McCarthy Bows Before the Big Lie, Axes Cheney, and Begs Trump to Eat Him Last
Democracy dies in lies, and so may the minority leader’s dream of ascending to the speakership.
Republicans are copping a plea to the crime of banishing Liz Cheney even before committing it on Wednesday: Trump made us do it. They perpetrated the lie that the election was stolen, but only to keep him from eating them for breakfast in the midterms.
To keep his job and, he hopes, rise to Speaker in 2023, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has tied himself so tightly to the mast of the ex-president who Rep. Adam Kinzinger memorably described as the passenger on the Titanic “running around trying to find women’s clothing to get on the first lifeboat.”
The man in a skirt behind Trump in that picture is McCarthy. It wasn’t enough to save his knees from being capped that he voted—after the riot—to stop the electoral college count. He now has to silence Cheney, the pedigreed Republican who until now had been third in the leadership and who unacceptably believes conscience has a place in the caucus. Like the Romney family, the Cheneys particularly annoy Trump, whose own brood runs more towards grifting and intrafamily lawsuits than to governing. What’s worse, Cheney outright blamed Trump for the Jan. 6 insurrection, insisted the most examined election in history wasn’t stolen from Trump, and warned that to buy into any of it was to “poison our democracy.”
A binary thinker when he thinks at all, McCarthy saw the situation devolving to whether she would become Trump’s snack, or he would. He withstood the pressure from his MAGA members through an earlier vote but then engineered a second one to get her out of his hair on Wednesday. Without checking with his conservatives, he found a female replacement in Elise Stefanik, a one-time Trump critic whose spine is as wavy as McCarthy’s. The member who nominated Cheney for her post and now intends to take it for herself, Stefanik understood that her way to a promotion was to embrace the prisoner of Mar-a-Lago by lying about the election. Not a problem.
The Trump-made-me-do-it story isn’t the whole of the Stefanik-Cheney trade. There’s another, more sinister reason: they need to shut up Cheney before she exposes them for using non-existent fraud in 2020 as a reason to make voting harder. If the 2020 election wasn’t stolen, what’s the basis for these crusades in dozens of states to curtail mail-in ballots, curbside boxes, Sunday voting, and even bottled water? There could be disappearing ink in those bottles.
The Republican position now is to try and rig elections up front with voter suppression and, if a deserving Republican should nonetheless lose, to contest the validity of the vote. Few will have the time, money or chutzpah to launch as many baseless challenges as Trump did. But the seeds have been planted to grow the presumption that a Republican who doesn’t win but should have must be the victim of fraud. So far, 70 percent of the party believes Trump won and 50 percent that there’s “solid evidence” Democrats were behind it.
It’s the poison Cheney warned about.
The new normal played out in Virginia’s GOP gubernatorial primary over the weekend when state Senator Amy Chase, who called herself “Trump in heels,” claimed the election was “corrupt” because she didn’t win after being ahead in an early poll.
Around the country, those who didn’t go along with “stopping the steal” have been fired, censured, run out of town, and primaried. The Utah Republican Party—the one that just booed Mitt Romney off the stage—elected as its new party secretary Olivia Horlacher, who should have been ineligible for having joined the march that stormed the Capitol. But all she had to do to explain herself to ever more credulous MAGA Republicans was claim she’d been there pleading for more “honest and transparent” elections.
In Arizona, stopping the steal has been going on for months with rogue Republican cyber-ninjas wielding UV lights to search, in vain, for watermarks and traces of bamboo to “prove” ballot boxes were stuffed with fakes from southeast Asia. The only restraint on Republicans’ assault on democracy is Dominion Voting Systems. The company is suing Rudy Giuliani and others for accusing it of having corporate ties to Venezuela's Hugo Chavez (deceased) and sympathy for antifa, a fever dream that much of the party still believes, facts be damned.
Democracy dies in lies, but so may McCarthy’s dream of the speakership. By disappearing Cheney, McCarthy got himself through the day but maybe not through tomorrow and thereafter. If the party reclaims the House in 2022, his colleagues may have second thoughts about elevating an apparatchik who presided over the coup of a trusted friend to the speaker’s chair once held by giants like Nicholas Longworth and Joe Cannon.
An ally of McCarthy told Politico that the minority leader has “pissed off enough members of his own conference” with “weak” leadership that’s elevated the likes of Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz while punishing Cheney, that he needs to be counting his votes like the whip he was. “I’d be worried if I were him.” And maybe about his seat. Loyalty is not Trump’s strength. Would Trump turn away a more fervent MAGA candidate who wanted to primary McCarthy?
“Remaining silent and ignoring the lie emboldens the liar,” Cheney said on Tuesday. “I will not participate in that. I will not sit back and watch in silence while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former president’s crusade to undermine our democracy.”
Eventually, inevitably, Trump will fade but the door he opened to an election being the first verdict, not the last, remains ajar. Republicans like McCarthy are muting the loudest voice in their party for saving democracy as we used to know it, but not for long. The victor Wednesday wasn’t McCarthy or Trump, but Cheney. Even if she loses her 2022 race, she will be well into planning her presidential run and Trump will be doing karaoke nightly at 11, that’s if he’s not indicted, imprisoned, or in hiding from his creditors—or a third ex-wife.
Not that another Cheney in the White House would be good for the country, but by then enough Republicans may see Trump as she did, a sad excuse for a president, a liar, and a loser. What remains of the GOP may go with her, as a break with all that, against a bevy of Trump apologists led by Nikki Haley.
Cheney says she will have a statement at the end of the day. It should begin with “Thank you.”