A fun fact I didn’t know until a few days ago, when WaPo mentioned it: Despite being the number one and number three Republicans in the House, Kevin McCarthy and Liz Cheney haven’t appeared together publicly since a March 11 news conference outside the Capitol.
I wonder why.
Oh, now I remember. February 24:
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
McCarthy’s dream of becoming Speaker is finally within his grasp. The GOP is a heavy favorite to pick up the handful of seats it’ll need in 2022 to make a majority and he’s on good enough terms with the MAGA wing of the caucus that he doesn’t need to worry much about an insurrection led by Jim Jordan or whoever. The only thing that can keep him from the gavel is if his relationship with Trump breaks down. If Trump gave the word to replace McCarthy with Jordan, the MAGA-ites would turn on McCarthy and the great mass of the caucus that’s not MAGA but afraid of being targeted by Trump might go along just to protect themselves.
So K-Mac needs to be very careful not to piss Trump off. And that starts with avoiding Trump’s least favorite Republican House member like a political plague.
The problem is that McCarthy can only do so much. He can keep his distance from Cheney but he can’t shut her up, and every critical word she utters about Trump is apt to lead the former president to wonder why his friend Kevin isn’t doing more to silence her. So he’s squeezed between the most influential politician in the party, who demands retribution against “disloyal” members who criticize him, and a maverick conference leader in Cheney who seems to relish showing off how much nerve she has in criticizing Trump relative to the rest of her party.
Result: Tension. A lot of it.
This relationship — Cheney and the GOP leadership — is very near a breaking point.
I’ve been focused on House leadership for a long time, and this is about as bad as it’s gotten.
— Jake Sherman (@JakeSherman) April 27, 2021
McCarthy isn’t being shy with reporters about his unhappiness either. Check this out:
McCarthy declines to talk about Rep. Liz Cheney’s fit on his leadership team: “That’s a question for the conference.” pic.twitter.com/wiyvZdmuXI
— CBS News (@CBSNews) April 27, 2021
Politico spoke to him yesterday about his Cheney problem and again he made no bones about it:
“There’s a responsibility, if you’re gonna be in leadership, leaders eat last,” McCarthy told POLITICO in a wide-ranging interview on Monday. “And when leaders try to go out, and not work as one team, it creates difficulties.”
The California Republican also said he’s privately approached Cheney about toning down some of her remarks. When asked whether Cheney has heeded the advice, McCarthy responded: “You be the judge.”…
Over the past three days, House Republicans at the retreat have been buzzing about Cheney, who has generated headline after headline since her flight touched down.
“She’s the topic of every private conversation,” said one GOP lawmaker.
Cheney’s not holding press conferences for the purpose of ripping on Trump but she seems resolved not to duck any questions about him or the insurrection that she gets from the media, no matter how awkward that might make things for McCarthy and the caucus. She could say something as simple as “The former president’s term is over and I’ve said all I needed to say about it. We’re looking forward as a party now.” Instead she’s broken with McCarthy by calling for a more independent commission to investigate the Capitol riot; refused to rule out running for president in 2024; and told reporters a few days ago that she thinks any senator who tried to block the certification of Biden’s victory by Congress on January 6 has disqualified himself from high office.
“I think we have a huge number of interesting candidates, but I think that we’re going to be in a good position to be able to take the White House. I do think that some of our candidates who led the charge, particularly the senators who led the unconstitutional charge, not to certify the election, you know, in my view that’s disqualifying,” she said.
“I think that adherence to the Constitution, adherence to your oath has got to be at the top of the list. So, I think, you know that certainly will be a factor that I’m looking at and I think a number of voters will be looking at as they decide about ’24.”
That got back to Josh Hawley, one of the certification opponents and a surefire 2024 candidate if Trump doesn’t run:
"Obviously she's got to stand before voters, but I think that she certainly doesn't speak for the vast majority of Republicans or people in my state," Hawley said
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) April 27, 2021
And so we’re left with a question. Given what a headache she’s become for McCarthy, is there any chance of her being reelected to her leadership position even if she wins her primary in 2022? I think she has a decent shot at beating her MAGA challenger(s), as this WaPo story about Republican bigwigs from the pre-MAGA era donating to her campaign suggests that her primary is being treated as the Alamo by the circa 2012 Republican establishment. (Which makes that contest reeeeally tricky for McCarthy. He’ll try to stay out of it but Trump will want him to campaign against Cheney.) Even if she wins, though, the new Republican majority in the House won’t want to saddle the new Speaker with another two years of Cheney at his side given the tension between them and her refusal to make things easier for the caucus by laying off Trump. I think she’s running for reelection as a point of pride, to show that she won’t fall on her sword just because the Trumps have a grudge against her. But if she heads back to Congress, it’ll be as a backbencher whom most of her colleagues won’t want to work with. What’s the point of that?