Trump: From now on, the stolen election is "the big lie." Liz Cheney: No, it isn't.

Trump: From now on, the stolen election is "the big lie." Liz Cheney: No, it isn't.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File

Most of the pundit chatter about this exchange today has dwelt on how Cheney has made trouble for herself in the caucus once again by rebuking Trump. Which is true, just as it’s also true that she’s getting closer to being ousted from leadership.

But the Cheney drama is a footnote. Whether she remains as head of the House Republican Conference is interesting mainly to political junkies, not to average voters.

The long-term problem for the GOP from this pair of statements comes from Trump’s statement, not Cheney’s.

Now that he’s issued his edict that Biden’s victory should be described as a lie, every prominent Republican in the country will be pressed on it. Including and especially would-be presidential candidates like Ron DeSantis, Kristi Noem, Josh Hawley, and Ted Cruz. “Do you agree with President Trump that Biden’s victory was a big lie?” They’ll try to finesse their answers by saying something noncommittal about how there were “serious questions” raised about “voter integrity” or whatever, but I bet there’ll be a populist firebrand or two somewhere in the 2024 field who’ll be willing to give voters a strong-form “hell yes, it was rigged!” answer.

Which means the electable contenders like DeSantis will be stuck. If they don’t embrace election trutherism whole hog, they risk alienating hardcore MAGA voters. If they do embrace it, they risk coming off like cranks to swing voters. Trump’s statement today all but forces them to choose. In fact, DeSantis is destined to be asked about this even before 2024 since he’s up for reelection in Florida next year. He’ll get some early practice on how to manage Trump’s demands that Republican candidates accept his alternate version of reality in lieu of actual reality.

As for Cheney, today’s tweet inched her even closer to the cliff:

IS LIZ OUT OF A LEADERSHIP JOB? Honestly, we don’t know yet. But what is clear right now is that there is a coordinated effort by KEVIN MCCARTHY to box her out. The Republican leader is signaling that if anyone wants to try to force another vote to oust her from the post, he’s not planning to defend her anymore. McCarthy has been refusing to appear with Cheney at press conferences for months and, according to our sources, recently declined to give her a moderating role at the GOP retreat in Orlando, even as he allowed others in leadership to head up panels.

It’s also notable that one of McCarthy’s new besties in Congress, Republican Study Committee Chair JIM BANKS (R-Ind.), who has conference chair ambitions of his own, went on record over the weekend criticizing her.

“If a prerequisite for leading our conference is continuing to lie to our voters, then Liz is not the best fit,” said Anthony Gonzalez, one of the 10 House Republicans who voted for impeachment in January, on Friday. “Liz isn’t going to lie to people. Liz is going to say what she believes. She’s going to stand on principle. And if that’s going to be distracting for folks, she’s not the best fit. I wish that weren’t the case.” Darned if she didn’t prove him right with her tweet this morning. In fact, as I write this at 1:30 p.m. ET, she’s the only House Republican to challenge Trump’s statement. There’s no strategic benefit to her in doing so given her shaky place in leadership; she did it, I assume, because she’s decided she’s just not going to bend the knee, no matter what it costs her professionally.

An interesting wrinkle to Trump’s statement is that Facebook’s oversight board is set to decide on Wednesday whether his account should be reinstated after it was suspended in January. If he cares about that, and he probably should considering how it would restore his instant pipeline to tens of millions of supporters, you would think he’d want to keep the “stop the steal” propaganda to a minimum at the moment. Let the board think he’s learned his lesson and has moved on from denying Biden’s victory so that they’ll opt to restore his account. Then he can post what he wants and dare them to discipline him again. Instead he’s gift-wrapped an excuse for them to uphold his suspension, demonstrating that he’ll get back to “rigged election” incitement as soon as he’s able. Although I guess that would have been clear enough even without today’s statement: He hasn’t been shy about making his views known at Mar-a-Lago, for instance. The clip below would have landed in front of the board regardless.

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