Rep. Liz Cheney could lose GOP leadership role over her criticism of Trump. What does that mean?

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., attends a press conference following a House Republican caucus meeting on Capitol Hill on April 14, 2021 in Washington. (Photo: Drew Angerer, Getty Images)

WASHINGTON – Rep. Liz Cheney, the House Republican Conference chair from Wyoming, is in hot water with her party. Her refusal to accept former President Donald Trump’s false claims the 2020 election was stolen is angering her Republican colleagues and putting her leadership role at risk.

Major party leaders are dissatisfied with her. Trump and No. 2 House Republican Rep. Steve Scalise want her replaced with Rep. Elise Stefanik, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said House Republicans told him they’re worried about her “ability to carry out the job.”

If Cheney loses her position as the third-ranking House Republican, it would cause more than just a major shakeup in GOP congressional leadership – it would further signal the party’s interest in keeping Trump and his wing of the GOP front and center as they try to flip Democratic control of Congress and push against President Joe Biden.

Cheney herself cast it in more stark terms, writing a blistering Washington Post editorial Wednesday in which she framed the Republican Party as “at a turning point” in whether it will choose “truth and fidelity to the Constitution” or the “cult of personality” of Trump.

Liz Cheney: Trump, No. 2 House Republican Steve Scalise throw support behind Elise Stefanik for Liz Cheney’s leadership post

The Republican caucus was expected to meet Wednesday behind closed doors, though Scalise spokeswoman Lauren Fine said no formal vote or discussion on Cheney’s future has been announced. 

But the wave of criticism has drawn out support for Stefanik, a pro-Trump Republican who gained wide recognition over her staunch support of the former president during his first impeachment.

On Wednesday, Scalise became the first in Republican leadership to publicly call for Cheney’s removal and endorse Stefanik to replace her.  Trump endorsed Stefanik as well in a statement Wednesday.

Cheney has repeatedly said the Republican Party needs to move on from its association with Trump, but the pushback she faces means the party isn’t ready to do that, said Bryan Gervais, associate professor of political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and author of “Reactionary Republicanism: How the Tea Party in the House Paved the Way for Trump’s Victory.” The pressure to replace Cheney is some of the strongest evidence yet of Trump’s hold on congressional Republicans, he said.

“I was always skeptical that the party would quickly try to break away from Trump and his image, and this is sort of what we’re seeing right now,” Gervais said. “For the time being, it’s still Trump’s party, and Republican elites have made the call that sticking close to Trump is the best bet for retaking Congress.”

Republican Rep. Liz Cheney has been making waves since she voted to impeach former President Trump.

USA TODAY

Cheney is one of 10 Republicans in the House who voted to impeach Trump the second time after he was accused of inciting the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. Since then, she has repeatedly pushed back on “the big lie” that widespread election fraud was the cause of Trump’s election loss. 

“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 this week in response to a Trump statement in which he again said the election was “fraudulent.” 

Election integrity is now a “cover for the ‘stop the steal’ movement” that Republicans will look to as a midterm election issue, according to former Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-Va., chief strategist for the Network Contagion Research Institute, which tracks and exposes misinformation on social media.

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The 2022 midterms are expected to be a massive test of whether Trump’s sway translates to electoral wins. Democrats hold just slight advantages in the House and Senate, and Republicans are pushing to win them back to counter Biden’s agenda. 

Riggleman said Republican leaders have solidified their 2022 messaging, and it will likely align with Trump’s main messages: election integrity, Second Amendment preservation “and some sort of anti-everything the Democrats are doing.”

“The Trump part of the party believes that the fundraising is much more effective by supporting Trump than not … that culture wars are much more effective for the Republican base than actual policy discussions,” Riggleman said.

Cheney in her editorial pointed out Trump’s influence on those seeking reelection. 

“While embracing or ignoring Trump’s statements might seem attractive to some for fundraising and political purposes, that approach will do profound long-term damage to our party and our country,” she wrote.

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