majority of the conference would need to agree to hold a vote as one step in a complicated procedure. Yet it also likely foreshadows a difficult primary for Cheney, who is likely to be targeted by Trump in 2022.

If Cheney survives, it will be a big win for her — and a significant loss for Trump, possibly signaling a weakening of his power on GOP politics.

The daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney was one of 10 Republicans to vote for impeaching Trump earlier this month, and she was one of the few GOP lawmakers to criticize the former president during his time in office, often pushing back on key foreign policy proposals and occasionally calling out his rhetoric.

Trump would regularly return fire, saying as recently as Jan. 6, right before the deadly siege on the Capitol, that “we’ve got to get rid of the weak congresspeople, the ones that aren’t any good, the Liz Cheneys of the world.”

If Cheney is able to hold on to her leadership post, her opponents, including Trump, could still come after her by backing her primary challenger this election cycle.

Wyoming state Sen. Anthony Bouchard (R) announced after Cheney’s impeachment vote that he will challenge her in 2022.

Cheney fended off a primary challenger in 2018, going on to win with 68 percent of the vote. Trump won Wyoming last year by almost 44 percentage points.

“She could be a bellwether,” one GOP member said, referring to Cheney’s reelection bid. “I don’t know how it will play out. I mean, it’s still too early.”

The lawmaker said that despite private grievances with Trump among many Republicans in Washington, the former president remains popular in many of their districts.

“I think there’s a lot of folks back home — when you look at the polling and you look at the intensity — people are hearing from their base still strong support for the president. But when you’re here, most of my colleagues here are disgusted at the way the president handled himself,” the lawmaker said, citing Trump’s treatment of former Vice President Mike Pence and the decision to “feed false hope to his supporters” regarding the election results.

A recent Morning Consult poll found that 79 percent of Republican voters approve of Trump despite the siege on the Capitol.

The lawmaker went on to say that while much of “the party sees itself as pro-Trump,” others in the GOP make a distinction and “see themselves as Republican.”

“Over time that could shift more to Liz’s favor,” the lawmaker added.

Cheney allies note that Trump’s bully pulpit has been weakened ever since major social media platforms like Twitter banned him following the insurrection at the Capitol that left five people dead, including a Capitol Police officer.

But even without access to Twitter or Facebook, some members argue that Trump will find a way to remain relevant and influential.

“You’re not going to keep Donald Trump shut up for very long. … He will find a way to communicate, especially with his faithful supporters around the country,” one lawmaker said.

Another lawmaker said Trump’s influence is here to stay.

“It’s where the Republican voters throughout America are,” the lawmaker said. “And for them, the Trump agenda remains very popular and [they] don’t see that changing for a lifetime.”

Freedom Caucus Chairman Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) and first-term Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) are leading the charge to oust Cheney, with two sources close to the effort saying they have more than 115 Republicans saying they will vote for a resolution asking her to step down from leadership.

Cheney’s backers have warned that ousting the highest-ranking GOP woman in Congress could be detrimental to winning swing seats next year and give Democrats something to seize on as they look to defend their razor-thin majority in the midterms.

“2020 was the year of the Republican woman. And how are Republican leaders repaying those women? By letting the Freedom Caucus kick the one female member of leadership to the curb for doing what she thought was right,” a senior female Republican aide said.

“If McCarthy lets this happen, it just shows he’s just been completely neutered by the Freedom Caucus. And it’s the fastest way to ensure he absolutely won’t get the gavel Jan. 3, 2023,” she said, referring to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

McCarthy, who was among the more than 100 Republicans who objected to electoral results from Arizona and Pennsylvania, said this week that he supports Cheney remaining in her leadership post.

She has also received public support from GOP Reps. Tom Cole (Okla.), Dan Crenshaw (Texas), Mike Gallagher (Wis.), John Katko (N.Y.), Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), Nancy Mace (S.C.) and Michael McCaul (Texas).

Critics argue that Cheney gave momentum to Democrats when she spoke out against the Electoral College challenges and announced her stance on impeachment before the vote. Two GOP lawmakers said those actions equated to throwing most of the conference “under the bus.”

Cheney has dismissed calls for her to step down.

“I anticipate and am confident we will be united as a conference going forward. We recognize how important it is to make sure that we’re standing up and fighting against the policies of the Biden administration, the policies that we know are going to be very damaging for the country,” she said on Fox News on Thursday.

One Republican lawmaker, who expects Cheney to remain in her leadership post, argued that despite the effort to oust her, there is already an effort underway by people like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to create some distance from Trump.

“I do think you’re seeing a very concerted effort by some Republicans like McConnell, like Liz Cheney trying to move the party forward in the right direction away from the president. Because you know, at the end of the day, he was not an asset in the last election. He was a drag on the party.”

Tags Adam Kinzinger Dan Crenshaw Donald Trump John Katko Kevin McCarthy Liz Cheney Matt Gaetz Michael McCaul Mike Gallagher Mike Pence Mitch McConnell Nancy Mace Tom Cole

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