Freedom Caucus warns Liz Cheney in meeting: Stop defending Fauci and start defending Trump

Freedom Caucus warns Liz Cheney in meeting: Stop defending Fauci and start defending Trump

Here’s the daily reminder that the GOP is not so much a party anymore as a contest to see who can polish Trump’s shoes to the finest mirror shine.

Cheney is the House Republican Conference chair and an almost singular example within the caucus of someone who’s willing to politely reprimand POTUS and his cronies from time to time. For instance, in May, after Fauci was grilled by Senate Republicans during testimony, she chimed in with some praise for him. She was a minor thorn in Trump’s side during his push this past spring to reopen the country after it was locked down and she had the audacity to suggest that Trump accusing Joe Scarborough of murdering a congressional intern wasn’t great politics in the middle of pandemic. Being a Cheney, she’s also naturally out of step with Trump on foreign policy and out of sync with the general populist wave that brought him to power. She’s a scion of the party’s ancien regime. Of course there’d be tension between her and the strongman who overthrew the nobility.

Why she makes a point of disagreeing with Trump knowing how it’s destined to annoy her caucus and her base is unclear. Maybe, a la Mitt Romney, she feels obliged as a matter of conscience to speak up from time to time. Or maybe it’s strategic: Cheney knows that Trump’s antics have poisoned the GOP’s chances in the suburbs, which means that a certain number of purple districts that should be competitive will end up going blue this year. Because she’s in a leadership role (and a rare example of a woman in a leadership role among congressional Republicans), speaking up is a small way she can try to counterprogram Trump for the benefit of the swing voters. Essentially it’s her way of showing them, “See, we’re not all like him. Don’t let your view of Trump determine your vote for the House.”

Anyway, there was a conference meeting today and Trump’s servants in the Freedom Caucus decided to launch what Politico aptly describes as a “coordinated hit.”

It continued after the meeting. Matt Gaetz can see his own reflection in Trump’s shoes after this tweet:

Don Jr was enlisted in the effort as well:

Even so, Cheney did … not apologize. To the contrary:

The jab at Jordan is especially cutting in how it captures the devolution of the Freedom Caucus. That group formed during the tea-party era and came to prominence as a principled counterweight to the go-along-to-get-along establishment Republicans in the caucus like John Boehner. Being “team players” for the leadership was the whole problem with the party, they insisted. Now they’re team players for the president and resent Cheney for not being one too.

Or so they say. Politico wonders if there’s more going on here:

Right, that’s one problem for the Freedom Caucus right now: Like Trump (and really all populists), they crave establishment foils, ideally ones within their own party. Back in the day it was the GOP House leadership that served that role, first Boehner and then Paul Ryan. Adam Schiff became a prime foil last year when he quarterbacked the impeachment effort. But that’s long over, leaving them without a target. Sure, there’s always Pelosi, but Pelosi can’t get anything past the Senate so she’s no real threat to anyone. COVID-19 is the most serious threat to Republican governance at the moment but even the Freedom Caucus would have trouble accusing the virus of being a RINO sellout. (Maybe not Gaetz.) So who’s left? Cheney — the highest-ranking non-sycophant in the caucus. She’s not the minority leader; that’s Kevin McCarthy and he’s a loyal Trumper. She’s not the number two either. That’s Steve Scalise, and ditto for him. Cheney’s the third-ranking Republican. She’s a target of opportunity, essentially, a foil at a moment when populists are looking around for someone to complain about.

One way you can tell how disingenuous this is is the grumbling about Cheney trying to take down Thomas Massie. It’s true, she did initially donate to Massie’s primary opponent in a failed effort to see him ousted, but by no means is she the most prominent Massie critic in the GOP. That would be … Donald J. Trump, who called for kicking Massie out of the party after he insisted on a roll-call vote for the first House coronavirus stimulus package in March. It’s passing strange that the shineboys wouldn’t hold that against POTUS but would include Cheney’s opposition to Massie in the brief against her continuing as conference leader.

But as Sherman says, the fact that Cheney’s (and Trump’s) effort to get rid of Massie failed so badly may read as a bit of “provocative weakness” to her critics in the caucus. Maybe the Freedom Caucus is hoping to see her replaced as conference chairman by Jordan, making him second in line to be Speaker. If so, I doubt Cheney’s worried about it. Ousting the only woman in a leadership role a few months out from an election in which Trump is at risk of being obliterated by suburban women would be such a bad look that even the House GOP can probably be convinced not to try it. (In fact, I wonder if that’s why the Freedom Caucus attacked Cheney today instead of POTUS doing it himself.) Besides, if Election Night goes as badly for Trump as the polling right now would indicate, Cheney might actually benefit from attacks like today’s. Politico speculated a few weeks ago that she’s taken to criticizing Trump more frequently lately (even though she votes with him 97 percent of the time) precisely because she wants to establish a brand as a maverick ahead of November. That way, if the party is wiped out, she gets to turn around and position herself as an “independent voice” who bears less blame for the disaster than those around her.

One mystery, though: Why did the “coordinated hit” happen today? Why not months ago? Is something going on behind the scenes? Gaetz’s tweet claims that there is. Maybe the White House got wind of Cheney partnering with Democrats on something and wanted to throw a brushback pitch at her. But what was that something?

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David Strom 6:01 PM on March 29, 2023