We now have a House leadership composed entirely of people who voted to overturn the election on January 6 but all of whom did so opportunistically, not out of real conviction. Which feels like something of a compromise: Between the Cheney-esque Trump skeptics in the caucus and the hardcore Marjorie Taylor Greene MAGA true believers lie the Kevin McCarthys and Elise Stefaniks, the careerists who believe in nothing except their own advancement. If that requires total fealty to Trump at a given moment, fine. If it requires something different tomorrow, also fine.
I’m glad Chip Roy threw his hat into the ring at the last second, no doubt knowing he was destined to get creamed, since that forced the caucus to make an actual choice between a liberal Republican and one of the most committed conservatives in the House.
In the end it was 134-46. The RINO fell just short of getting three times as many votes as Roy did. That’s one good thing about Stefanik being promoted — it clarifies in an unusually bracing way that the party doesn’t care about policy anymore. At all.
According to the Times, Rep. Ken Buck rose at this morning’s meeting to nominate Roy and landed a hard shot at Stefanik in doing so: “Mr. Roy was a more suitable choice, Mr. Buck said, according to a person familiar with his remarks, since Republicans were not voting on which lawmaker was most likely to join ‘the Squad’…” That seems like a cheap shot at first blush, but is it really?
Elise Stefanik has a 35% conservative rating from Club for Growth.
Ilhan Omar has a 38% rating.
— Heath Mayo (@HeathMayo) May 14, 2021
An NBC reporter asked a fair question. What’s the point of “rating” Republican politicians anymore if policy doesn’t matter?
RIP conservative scorecards?
Chip Roy has lifetime ratings of 96% from Heritage Action and 95% from American Conservative Union.
He just got smoked for the No. 3 House GOP leadership job by Elise Stefanik, who has lifetime ratings of 48% from Heritage Action and 44% from ACU.
— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) May 14, 2021
I guess the answer is that the ratings matter if and only if two Republicans competing for an office are equally loyal to Trump. If you have two MAGA candidates, choose the more conservative. But if you have one candidate who was willing to try to overturn the election for Trump and one who wasn’t, as the House caucus did today, then you choose the insurrectionist irrespective of policy.
Although that rule isn’t ironclad either. If you have two insurrectionist candidates and one is clearly more conservative but Trump endorses the other for whatever idiosyncratic reason, who prevails?
The most noteworthy comment Stefanik made after her victory was thanking Trump and describing him as a “critical part of our leadership team”:
In her first remarks since being elected to replace Rep. Liz Cheney as House GOP conference chair, Rep. Elise Stefanik thanked former President Trump and called him "a critical part of our Republican team." pic.twitter.com/zATyG0TIra
— Mediaite (@Mediaite) May 14, 2021
Rep. Elise Stefanik: "I believe that voters determine the leader of the Republican Party and President Trump is the leader that they look to. I support President Trump." https://t.co/nHJqLzYI7U pic.twitter.com/nL8qQs9fGm
— The Hill (@thehill) May 14, 2021
One of the arguments for dumping Cheney made by MAGA fans and their apologists in the righty commentariat was that Cheney wouldn’t stop talking about the election and focus on Biden’s agenda. “What about Trump?” they were asked. “He’s still talking about the election almost every day. Why don’t House Republicans criticize him too?” Simple, they answered: Trump’s not in office anymore. He’s a private citizen. Cheney had a duty by dint of her leadership role to focus on the party’s grievances against Biden, not on her own grievances about an election that’s over and done with. Trump has no such duty because he’s not in leadership.
Except he is, of course, by Stefanik’s own admission. By Matt Gaetz’s admission too:
Donald J. Trump is the undisputed leader of the Republican Party.
— Rep. Matt Gaetz (@RepMattGaetz) May 13, 2021
That’s correct. Love Trump or hate him, there’s simply no good-faith dispute that he’s still the leader of the party. In fact, given how many 2024 hopefuls have already said they’d stand aside for him if he sought the nomination a third time, he may have a tighter grip on the GOP right now than he had at any point when he was president.
So if Cheney’s guilty of abdicating her leadership duties and hurting the party by harping on the election, Trump is too. She’s paid a price for it. What price should he pay?