War: McCarthy used to agree with me about Trump and the insurrection, says Cheney in new op-ed

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

Normally when someone’s facing a leadership challenge they lie low and start working the phones to their colleagues to shore up support. Cheney’s doing the opposite. She’s not lobbying her colleagues to stick with her, according to Politico, whether because she knows it’s hopeless at this point (McCarthy and Scalise are reportedly whipping votes against her) or because she doesn’t want to lead a group willing to punish her for telling the truth about the election.

Instead she’s out this evening with a piece in the Washington Post wondering why Kevin McCarthy has gone from Trump critic to Trump ally since the impeachment vote on January 13 and calling on the party to reject the former president’s subversion of U.S. elections. “It’s like she’s trying to be an agitator,” one Republican told Politico of Cheney’s PR offensive. “It’s like she’s trying to stoke the fire to precipitate her own downfall.”

She’s going down swinging.

In public statements again this week, former president Donald Trump has repeated his claims that the 2020 election was a fraud and was stolen. His message: I am still the rightful president, and President Biden is illegitimate. Trump repeats these words now with full knowledge that exactly this type of language provoked violence on Jan. 6. And, as the Justice Department and multiple federal judges have suggested, there is good reason to believe that Trump’s language can provoke violence again. Trump is seeking to unravel critical elements of our constitutional structure that make democracy work — confidence in the result of elections and the rule of law. No other American president has ever done this.

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) left no doubt in his public remarks. On the floor of the House on Jan. 13, McCarthy said: “The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding.” Now, McCarthy has changed his story.

I am a conservative Republican, and the most conservative of conservative values is reverence for the rule of law. Each of us swears an oath before God to uphold our Constitution. The electoral college has spoken. More than 60 state and federal courts, including multiple Trump-appointed judges, have rejected the former president’s arguments, and refused to overturn election results. That is the rule of law; that is our constitutional system for resolving claims of election fraud…

While embracing or ignoring Trump’s statements might seem attractive to some for fundraising and political purposes, that approach will do profound long-term damage to our party and our country. Trump has never expressed remorse or regret for the attack of Jan. 6 and now suggests that our elections, and our legal and constitutional system, cannot be trusted to do the will of the people. This is immensely harmful, especially as we now compete on the world stage against Communist China and its claims that democracy is a failed system.

McCarthy has indeed changed his story. January 13, 2021, the day of the impeachment vote:

He said a few other things that day that are now considered off-message:

He made the same cynical miscalculation that Nikki Haley did when she criticized Trump in an interview with Politico around the same time. She thought that revulsion at the insurrection and Trump’s role in inspiring it would make him politically radioactive, sufficiently so that even most Republicans would begin to move away from him. She and McCarthy leaped out in front of what they thought would be a parade against Trumpism, only to find hardly anyone marching behind them. So they backtracked. Trump was reportedly furious with McCarthy for criticizing him in his floor remarks on impeachment day so McCarthy had to visit Mar-a-Lago to heal the rift. He stuck by Cheney in the initial attempt to remove her in February, apparently thinking that she’d repay him by never criticizing Trump or the attempt to overturn the election again. He miscalculated on that too so now he’s going to sacrifice her to appease Trump again.

And he’s not alone. Rank-and-file members are also pissed off that she keeps telling the truth about the post-election period, knowing that their base doesn’t want to hear it.

Cheney’s standing in the conference is so poor now that a source familiar told The Daily Beast that at least one member who voted to impeach Trump had complained to leadership about Cheney’s behavior. And two of the sources familiar with the situation also indicated that many of the Republicans who voted to save Cheney last time wouldn’t do so when a motion to remove her is likely brought up at the next GOP conference meeting, on May 12. In fact, several of the GOP lawmakers who voted to preserve her position last time around have since complained directly to Republican leadership about Cheney and her Trump feud, these people said…

“Kevin [McCarthy] went out of his way to sort of put this stuff behind the conference and move on. And she doesn’t want to move on,” one former GOP member said.

For House Republicans, Cheney was supposed to approach her criticism of “stop the steal” and the Capitol riot as a box to be checked and never mentioned again. Instead she’s approached it for what it is, a running debate within the party in which Trump continues to participate enthusiastically. He’s supposed to have the last word in important matters. Cheney won’t let him so she has to go.

The irony, notes Benjy Sarlin, is that Trump and Cheney are now working towards a common goal:

Cheney wants the caucus to reveal just how prostrate they are before Trump by punishing her for defying him. Annnnnd Trump wants exactly the same thing. She’s going to make this as painful as possible for McCarthy and his deputies by speaking out in defense of America’s civic traditions as they knife her for it. Trump couldn’t care less, so long as they knife her. “[W]e Republicans need to stand for genuinely conservative principles, and steer away from the dangerous and anti-democratic Trump cult of personality,” she writes near the end of her op-ed, knowing that her imminent demotion will be read as Republicans steering directly into it. For Trump, seeing the House caucus now controlled by a bloc of hyperloyalists, all of whom voted to block certification of Biden’s victory on January 6, is a delightful triumph.

She says the party’s a personality cult, he says yep. Everyone gets what they want from this.

Democrats are reportedly eager to echo that point in their midterm messaging by using Cheney’s ouster as proof that the GOP is still under Trump’s spell, but that’s silly given how much other evidence of that fact he’ll willingly provide next summer. He’ll be campaigning against Cheney and other pro-impeachment Republicans; he’ll probably be on TV and on radio regularly revisiting the “stolen election” stuff ad nauseam, with Kevin McCarthy forced to make constipated faces whenever he’s asked about it by reporters. Voters will have no doubt by November 2022 that it’s still Trump’s party, lock, stock, and barrel. The Cheney thing will be a distant memory.

I’ll leave you with this fun development, in which the Club for Growth runs headfirst into the fact that conservative beliefs no longer matter within the GOP. Stefanik supported overturning the election, Cheney opposed it. That’s all that matters to the party and its base post-Trump.