Some in GOP think even Liz Cheney isn't reliably conservative enough

With their backs against a wall, several House GOP members are focusing their criticisms, not on Democrats, but on Liz Cheney.
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
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By Steve Benen

On the surface, House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) seems far more likely to face criticisms from Democrats than her own party. After all, the House GOP leader is a far-right lawmaker from a ruby-red state who votes with Donald Trump's White House roughly 97% of the time. No one in American politics has ever characterized Cheney, a combative partisan, as a "moderate."

And yet, she's suddenly facing fierce criticisms from her own side of the aisle. NBC News reported:

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., [yesterday] called on Cheney to resign or "be removed" as the House Republican Conference chair. As chair, Cheney is the sole female member of the House GOP leadership. Gaetz's tweet quickly received support from other prominent Republicans, including Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, and the president's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., who compared Cheney to Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, the only GOP senator to vote to convict Trump during his impeachment trial.

As Politico was first to note, this followed an in-person House Republican conference meeting -- the first on Capitol Hill in months -- in which Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), who leads the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, accused Cheney of undermining the party's 2020 prospects. Similarly, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) spoke at the same meeting and listed instances in which Cheney had the audacity to disagree with Trump.

In all, the New York Times reported that "a group of more than a half-dozen of Mr. Trump’s most loyal supporters took aim squarely at Ms. Cheney" during "an extraordinary closed-door meeting of House Republicans."

And what, pray tell, did the Wyoming congresswoman do to earn the ire of so many of her own far-right colleagues? Based on the reporting, much of the offensive against Cheney focused on a pair of heresies.

First, she tweeted public support for Dr. Anthony Fauci at a time when much of the right -- including some in the White House -- decided to try to discredit the nation's most celebrated expert on infectious diseases.

Second, she endorsed Rep. Thomas Massie’s (R-Ky.) primary rival.

On the former, it's a bit bizarre to go after a member of the House Republican leadership for supporting the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases during a pandemic. If that's what counts as a betrayal of partisan principles in 2020, the GOP's troubles run even deeper than is generally understood.

On the latter, it's true that Cheney backed Massie's primary opponent, but so too did plenty in her party -- including Donald Trump. (The Kentucky congressman ended up winning his primary with relative ease.)

In other words, while going after Cheney for failing to toe a pro-Trump line to their satisfaction, these far-right lawmakers pointed to an instance in which Cheney and Trump were aligned.

And while all of this internecine drama is interesting on its own -- it's not common for House Republicans to go after one of their own far-right leaders like this -- let's not miss the forest for the trees. Fifteen weeks from Election Day, Republicans have no platform, no policy agenda, no coherent vision, and no accomplishments to run on. They're behind in the polls, facing poor odds, and confronting the possibility of a Democratic sweep.

It's against this backdrop that several House GOP members are focusing their criticisms on one of their own leaders, who doesn't appear to have done anything especially notable to earn their ire.

The disarray in Republican circles is increasingly amazing.