Leadership fight? Chip Roy says Stefanik's not conservative enough to lead caucus in memo to House GOP

AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

No, he’s not arguing that the caucus should keep Cheney in leadership instead. “From a position specifically designed to speak for all of us, she has been looking backwards while repeatedly and unhelpfully engaging in personal attacks and finger-wagging towards President Trump rather than leading the conference forward with a unifying message both on elections and more broadly,” he said of her in his memo today, confirming that he’ll vote to recall her tomorrow.

He just thinks they can do better than Elise Stefanik as a replacement given her decidedly RINO-ish voting record, to the point where he’s proposing leaving the position vacant if need be rather than elevating Stefanik to it.

Roy came bearing receipts:

Stefanik’s voting record “embodies much of what led to the 2018 ass-kicking we received by Democrats,” he went on say. (That ass-kicking was more about Trump alienating suburban voters, actually, but Roy’s career would be over if he admitted that.) As such, the caucus should either vacate the position for now or “choose someone who reflects our conservative values.” Someone like … Chip Roy, maybe?

I don’t think this is about Roy challenging Stefanik tomorrow, actually. I think it’s brand-building for the Freedom Caucus to which he belongs. He sees an opportunity here to reestablish the FC as a meaningful conservative force within the caucus, a role it enjoyed during the Boehner and early Ryan era but which evaporated after it became a wholly owned subsidiary of Trump and MAGA. By going against Stefanik, Trump’s endorsed choice for conference chair, Roy’s rebuilding a little cred for the Freedom Caucus as an entity independent of Trump and more serious about right-wing policy than he is.

And I do mean “a little.” His criticism of Cheney for looking backward, engaging in personal attacks, and not leading Republicans forward overlooks the fact that the leader of the party is doing the same thing day after day, with no objections from Roy or congressional Republicans. Trump’s latest:

I’m enjoying how his drumbeat of statements about the supposedly rigged election keeps making it harder for apologists like Roy and McCarthy to make the case that Cheney’s being purged because she won’t “move on.” That would be so much simpler for them if Trump himself were focused on the midterms and didn’t want to discuss 2020 anymore. The fact that he keeps obsessing about it makes the House GOP’s double standard towards Cheney glaring. Whether you conclude that there are special rules for Trump because the caucus is afraid of him or because they’re sympathetic to his election conspiracy theories, the fact is that they have special rules for him and they look like hypocrites because of it.

Occasionally a member of the party other than Adam Kinzinger calls them out about it too. Watch Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson knife McCarthy and Scalise for refusing to “move on” by visiting private citizen Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago.

McCarthy’s almost certainly going to win the vote tomorrow to have Cheney replaced with Stefanik (although maybe we’ll see some Freedom Caucus abstentions on the latter) but he may end up winning the battle only to lose the war. For one thing, Cheney is reportedly telling allies privately that she has no intention of backing off of Trump once she’s out of leadership. Trump’s not going to like that and will want McCarthy to do something to silence her, but what can he do? Even if they stripped Cheney of her committee assignments (which they won’t, if they were unwilling to do the same to Marjorie Taylor Greene), that won’t shut Cheney up either. To the extent that he and the caucus had any leverage over her via her leadership role in getting her to temper her remarks on Trump, it’s gone as of tomorrow.

“She can take to the House floor each day to deliver specific takedowns of each of Trump’s claims. Armed with support from people who actually know how elections work, she can bat down Trump’s falsehoods one by one,” writes Henry Olsen today, imagining how this might backfire on McCarthy. The clearer it becomes that Cheney’s not going to let up and will use her remaining 18 months in Congress to challenge her own party on the big lie it’s been telling about the election, the more engrossing the Cheney saga will become and the more media attention she’ll get. I can’t think of a politician in my lifetime who’s used their term in office to confront the civic culture created by the leader of her own party but that’s what Cheney’s poised to do.

The other way this could eat up McCarthy is by driving home to his caucus just how weak of a leader he is, something that’ll be on their minds if/when they regain control of the House next year and need to choose a Speaker. Politico’s already hearing rumblings:

“Kevin McCarthy has pissed off enough members of his own conference that he’s going to have to go back to his former days as a whip to try to figure out where his votes are” to become speaker, said the member, who is neither a member of the Freedom Caucus nor a moderate. “I’d be worried if I was him. … You have people like me — who are here to do the right thing for all the right reasons and have an expectation of leadership — that are, shall we say, disgusted with the internal squabbling that results from having weak leadership. And it is weak leadership. Straight up.”

A senior GOP aide to a conservative member put it this way: “He’s flip-flopped on [Jan. 6 and whether it’s] Trump’s fault, it’s not Trump’s fault. … It seems like he doesn’t have the backbone to lead. He bends to political pressure. It’s tough to do when you’re speaker. You have to lead.”

It’s all talk, I think. They’ll choose McCarthy in the end, partly because it’s “his turn” but mainly because they know it doesn’t matter who the Speaker is. They’re all taking dictation from Trump, as the results of tomorrow’s vote on Cheney will prove. Who cares who the lead stenographer is?