As House Republicans prepare to purge current conference chairwoman Liz Cheney (R-WY) from leadership, former President Donald Trump’s pals on Capitol Hill have been keeping him posted on the efforts to demote her—and the ex-president has been assured that Cheney will be punished by her colleagues as soon as next week.
In recent days, Trump has been on the phone with several key allies in the House GOP conference, asking for updates on the Cheney situation, as well as on whether there will indeed be a vote to remove her from her leadership post, according to two sources with knowledge of the calls.
Two different people familiar with these conversations say that, in the past few days, one of the top House Republicans who Trump has spoken to about Cheney was Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). And on the call, McCarthy told Trump that Cheney would be on her way out soon. McCarthy’s office declined to comment for this story.
On Wednesday, Trump took a break from golfing and dining with Republican senators at Mar-a-Lago to again wade into internal House GOP politics, this time to post on his blog about his choice for Cheney’s would-be successor.
"Liz Cheney is a warmongering fool who has no business in Republican Party Leadership," Trump said in his statement. "We want leaders who believe in the Make America Great Again movement, and prioritize the values of America First. Elise Stefanik is a far superior choice, and she has my COMPLETE and TOTAL Endorsement for GOP Conference Chair. Elise is a tough and smart communicator!"
While the twice-impeached former president has persistently called for Cheney’s political ruin—and his statement of support for Stefanik and against Cheney probably is the nail in the coffin—the reality is, Trump probably doesn’t need to lift a finger. Conversations with a dozen sources on Capitol Hill and in Trump’s orbit revealed that Cheney is almost certainly playing out her last week as the GOP conference chairwoman.
“Cheney was a dead woman walking long before her ‘Big Lie’ tweet or McCarthy’s hot mic ‘leak,’ and I’m sure she knew it,” a senior GOP aide told The Daily Beast.
One Republican member also theorized that Cheney had “seen the writing on the wall” and was going out “in a blaze of glory.” But a source familiar with Cheney’s thinking told The Daily Beast that everything she’s said has been “chiefly motivated by telling the truth and saying what needs to be said.”
“There are two things at play: her position on telling the truth and where she stands could not be clearer,” this source continued. “She has been very direct about that and the choice before members is simply ‘Is it OK to be in leadership and tell the truth?’”
According to this source, Cheney has told members that it’s not worth holding on to the conference chair position “if lying is going to be a requirement.”
Cheney herself wrote a Washington Post op-ed Wednesday in which she said the question before Republicans now is whether “we will join Trump’s crusade to delegitimize and undo the legal outcome of the 2020 election.”
“History is watching. Our children are watching,” Cheney wrote. “We must be brave enough to defend the basic principles that underpin and protect our freedom and our democratic process. I am committed to doing that, no matter what the short-term political consequences might be.”
The short-term consequence for Cheney may be losing the conference chair position, and she seems at peace with that. But Cheney’s allies haven’t given up and are clinging to the hope that a vote by secret ballot may still turn out in her favor, as it did the last time—even though the odds are increasingly against it.
During the last vote to remove her, on the night of Feb. 3, Cheney survived for a number of reasons. For one, Republicans were also dealing with an effort from Democrats to strip Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) of her committee assignments, and the perception that Republicans would vote to save a QAnon-curious congresswoman while removing the conference chairwoman—hailing from a Republican dynasty—didn’t sit right with many members.
The other major reason was that Cheney still had the backing of McCarthy and Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA). With their endorsements, the effort to remove Cheney from her position wasn’t really even close. Republicans voted 145-61 to keep Cheney as the chair, with one member voting present.
In the few months since that vote, however, Cheney has continued to be outspoken about some simple truths—truths that Republicans would either like to outright debate or simply ignore: one, that Donald Trump lost the 2020 election fair and square, and two, that Trump bears responsibility for the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
Every time she acknowledges those rather obvious points, it makes the contrast between her and the rest of the GOP conference—particularly leaders like McCarthy and Scalise—starker.
“Liz Cheney is the kid at the parade that says the emperor has no clothes,” Sarah Longwell, an anti-Trump GOP strategist, told The Daily Beast.
“They want their message to be built on a lie,” Longwell said, “and she’s not letting that happen.”
According to Longwell, it’s an obvious problem for Republicans: Cheney is “objectively correct,” but that’s not the reality in which Republicans want to live. It’s much more politically expedient to pretend that Trump actually won the election, thus necessitating voting access restrictions, and to pretend that Trump bears no responsibility for the insurrection.
But even for the Republicans who supported Cheney in February, her outspokenness on calling out the GOP’s lies has become a bit much.
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 have since complained directly to Republican leadership about Cheney and her Trump feud, these people said.
Even former GOP members who are viewing the controversy from outside think Cheney has overstepped her bounds.
“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.
Complicating Cheney’s chances of survival is that this vote seems to increasingly have become less of a vote to remove her and more of a contest between her and Stefanik.
Stefanik—the Harvard-educated, once-sort-of-moderate, now-proudly-pro-Trump representative from upstate New York—is openly campaigning for the position. And Republicans seem to think replacing a woman in leadership with another woman would negate any criticism that their problems with Cheney are rooted in sexism.
Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA) drew ire from some current and former female GOP representatives when he equated Cheney’s vote to impeach Trump to being at a football game and looking up into the stands and seeing “your girlfriend on the opposition’s side.”
“That’s one hell of a tough thing to swallow,” Kelly told The New York Times.
Another GOP lawmaker, Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC), also said Cheney’s “defiant attitude” bothered him, and that she wasn’t being a “team player.”
Former Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock of Virginia told The Daily Beast that it was blatant sexism driving the conference to oust Cheney.
“And for a woman to be a handmaiden to this effort to punish another woman for speaking the truth is sad and cynical,” Comstock said, adding that Republicans would be replacing Cheney with a woman “who believes the big lie and is Trump approved.”
Comstock also tweeted Tuesday night that, yes, the attacks on Cheney were rooted in sexism, but added, “trying to replace her with a Trump approved woman is every bit as sexist, stupid, and offensive.”
But Longwell denied that the key issue was sexism. For Longwell, it’s just that The Big Lie is a “predicate” for 2022 and 2024 and all the voting rights issues Republicans want to push.
“It has a lot more to do with the fact that the Republican Party is going through an identity crisis,” Longwell said. “They don’t know who they are, and Liz Cheney knows exactly who she is.”