The best part is when McCarthy closes his eyes as soon as she says the words “President Trump.”
Q: Should Trump speak at CPAC?
House GOP Leader McCarthy: "Yes he should."
House GOP Conference Chair Cheney: "That's up to CPAC … I don't believe that he should be playing a role in the future of the party or the country."
McCarthy: "On that high note, thank you very much." pic.twitter.com/eO1iY06RrA
— NBC News (@NBCNews) February 24, 2021
I’m debating with myself whether it was poor form for Cheney to say what she said under the circumstances. Obviously I agree with her sentiment, and I appreciate that she’s willing to speak so bluntly about Trump when 99+ percent of elected Republicans around the country wet themselves at the thought of crossing him. But McCarthy went to bat for her when the MAGA types in the caucus tried to oust her from leadership, knowing that it would infuriate Trump. She could have repaid him here by simply saying, “I’ve made my feelings about this clear elsewhere and have nothing further to add.” By speaking out with McCarthy right next to her, she’s making him own her criticism of the former president to some degree.
Which can’t be good for his Speaker ambitions going forward.
Increasingly I think there’s no strategy on Cheney’s part in speaking out this way, knowing how it’s destined to antagonize a majority of the party and make her upcoming primary challenge that much more threatening. It’s pure defiance, refusing to be intimidated into silence. Adam Kinzinger’s in the same headspace, to the point where he’s no longer limiting his criticism of MAGA types to Trump himself:
It's disgraceful for a sitting Senator to spread disinformation so blatantly. It's a disservice to the people he serves to continue lying to them like this. It's dangerous and it must stop. https://t.co/sYFOHMdQYc
— Adam Kinzinger (@RepKinzinger) February 23, 2021
I think both have decided that, having put their careers on the line to do the right thing on impeachment, they’ll just continue to do the right thing and let the chips fall where they may. If they’re going down, they might as well leave a robust legacy of having declined to bend the knee.
By comparison, just look at this poor bastard, who narrowly avoided being lynched last month at the Capitol by a crazed mob incited by his former boss and is now leaking to the press about how there’s no hard feelings between them because that’s what his presidential ambitions require:
Former Vice President Mike Pence told a group of conservative lawmakers on Tuesday that he maintains a close personal friendship with former President Donald Trump, while noting that he plans to launch a political organization that will defend their administration’s record over the past four years…
“He spoke very favorably about his relationship with President Trump,” [Rep. Jim] Banks told CNN. “I got the sense they speak often and maintain the same personal friendship and relationship now that they have for four years.”
Make fun of Ted Cruz for toadying to Trump after Trump insulted his wife if you like. At least he hasn’t had to overlook a murder attempt to stay in Trump’s good graces.
Ironically, Cheney’s show of defiance is happening on the same day that the most famous anti-Trump Republican of all has admitted that the GOP civil war is over, to the extent it ever really started, and Trump has clearly won:
“Will President Trump continue to play a role in my party? I’m sure he will,” Mr. Romney said. “I don’t know if he’ll run in 2024 or not, but if he does, I’m pretty sure he will win the nomination.” He conceded that “a lot can happen between now and 2024,” but according to the poll he’s seen, “if you put President Trump in there among Republicans, he wins in a landslide.” How would the senator vote in the general election, in that case? “I would not be voting for President Trump again. I haven’t voted for him in the past. I would be getting behind somebody in the tiny wing of the Republican Party that I represent.”
Seldom do you see an elected official describe his constituency as “tiny,” but he’s not wrong. There were 17 pro-impeachment Republicans in Congress out of 261, a total of 6.5 percent, and in the party at large there are probably no more than 20 percent of Republicans who want to go in a different direction from Trumpism. And even there, it’s an open question how many would treat a fully MAGAfied party as a dealbreaker or just something they need to adjust to in the name of keeping Democrats out of power.
In lieu of an exit question, read Christian Vanderbrouk making the case that, actually, Trumpism is weaker within the GOP than it has been in a long time, possibly ever. That feels counterintuitive but it’s hard to argue with: Between the number of Republicans who voted for impeachment, the show of support for Cheney by the House GOP caucus, the defiance of Mitch McConnell, and the debacle in the Georgia Senate runoffs for which Trump is obviously to blame, it’s probably technically true that MAGA hasn’t faced as much skepticism inside the party since the 2016 convention. The wrinkle is that in practice that means the GOP is probably “only” 80-90 percent Trumpist at the moment instead of the customary 95 percent. A political leader who spent two months spreading pro-coup propaganda culminating in an attack on the national legislature and yet still maintains an iron grip on his party is many things, but “weak” isn’t a word that leaps to mind to describe him.