After then-House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., voted for Donald Trump's impeachment in January, the backlash from the far-right was loud, but not decisive. A group of GOP lawmakers thought at the time that they might be able to oust the Wyoming congresswoman from her leadership post in February, so Cheney invited a caucus vote to resolve any questions about her standing.
The result was not especially close: Cheney prevailed with about 70 percent support.
This morning, the conservative Republican lawmaker faced a second challenge, and the outcome was far different.
House Republicans voted Wednesday to remove Rep. Liz Cheney from the No. 3 position in caucus leadership after she vocally rebuked Donald Trump, a move that strengthens the former president's grip on the party.... Republicans had planned to vote via secret ballot, but opting instead for a voice vote means it will be impossible to know how many in her caucus supported her removal and how many would have kept her in leadership.
It is a historical oddity: Congressional leaders have been ousted from leadership posts before, but always in response to meaningful scandals and indictments. Cheney, meanwhile, is the first modern leader to be removed for telling inconvenient truths.
To the extent that there was a specific turning point, it came early last week. Donald Trump issued a brief written statement, declaring, "The Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2020 will be, from this day forth, known as THE BIG LIE!" Cheney wasted little time in pushing back.
"The 2020 presidential election was not stolen," Cheney said via tweet. "Anyone who claims it was is spreading THE BIG LIE, turning their back on the rule of law, and poisoning our democratic system."
Her support within her party collapsed soon after, with some members equating criticisms of Trump with criticisms of the Republican Party itself -- as if the contemporary GOP were little more than a personality cult, loyal only to one deeply flawed man.
Indeed, Politico noted in passing last week that the intra-party campaign against Cheney "looks like one of those historical hinge moments — a party solidifying around the idea of loyalty to a single person, one who is obsessed with repeating crackpot lies about election fraud, rather than to policy or ideas."
Of course, it looks that way because it is that way.
The conventional wisdom holds that Cheney is no longer the No. 3 House Republican leader because she refused to play along with her party's lies and conspiracy theories about the 2020 election. There's certainly some truth to that: arguably no prominent voice in GOP politics has been more forceful in defense of 2020 realities than the Wyoming congresswoman.
But I also think that explanation is incomplete, because much of Cheney's focus has been forward-looking. As we've discussed repeatedly in recent days, she's been explicit in emphasizing the future of democracy, not just what transpired six months ago.
Indeed, her message has hardly been subtle on this point. In Cheney's Washington Post op-ed last week, her first paragraph looks to the future: [T]here is good reason to believe that Trump's language can provoke violence again. 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."
Cheney hasn't just been retrospective, telling the truth about Trump's defeat last fall, she's also issued desperate warnings about the road ahead. That was true when she spoke from the House floor last night, and it was true again this morning when she addressed her GOP colleagues.
"We must be true to our principles and to the Constitution," Cheney said. "We cannot let the former president drag us backward and make us complicit in his efforts to unravel our democracy. Down that path lies our destruction, and potentially the destruction of our country."
House Republicans fired her soon after.
Cheney wants her party to commit not only to respecting the results of the 2020 elections, but also to honoring future election results. Her support for democracy put the congresswoman at odds with what's become of her party, and made her future as a GOP leader untenable.