I have often said that today’s Republican Party is full of perverse incentives—chief among them are who gets blamed, who gets punished, and who gets rewarded for their actions. I mean, Donald Trump incited an insurrection in an attempt to overthrow a democratic election just a couple weeks ago, yet the few brave Republicans who tried to hold him accountable are much more likely to suffer real-world consequences—particularly at the hands of their own party.
Case in point: Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney. In the brief days after she came out for impeachment, Cheney has garnered a Q-adjacent primary challenger, censure from the Carbon County Republican Party of Wyoming, Twitter and cable news attacks from the likes of Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, and serious attempts to oust her from her House leadership position by the “Freedom Caucus.”
That’s a heckuva way to thank her for what was (let’s be honest) a profile in courage—especially at a time when Republican politicians were reportedly worried not only about their political futures, but also their personal safety. Yet, in rebuking Trump for his obvious sins, Cheney pulled no punches, writing, “There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”
Now, you might think that Trump’s exodus, coupled with his sabotaging of the Georgia Senate elections and, oh yeah, his incitement of a mob, might cause Republicans to suddenly abandon him. Likewise, in a sane world, Republicans would be clamoring to make Liz Cheney the next Speaker of the House in 2022. But this would be too logical. Too normal. Instead, we are seeing the Republican Party double-down on Trumpism. Gaetz (a Cheney enemy) recently tweeted, “President Trump is still the leader of the Republican Party and the America First movement.”
It’s fair to say that this is not a fringe view in the GOP. With Trickle-Down Trumpism lingering, the worst are full of passionate intensity, and no good deed goes unpunished. What more would you expect from a party whose standard bearer fired a Purple Heart-recipient whistleblower like Lt. Col. Alex Vindman and pardoned war criminals? Gaetz was right, alas. This is still Trump’s party. Still, it is noteworthy that Gaetz is choosing to hitch his wagon to a man who, as National Review’s Kevin Williamson points out, is “the first president since Herbert Hoover to lead his party to losing the presidency, the House, and the Senate all in a single term. Along with being the first president to be impeached twice and the first game-show host elected to the office, that’s Trump’s claim to the history books. Well, that and 400,000 dead Americans and the failed coup d’état business.”
What’s not to cheer?
At the same time, the Gaetzes of the world have ratched up their attacks on Cheney. This behavior was foretold. As Brendan Buck, who served as an aide to former Speaker Paul Ryan, told CNN last summer, the criticism of Cheney is due to the fact that House Republicans are “all starting to see that Trump is losing and realize she’s planning a post-Trump world that they don’t like.”
It is said that you can tell a lot about a person by the enemies they attract. And in this regard, Cheney has made the right ones. Gaetz is merely one of the more prominent examples. Cheney’s primary opponent in Wyoming looks to QAnon Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene as a role model, blamed ANTIFA for the Jan. 6 insurrection, and may even be an anti-vaxxer. And the really crazy thing is...he could win!
Of course, before trying to fend off a Q-curious primary challenge, Cheney will have to fend off her own House GOP colleagues who want her to lose her leadership position. According to Politico, “at least 107 Republicans, or just over a majority, have communicated to the leaders of that effort that they would support removing Cheney from leadership on a secret ballot…”
Never mind the injustice of punishing heroic behavior—this doesn’t seem to be great politics. “Taking out the most senior woman in leadership when your party is bleeding out suburban women is the definition of self-harm,” a former GOP official told CNN. Then again, when has that ever stopped them?
At the same time that Cheney is being punished, it is looking increasingly likely that Senate Republicans will (once again) not muster the seventeen votes needed to convict Trump in his impeachment trial—which also means they will not disqualify him from a future presidential run. The Hill reports that “only five or six Republican senators at the most seem likely to vote for impeachment, far fewer than the number needed, GOP sources say.” This is probably because some time has passed since the insurrection, allowing Republicans to revert to mean (Mitch McConnell is now suggesting delaying the trial until February), and because Trump did not pardon any of the insurrectionists.
Of course, the real reason is simply that Republicans don’t want to hold Trump accountable, and they never have.
Liz Cheney, on the other hand? Fry her!