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Republicans target Liz Cheney (again) for the Trumpiest of reasons

Cheney said she doesn't want Trump "playing a role in the future of the party or the country." Some of her former Republican allies aren't taking it well.
Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney
Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., arrives for the House Republicans weekly news conference in the Capitol on Feb. 26, 2020.Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images file

At a Capitol Hill press conference yesterday, a reporter asked House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) whether Donald Trump should speak at this weekend's CPAC, one of the nation's largest annual gatherings for Republicans and their conservative allies. "Yes," McCarthy said, "he should."

When given a chance to answer the same question, House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) replied, "That's up to CPAC. I've been clear on my views about President Trump. I don't believe that he should be playing a role in the future of the party or the country."

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), standing just to Cheney's right, appeared to be shaking his head in disagreement as she spoke. McCarthy abruptly ended the press conference moments later.

As we discussed yesterday, the intra-GOP tension was notable in terms of the party's future -- Republicans clearly aren't united on what to do about their corrupt and failed former president -- but in the short term, there's an entirely different question to consider: is Liz Cheney going to face partisan blowback from her ostensible allies for again taking a principled stand?

Evidently, yes. The Washington Post reported this morning:

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) is facing new calls from Trump loyalists to be removed from her leadership post after restating her view Wednesday that the former president should not play a role "in the future of the party or the country." ... "It's time for us to have another conversation about the leadership of the Republican Conference," Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.) said Thursday.

The Texas Republican, who used to serve as Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-Texas) chief of staff, went on to argue that Cheney forfeited her right to serve as House Republican Conference when she criticized the former president.

He was hardly the only GOP voice to raise concerns today. McCarthy appeared on Fox News earlier and accused Cheney of engaging in "cancel culture."

Note, both McCarthy and Roy defended Cheney after she voted for Trump's impeachment. Now, they've apparently changed their minds.

It's worth understanding why.

Some will probably suggest that Cheney pressed her luck. It's one thing to vote your conscience, along with several other GOP lawmakers, but it's something else to blast Trump at a House Republican Leadership press conference, contradicting the House minority leader on camera as he stood a few feet away.

But I suspect that only explains part of what's unfolding. Remember, after some far-right lawmakers called for Cheney's ouster last month, McCarthy balked and extended support to his colleague.

For Trump, that wasn't acceptable. The former president was reportedly outraged, not just with Cheney, but also with McCarthy for standing by Cheney.

And for folks like McCarthy, who's been less than subtle in his efforts to stay in Trump's good graces, this matters. Trump has left little doubt that he now sees the Wyoming congresswoman as a foe. The former president, by all accounts, has every intention of ending her political career, using his influence to rid the party of Cheney and members like her.

It effectively leaves McCarthy with a choice: Trump or his fellow House Republican leader. That's not a fight Cheney is likely to win.

So what happens now? Perhaps nothing, but look again at that Chip Roy quote: "It's time for us to have another conversation about the leadership of the Republican Conference."

It was three weeks ago when House Republicans were given a choice about removing Cheney from her leadership post, and she prevailed with about 70% support. Don't be surprised if her intra-party foes decide it's time for a rematch.