Republicans Wish Liz Cheney Would Keep Quiet

Liz Cheney, the Republican congresswoman from Wyoming, is likely to be dumped as chairman of the party’s House conference. That’s not because she recognized in public that President Joe Biden won the legal votes to be president. It’s not because she voted to impeach President Donald Trump over his campaign to keep power even though he had lost. After all, she won a vote to keep her position not long after the impeachment. She’s on her way out the door because, in the weeks after she prevailed, she refused to stop talking about Trump’s lies and the riot they caused at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

The colleagues who have dropped their support for her think that when she was asked about Trump, she should have changed the subject. They wish that when Trump issued a statement on May 3 calling the 2020 election fraudulent, she would have ignored it instead of responding that the former president was “poisoning the democratic system.” She was unhelpfully re-litigating the past, they muttered; never mind that he was doing the same thing, in a worse way.

Republican weariness with Cheney involves some very fine distinctions. Representative Chip Roy of Texas said in January that Trump had engaged in “impeachable conduct.” In late February, though, he explained that Cheney had “forfeited” her claim to her job when she answered a question by saying that she did not think the man who engaged in that conduct should lead the Republican Party in the future.

They prefer the approach of Representative Elise Stefanik of New York. She worked hard in the months after the election to give the impression that she was fully on Trump’s side without actually endorsing his preposterous claim to have won big. Her probable reward for indulging the lie is becoming Cheney’s successor.

The best case for Cheney’s departure from the House Republican leadership is that her position is untenable. She was never going to apologize for voting for impeachment; that’s not her style. Republicans who thought she could also, somehow, not stand by that vote were kidding themselves. But how tenable is their own position?

Most Republican politicians would like Trump to fade away on his own without their doing anything that upsets him or his strongest supporters. They don’t want to join Trump in claiming that the Democrats stole the 2020 election. They don’t want to join Cheney in denying it, either. It will take a lot of luck to keep dodging through next year’s primaries.

Trump, meanwhile, seems unwilling to cooperate in fading away. A Republican Party that incorporates some of the changes he has wrought, moves on and succeeds is not in his interest. And even without a Twitter account, he has a flair for getting attention.

The anti-Trump faction of the party has indulged in its own unrealism. They have little influence and fewer numbers. But they have sometimes played a bad hand badly. Many of them, such as Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, endorsed a candidate in a special election for a House seat in Texas who based his entire campaign on being anti-Trump. He was predictably trounced. The likely winner of the runoff is a standard-issue Republican who got Trump’s endorsement but does not come across as a true believer in him.

Any fault-finding should acknowledge that the choices available to Republicans who oppose Trump, and especially the politicians among them, have not been attractive ones. Cheney has been forthrightly saying what she believes. You could make worse decisions, and a lot of her fellow Republicans have.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is a senior editor at National Review and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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