For the Republican party, there is only one thing that is non-negotiable. Trump says that Biden stole the 2020 election. Republicans must not contradict him.
In 2016, Congresswoman Liz Cheney (R-WY) was elected to Congress as "an unabashed supporter of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump." In 2019, Cheney co-hosted a fundraiser for Trump with her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney. Cheney endorsed Trump again in 2020. Here is how she described her support for Trump in a July 2020 appearance on Fox News:
So there is no comparison in terms of the kind of leadership that we need in the world and the choice is a very clear one. You know, the American people are going to have to choose between a world in which the United States and the other free nations set the rules of the road or a world in which China and Russia and our adversaries, who do not believe in freedom, set the rules of the road. That is the world you will see under a Joe Biden presidency… We are all going to work together to stop that.
In the first two years of Trump's presidency, Cheney supported Trump's position on 95.8% of her votes. In the last two years, Cheney supported Trump's position 92.8% of the time. That's a higher level of support than Trump received over the same time period from Congressman Mark Meadows (R-NC), who Trump later selected as his Chief of Staff.
Cheney was viewed as a rising star and was elected chair of the House Republican Conference, the third-highest leadership position in the House Republican Caucus, in 2018. She embraced Trump's rhetorical style, trashing the Democratic Party with a stream of invective. "They’ve become the party of anti-Semitism; they’ve become the party of infanticide; they’ve become the party of socialism," Cheney said in 2019 interview on Meet The Press.
"She’s defending conservative Republican principles, she’s doing it with a smile on her face, and she’s doing it in an aggressive fashion,” Congressman Jim Jordan (R-OH), one of Trump's most loyal supporters, said.
Cheney occasionally disagreed with Trump on foreign policy, implicitly criticized Trump on his failure to promote masking during the pandemic, and voted to impeach Trump after he helped incite a riot at the Capitol. None of that, however, threatened Cheney's leadership position. In February, she was re-elected to her post by her Republican colleagues. The vote was 145-61 in her favor.
Cheney's mortal sin occurred on May 3, when she accurately noted that Trump was lying about the 2020 election.
For that, Cheney was summarily removed from her leadership post on Wednesday on a voice vote.
The person who didn't "move on"
Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) reportedly told the House Republican Caucus that he supported removing Cheney from her position because it was time to "move on" from fights about the 2020 election.
“I don’t think re-litigating the 2020 election is a winning strategy,” opined Senator John Thune (R-SD), one of the Republican leaders of the Senate. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), who voted to convict Trump during his second impeachment trial, agreed. "Let’s move on," she said. “She seems not to be able to leave it,” Sen. Kevin Cramer said of Cheney (R-ND).
But is it really Cheney who is responsible for extending disputes about the 2020 election? If Trump would admit the truth and concede that Biden won fairly and there is no evidence of meaningful voter fraud, the issue would disappear. The same thing would happen if Trump just stopped talking about it. But in recent weeks, Trump has issued one statement after another perpetuating the lie the 2020 presidential election was stolen.
Journalist Jon Ward compiled a list of statements issued by Trump in recent weeks claiming the election was rigged:
April 2, 4, 5, 6, 12, 23, 24 (4x), 26 (2x), 27
May 3, 5, 6, 7
During the time period, Cheney issued one tweet calling out Trump's lies. It's clear that Trump is the one who hasn't moved on. But Republicans are now required to endorse or ignore his lies to remain in good standing with the party.
Meet the new boss
Cheney will be replaced by Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R-NY). Unlike Cheney, Stefanik frequently voted in opposition to Trump's policies. Over Trump's four years, she voted against Trump's position about one-third of the time. She even voted against Trump's signature legislative achievement, the 2017 tax cuts.
But while Stefanik diverges from Trump on policy, she is willing to play along with Trump's lies about the 2020 election. Stefanik was one of the 147 Republicans who objected to the certification of the Electoral College.
In an appearance last week on Steve Bannon's podcast, Stefanik endorsed the discredited "audit" taking place in Maricopa County, Arizona.
I fully support the audit in Arizona. We want transparency and answers for the American people. What are the Democrats so afraid of? The voters in Arizona and the state Senate in Arizona pursued this audit, I fully support it. Transparency is a good thing. We need to fix these election security issues in the future.
There was no evidence of "security issues" in Arizona or elsewhere. The audit is a circus being conducted by a conspiracy theorist who claimed Trump won Arizona and other states.
None of the Republicans who voted to overturn the election results have expressed any remorse or regret for their actions. Haley Byrd Wilt, a reporter for The Dispatch, asked one Republican objector, Congressman Warren Davidson (R-OH), if Biden was a "lawfully elected" president. Davidson offered this tortured response:
I mean, obviously the law was followed. Now, the law wasn't followed in a lot of states, but ultimately the process took place. You know, the Electoral College voted and the House accepted the results — I mean, not everyone, you know, there were objections — but the votes were cast and in Congress, you fight by voting. The votes were called and he got the votes.
But Davidson's response, which did not include the word "yes," seems almost reasonable compared to other members of the Republican caucus. Congressman Mo Brooks (R-AL) launched his bid for the U.S. Senate by declaring the 2020 presidential election "the worst voter fraud, and election theft, in history."
Other members of Congress are defending not only their vote to overturn the election but the rioters. In a committee hearing on Wednesday, Congressman Paul Gosar (R-AZ) described those charged with crimes as a result of their actions on January 6 as "peaceful protesters" that the Department of Justice is "harassing."