WASHINGTON – The first time that defenders of Donald J. Trump came to get Representative Liz Cheney for the offense they voted to impeach him, fellow Republicans closed the ranks to save her leadership position, with Representative Kevin McCarthy boasting that their & # 39; marquee & # 39; party had plenty of room for the former president as well as a staunch critic.
Apparently not anymore.
Just three months after throwing back a skewed vote of no confidence, Ms. Cheney of Wyoming, the No. 3 Home Republican, faces a much more powerful challenge that increasingly seems to be ending in her ouster from leadership. This time, Mr. McCarthy, the minority leader, is encouraging the attempt to replace her.
Her offense, colleagues say: Ms. Cheney's persistent public criticism of Mr. Trump, her condemnation of his lies about a stolen election, and her demands that the G.O.P. tell the truth about how its supporters attacked democracy during the January 6 riot at the Capitol.
The turnaround again reflects the passion with which Republicans have embraced Mr. Trump and the voters who revere him, and how willing many in the party are to perpetuate – or at least tolerate – lies about the 2020 election that he is. continue to spread.
What began as a battle for the future of the party after the violent end of the Trump presidency has collapsed into a one-sided pile by Team Trump, with critics like Ms. Cheney, the scion of a legendary Republican family and the lonely woman in the world. House leadership of her party, banned or headed for the exits.
The final test for Ms. Cheney could come next week, when a growing group of Republicans plans a new bid to dethrone her, with Mr McCarthy's blessing. Many of her colleagues are now so confident that they will be able to openly discuss who will replace Ms. Cheney.
Tensions escalated on Tuesday as Mr. McCarthy took to Mr. Trump's favorite news program, & # 39; Fox & Friends, & # 39; to question whether Ms. Cheney could effectively fulfill her role as the best messenger in the party. (Beforehand, he told a Fox reporter, "I've had it with her" and "I've lost faith," according to a leaked recording of the exchange. published by Axios.)
"I've heard from members that she was concerned about her ability to perform the role of conference chairman, to get the message out," said Mr McCarthy during the portion of the interview that was aired. "We all have to work together if we are to win the majority."
With one-time allies nearby, Ms. Cheney, known for her steely temperament, has only dug herself in harder. Minutes after Mr. McCarthy's TV hit, she sent her barbed response through a spokesman, basically suggesting that the minority leader and Republicans who rebelled against her were complicit in Mr. Trump's shudder.
"This is about whether the Republican Party will perpetuate lies about the 2020 election and try to whitewash what happened on January 6," said Jeremy Adler, the spokesman. & # 39; Liz won't do that. That is the problem. "
One of the few Republican voices willing to defend Ms. Cheney was Utah Senator Mitt Romney, who was himself attacked by his party for his unrepentant criticism of Mr. Trump – even booed at the Utah Republican Party convention on Saturday.
"Every conscientious person draws a line beyond which they won't go: Liz Cheney refuses to lie," Mr. Romney wrote on Twitter. As one of my colleagues from the Republican Senate said to me after my vote on the impeachment process, “I wouldn't want to be a member of a group that punishes someone for following their conscience. ""
Many House Republicans insist they have no problem with Ms. Cheney's vote impeaching Mr. Trump, which she described as a vote of conscience. Nor, they say, are they not bothered by her neoconservative policy stances, which – like those of her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney – are skewed towards a hawkishness that runs counter to the America First bias. the party that Mr. cemented.
But they fear that Ms. Cheney's refusal to stop criticizing Trump or condemning the events of January 6 could weaken the party's message during the 2022 midterm elections, when Democrats hope to decline. as socialists of the great government who should be so mean. voted out of the majority. It also enraged Mr. Trump.
Many, including Mr. McCarthy, Ms. Cheney, after surviving the vote of no confidence in February, as the elected leader would do like the rest of the party and just move on.
Instead, she's doubled over and sometimes turned her fire on colleagues. The last straw for many came last week in Orlando, where Republicans gathered for their annual political retreat in hopes of creating a show of unity.
Ms. Cheney told Punchbowl News she would campaign in Wyoming – where she faces a primary challenge – to defend her impeachment vote "every day of the week." She told reporters that any lawmaker who led the attempt to invalidate President Biden's election victory in Congress should be disqualified from running for president. And she broke with leading Republicans when she said a proposed independent commission to investigate the January 6 uprising should focus on the assault on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob, rather than the violence by antifa and Black Lives. Matter, as Mr. McCarthy and other Republicans have demanded.
A few days later, she withdrew attacks from the right for punching Mr. Biden with fists during his speech before a joint session of Congress, and took to Twitter to defend herself for greeting the president "in a civic, respectful and dignified manner. ".
"We are not sworn enemies", she wrote. "We are American."
Monday, after Mr. Trump issued a statement calling the 2020 election "fraudulent" and "THE BIG LIE," Ms. Cheney was quick to say. her reply tweeted, in which he wrote that anyone making such claims "poisoned our democratic system."
Some Republicans privately likened her action to picking a scab, and many of Mr. Trump's allies saw it as an opening to try again to overthrow her.
"Liz has tried (failed badly) to divide our party," Representative Lance Gooden, Republican of Texas, wrote on Twitter on Tuesday, echoing Mr Trump's biting Twitter style. & # 39; Trump is still the LEADER of the GOP, Liz! I look forward to her being removed SOON! "
Ms. Cheney's problems chart a rapid shift for the Republican Party in the few months since Mr. Trump left Washington. Early on, she was part of a small but influential group of Republicans, including Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, and denounced Mr. Trump's role in fueling the riot with false claims of stolen elections. But many of those lawmakers have since been silent, leaving Ms. Cheney, who was once talked about enthusiastically as a future speaker or president, in isolation.
Ms. Cheney declined to comment through a spokesperson, and several of her allies in Parliament declined to speak in defense, underscoring the fraught nature of the vote and the pessimism some of them feel about her chances of taking another challenge. survive. A spokeswoman for Illinois Representative Adam Kinzinger, another Republican who voted to impeach Mr. Trump and was a leading critic of the former president, said in a statement that Congressman "unequivocally supports Liz Cheney as chair of the conference."
Those who know her best say privately that Ms. Cheney's predicament reflects both her principles and her personality, including a stubborn streak that sometimes prompts her to act against her self-interest. An ally who has been annoyed by her in recent months described her actions as the classic Liz Cheney: She'll always do what she thinks is right, the Republican said Tuesday, but she'll just never stop thinking she's wrong.
With Ms. Cheney's support for bleeding, Republicans have already begun to go through names of potential replacements for a post traditionally seen as a springboard to the top party positions. Aware of the optics of replacing the only woman in the leadership with another man, Republicans are looking to choose a woman.
The main contender appears to be New York representative Elise Stefanik, a rising star in her fourth term who has labored long to increase the number of women in the Republican ranks and has recently become a fierce defender of Mr. Trump.
Ms. Stefanik, 36, has started reaching out to Republican lawmakers to gauge their support, according to two people familiar with the private talks, and by Tuesday night, one of her political aides retweeted speculation that she was "going to be an excellent conference chair."
Pennsylvania Representative Guy Reschenthaler, a member of the Republican leadership who had initially won votes for Ms. Cheney, said he was counting potential votes for Ms. Stefanik and believed the job would be hers if she ran.
Republicans have also cited Indiana Representative Jackie Walorski as a possible alternative. As the top Republican on the ethics committee this year, Ms. Walorski successfully balanced the task of condemning Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene's conspiratorial statements while insisting she should not be kicked out of her committees.