Counterpoint: Lopsided Cheney Victory in Last Night's Leadership Vote is a Good Thing for House GOP

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Posted: Feb 04, 2021 1:05 PM
Counterpoint: Lopsided Cheney Victory in Last Night's Leadership Vote is a Good Thing for House GOP

In which I respectfully dissent from Matt's view on Liz Cheney maintaining her House GOP leadership position.  By way of background, I was opposed to Democrats' first, partisan impeachment effort against President Trump -- but felt like the second round was far more justified.  This detailed story published last weekend underscores the reasons behind that belief.  President Trump promoted a baseless lie for months, and made extraordinary efforts to overturn an election he'd lost.  His campaign of lies ultimately fueled a movement that culminated in a violent attack on the US Capitol, the goal of which was to disrupt a constitutionally-required step in America's sacred peaceful transfer of power.  People died, including a police officer.  Trump's public pronouncements and social media posts egged on the madness until it was too late.  I've made my views on all this rather clear, understanding full well that many conservative disagree.  

That said, I do see both sides on the impeachment and trial questions, and I don't think it's terribly helpful for the GOP to be tearing itself apart over anything right now -- particularly not a former president.  Among House Republicans, I saw the rationales offered by those who voted to impeach as compelling, but also found statements from many who voted against impeachment (like these, for instance) to be entirely defensible.  That vote was treated as a conscience call by leadership, which did not whip members to align with any official party position on the subject.  Cheney came to a conclusion that departed from the vast majority of the conference, though her reasoning almost certainly held wider appeal than was reflected in the final tally, given the pressure and fear members faced.

Given the fact pattern of events that led up to the deadly insurrectionist riot, Cheney did what she believed was right.  She obviously knew the political risks.  She's a smart woman.  Likewise, she certainly understands that she'll probably have a whale of a primary fight on her hands.  She nevertheless chose to lead, follow her principles, and let the chips fall where they may.  That's admirable.  If the House GOP had voted to oust her for that decision, especially on the same day that they chose to take no internal action over the past crackpot ravings of a freshman member, the message received by many voters would have been toxic, in my view.  Unswerving loyalty to one man -- a former official, at that -- is not a healthy litmus test for any functional or forward-looking party.  Some of Cheney's detractors cited her uber-hawkishness and other policy matters has supposedly relevant issues in the leadership controversy, but that was misdirection.  And yes, I'm aware that Cheney overstepped by funding a primary challenge against a sitting Republican member in 2018, for which some (understandable) residual resentment still exists. But this recent push was fundamentally about one thing, and one thing only: Trump.  

I do not share many of Cheney's hard line foreign policy views, nor am I so fanatically pro-impeachment that it morphed into a decisive litmus test in my own mind.   I do feel strongly, however, that purging members who voted against the grain on impeachment -- not a core policy or principle of conservatism, mind you -- is a punitive and cultish impulse.  If the goal now is for the conference to unify and turn its attention to defeating Nancy Pelosi's many impending excesses and destructive policies, cries for "unity" and "moving forward" must require both telling the truth about the 2020 election (it wasn't stolen), and applying calls for unification evenly.  It's absurd to demand that the party move past the divisiveness of impeachment while simultaneously seeking to punish people over their impeachment votes.  For those who say that Cheney's vote betrayed her leadership position because it cut against majorities of both her caucus and GOP voters writ large, I'll repeat that this was treated as a pure conscience vote.  No policy principle was at stake.  

Furthermore, leaders are not elected to reflexively act as partisan robots who run popularity algorithms and spit out a decision based on their tribe's safest 'consensus.'  Leadership sometimes entails risk-taking.  Cheney took a risk here.  She may yet lose her seat when she faces voters in the 2022 primary season (though her announced challenger is bending over backward to flirt with crankery).  But she demonstrated strength before the conference last night.  She reportedly defended her position, adamantly refused to apologize, and in spite of some tough talk from her most ardent opponents, she insisted that a vote be held to determine her fate.  The purgers claimed they had the votes and were expressing concerns that leadership would protect Cheney by hiding behind procedural barriers to removing her.  Cheney (with the impassioned backing of Kevin McCarthy) basically said, screw all that.  Let's vote, up or down, and I'll abide by it.  You want it? You got it.  Result: A blowout win, roughly 70 percent to 30 percent.  The purgers talked a big game, she demonstrated conviction by declining to back down one inch and calling their bluff, and she prevailed overwhelmingly.  That's a boss move, and even you're with the 30 percent, you've got to grudgingly respect how she played it.  Straight up.  She's a fighter, and Democrats have the rhetorical bruises to prove it.

The Senate will conduct its impeachment trial starting next week, but the matter is closed in the House of Representatives.  Republicans would be wise to turn their attention to fighting the tornado of bad ideas barreling down on the country from unified Democratic governance.  Infighting and stupid stunts like this are precisely what the media would love to cover.  There's more important work to be done, including winning back the majority next fall -- a very achievable task that is probably about to get one seat easier.  In order to take the gavel away from Pelosi and send her into retirement on a losing note, Republicans should focus on strong candidate recruitment, promoting broadly popular ideas, and leveling smart critiques of the Democrats.  They should not fixate on fighting old battles and settling old scores around personalities, as opposed to ideas.  Eyes on the prize, everyone.  If there's truly a desire to unify and move on, now's the time.