Yesterday, House Republicans voted to remove Liz Cheney of Wyoming from the #3 position in their leadership:

In a remarkable display of loyalty to Donald J. Trump, Republicans moved quickly to purge Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming from House leadership on Wednesday, voting to oust their No. 3 for repudiating the former president’s election lies and holding him responsible for the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. (Source: New York Times)

While I know it has to do in part with her vote to Impeach former President Trump, and her opposition to his claims about election fraud, it seems like there must be something else there. Cheney successfully fought off a similar leadership challenge just a few months ago, and the kinds of criticism she directed at Trump were quite common among Republicans (including many of the ones who voted against her) back in January. So what's changed? Why is she being purged now?


4 Answers 4


I rather liked Byron York's piece, in the Washington examiner, on it

Cheney's current problems intensified after the first vote on her leadership, when she intensified her campaign against Trump. Cheney's efforts were undoubtedly media-friendly — she was portrayed as a profile in courage by some media outlets — but many Republicans came to believe, with some reason, that she had become a distraction from the GOP's mission to oppose the Biden agenda and win back the House in 2022. Instead, Cheney seemed determined to re-fight the battles of November 2020 to January 2021.

And later

For her part, Cheney is now making clear that she has become something of a single-issue politician and that her single issue is Trump. Recently, the Washington Post, citing interviews with a dozen people, reported that Cheney's "determination to name, shame and banish Trump ... had become fundamental to her political purpose." Now, CNN reports that Cheney is "planning to wage a protracted political war — through public statements and in the media — against the former president." And it will not just be a war against Trump. Axios recently reported that part of Cheney's strategy involves "baiting" fellow Republicans over their support of the ex-president.

The simple fact is that Cheney took her momentum from the prior battle to stay as leader and started an open campaign against Trump. Last week, Cheney wrote a rather scathing op-ed about the party as a whole. I found another article that has a small excerpt

"Trump is seeking to unravel critical elements of our constitutional structure that make democracy work - confidence in the result of elections and the rule of law. No other American president has ever done this," Cheney said in the column.

It's hard to get a sense of where the GOP is. This quote from York's piece epitomizes a lot of GOP sentiment I've seen

"I don't think the party has surrendered to Trump," the second lawmaker said, addressing a common media talking point. "But we are beholden to those who supported most of the policies that we voted for and agreed with. I'm not beholden to Donald Trump, but a lot of his policies were awfully good for the country, and a lot of people support that."

The GOP is caught between a rock and a hard place at present. On the one hand, Trump was quite popular with the GOP base (Trump had an 82% approval among GOP voters on Jan 4). On the other, there was the capitol riot, which came on the heels of the "stolen election" narrative (wherein Trump went to war with his own party, going so far as to vow to campaign against GOP incumbents in Georgia). The bulk of the problem with Cheney seems to be that she kept stirring the Trump pot (even as Trump is gradually losing support).

  • 1
    To mention Trump's approval rating of what it was 2 days before rioters attacked the USA capitol and brutally killed a Capitol Police officer protecting the American capitol seems a bit disingenuous. Since this question asks about Cheney today, and not on or before Jan 4th, it would be more more relevant to present approval numbers AFTER the riots took place (for which he was, once again, impeached). May 16, 2021 at 5:11
  • 5
    @RockPaperLz-MaskitorCasket A couple of things there. 1. I mention the pre-riot numbers (which were quite high) and contrast them with his numbers now (which are not). Those high numbers still weigh heavily on the GOP, even though they have fallen 2. The capitol police officer died of natural causes. Initial reporting was incorrect. No officers were killed by rioters, although many were injured.
    – Machavity
    May 16, 2021 at 11:59
  • 1
    1. Where do you contrast the numbers? You provided only a single percentage. 2. Thank you for the article you linked, as I had obviously never seen it. Quoting from it: "Diaz’s ruling does not mean Sicknick was not assaulted or that the violent events at the Capitol did not contribute to his death. The medical examiner noted Sicknick was among the officers who engaged the mob and said “all that transpired played a role in his condition.”" May 16, 2021 at 22:21
  • 1. I noted at the end that Trump's current numbers are nowhere near as high 2. The point there is he didn't die in the widely reported method of "being struck with a fire extinguisher" (which was listed in the Impeachment). It doesn't exonerate Trump, but neither does it condemn him.
    – Machavity
    May 17, 2021 at 2:37

I think any answer to this is going to involve some level of speculation — clearly no one involved (aside from Cheney herself) wants to discuss the issue openly — but I think I can point at some obvious constraints on the GOP in this moment. The GOP is in a bind:

  • They cannot explicitly contradict Trump's fake 'election fraud' narrative without suffering a torrent of abuse from Trump and his most vocal supporters, which will (ostensibly) have electoral consequences in the Trumpist portion of their constituencies.
  • They cannot admit that their behavior up to and through the 1/6 insurrection was mistaken, flawed, wrong, problematic, misguided, or etc, because that runs counter to the nationalist turn the party has taken. Nationalists do not admit flaws or failures within their group; the thrust of nationalism is to present itself as superior in essence, and focus attention on the flaws and failures of other groups.
  • They cannot as a group explicitly endorse Trump's fake narrative or the 1/6 insurrection (though individual members may do so on their own); that would leave them vulnerable to anti-democracy accusations, since they would be forced to publicly defend both the lies and the insurrection. That would have electoral consequences among moderates and traditional Republicans.
  • They have to walk a fine line with the donor class: wealthy corporations and individuals who risk steep financial repercussions if they are perceived to be supporting crazed conspiracy theories and blatantly anti-democratic authoritarianism.

They can neither embrace nor reject Trump and his nonsense at this moment, and their political hopes are based — bluntly put — on moving forward with the pretense that there is nothing to look at or think about from the last 4+ years except the likelihood that Democrats were doing something untoward.

Pay no attention to the coarse little man behind the curtain; the Great and Mighty Oz will decry what others have done...

Rep Cheney became a problem because (a) Trump already has a vindictive narrative against her, and (b) she refuses to let the flaws and failures of the GOP over the last 6 months stand. As a House GOP leader she was forcing the GOP to confront the very thing that the GOP is studiously trying to ignore, so she had to be removed from leadership to keep that noncommittal pretense in play. The GOP leadership needs to keep that curtain closed, so that the Great and Mighty GOP can attack the Libs and the Dems without succumbing to morbidly ironic hypocrisy.

I suspect Cheney refused to back down and play the game because Trump had already painted a target on her back, and she's smart enough to know that Trump is too vindictive to give up an attack once he's started: her only viable strategy for re-election is to push back on Trump hard in the hopes she can win over moderates who also dislike Trump, and maybe score sanity and integrity points against whatever Trumpist candidate tries to unseat her.

  • 12
    What are "mainstream republicans", as opposed to the 82% of GOP voters supporting Trump referenced in Machavity's answer?
    – Jontia
    May 14, 2021 at 9:32
  • 5
    @Jontia Mainstream here refers to those in power who have not explicitly endorsed Trumpism, but adhere to the conservative values the party held before Trump. Trump specifically ran as being outside the mainstream, and thus he and his supporters are generally not treated as such, despite their position of power in the party. They're the radicals, the reactionaries. The ones for whom traditional conservatism is irrelevant.
    – trlkly
    May 14, 2021 at 13:05
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    @CGCampbell: While I could probably support this better if I were so inclined, there is a difference between opinion and analysis that you fail to acknowledge. May 14, 2021 at 14:54

The reason for the change is probably CPAC. Backing up a bit, the narrative was that with Trump's election loss, blame for also losing the Senate, and his subsequent bad behavior Trumpism was assumed to be dead. Put nicely by a congresswoman: "we Republicans need to stand for genuinely conservative principles, and steer away from the dangerous and anti-democratic Trump cult of personality" (Liz Cheney herself in a Washington Post May 5 opinion piece).

Going back to the second impeachment, in early February Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader 'excoriated former President Trump [...] said the former president was "practically and morally responsible" for the attack on the Capitol [... and said] "This was an intensifying crescendo of conspiracy theories orchestrated by an outgoing president who seemed determined to either overturn the voters' decision or else torch our institutions on the way out"' (CBS news Feb 14th). Yow! Of course that's only the Senate, which was actually broken into on Jan 6th. The House Republicans weren't quoted as much since they weren't needed for that vote, but 10 of them voted to impeach Trump. That seemed like a pretty thorough rejection of "Trumpism". Liz Cheney's brand of 'back to conservatism' seemed to be in.

About her, she's not just some congresswoman. She's royalty -- the daughter of Dick Cheney, Bush's very influential VP and before that GHW Bush's Secretary of Defense during Desert Storm. She also got some conservative street cred coming out against gay marriage after her gay sister got married.

Meanwhile CPAC (the conservative political action conference) was announced as being in Florida (Trump's new home) on December 8th (Florida WKNG News-6). That's after calls to overturn the election results, but it's still almost a month before the Jan 6th events. The new anti-Trump sentiment could prevail. But when we get to the event it's a Trump-a-thon. From Feb 28th NBC news "The event’s multiday program was teeming with Trump allies and sounded, at times, like a Trump-themed airing of grievances, from false claims of an unsecure 2020 election[...]", and "he won CPAC's presidential straw poll". This was Feb 25-28, just a few weeks after Senate trial.

The swing away from early Feb rejection of Trump continues. From Liz Cheney's piece again: "On the floor of the House on Jan. 13, McCarthy said: “The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding.” Now, McCarthy has changed his story" and more recently (May 12th NBC news): "Multiple Republican members of Congress on Wednesday offered a false retelling of the devastating events that occurred during the Capitol riot, with one calling the entire event a “bold faced lie” that more closely resembled a “normal tourist visit” than a deadly attack". It mentions the much-mocked Rep. Clyde clip where he says "Watching the TV footage of those who entered the Capitol, and walk through Statuary Hall showed people in an orderly fashion staying between the stanchions and ropes taking videos and pictures, you know".

To sum up, in early February it looked like the Republican party was moving to the idea Trump was a 1-term president, who tried to overthrow the government, and was really more about himself than being a true conservative. It was time to move on and Liz Cheney looked like one of the new leaders for that. But the swing stopped and reverse. It took this long for it to play out. Cheney might have apologized for voting to convict Trump, instead she said she was serious about him being a dead-end. Post-CPAC, members might have calmed down and decided Trump is not the future. But instead both positions hardened until it came to a head last week.


Personally I am a Republican (sorry if you don't like that) and to be honest about what happened with Liz Cheney was a bunch hogwash, but that's how politics go. I personally believe the reason why Liz Cheney lost her job was because we don't want somebody to hold a position that she did and say stuff the party doesn't entirely agree with. It just doesn't look good for the party (which isn't an excuse to fire her).

This isn't just a Republican thing. For example, say Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (A democrat) say's "Donald Trump is a great man!" (which we all know that she would never say that). The Democrats wouldn't like what she said and she would be removed from the position of Speaker of The House because it wouldn't look good to have her hold that position to the Democratic Party.

So that's pretty much why I think is what happened with Liz Cheney.

  • This answer appears to be opinion based.
    – Joe W
    May 20, 2021 at 19:18

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