Last week, House Republicans voted to remove Rep. Liz Cheney from her leadership post as third-ranking member of the caucus. Then, Rep. Elise Stefanik, New York, with Donald Trump’s endorsement, replaced Cheney as House conference chair. This scenario creates a huge opportunity for real conservatives.
The reason there was a push within the Republican Party and certain media outlets to oust Ms. Cheney is her refusal to affirm the former president’s baseless claims about voter fraud. Cheney has not been sparing in her criticism of Trump’s involvement in the events of Jan. 6:
“There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.” (Jan. 12 release from the office of Liz Cheney.)
“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.” (May 5, Washington Post commentary by Liz Cheney.)
Republicans including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy have “had it with her” because, they say, she is still focused on the past rather than on winning back the House. Actually, Cheney’s recent remarks have been responses to questions about Trump’s own ongoing statements on the election, repeated daily on his new blog.
Why is this an opportunity for real conservatives? First, it is important to assess the conservative bona fides of Ms. Cheney as compared to Rep. Stefanik.
Conservative groups such as Heritage Action, Club for Growth and others have consistently ranked Cheney significantly higher on scorecards. Heritage Action’s most recent ratings give Cheney a 98% mark. While Stefanik received an 80% on her latest score, her lifetime 48% reflects how fluid her positions really are. For example, the New York congresswoman voted against Republicans’ signature 2017 tax law, against withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, opposed the border wall and opposed pulling out of NAFTA, among other instances when she bucked prevailing conservative positions.
One can agree or disagree with votes on individual pieces of legislation; but objective comparisons of Cheney and Stefanik’s records reveal Liz Cheney as the one who more consistently aligns with legitimate conservative philosophy. In a post-Trump era, this exercise is muddied because the conservatism of Goldwater, William F. Buckley, Reagan and Jack Kemp have very little to do with Trumpism.
Historically conservative positions such as the fiscally conservative, yet compassionate, socially libertarian, yet responsible-leaning policies of the movement’s greatest leaders have given way to something unrecognizable. Trumpism is more about fealty to one individual. It is more about fighting a common enemy, as defined by any who oppose Donald Trump including Democrats, liberals, progressives, left-leaning independents, right-leaning independents and even current Republicans who simply refuse to bend the knee.
In the present realignment within the Republican Party, Elise Stefanik’s public praise for Donald Trump and promotion of his Big Lie about the election are the only qualifications undergirding her elevation to leadership. Liz Cheney, not so much.
So what is the opportunity for real conservatives? With Cheney removed from her leadership post, she could now form a new caucus within the conference. This caucus can include other GOPers who have opposed Trump’s actions around the insurrection. There are more than 20 other Republican representatives in the House, such as Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, who received an A or a B on the GOP Democracy Report Card from The Republican Accountability Project.
Just as Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan’s caucus of about 20 members caused major headaches for House Republicans under former Speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan’s leadership, so can a Truth caucus within Kevin McCarthy’s conference.
Looking forward to 2024, it is realistic to consider a Liz Cheney candidacy for president. If Trump runs again, the field will be narrow. Then Cheney will have a more significant opportunity to win the nomination than did candidates such as Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. By the time the field narrowed in 2016, too much momentum had already swung in Trump’s direction while Cruz, Rubio and John Kasich were splitting those who had not yet been Trumpified.
If the field is more open, Cheney would have a similar path that Trump had in 2016, except in reverse. Most possible candidates like Sen. Josh Hawley, Cruz and Nikki Haley would be competing for who can be the Trumpiest. Meanwhile, Cheney has the distinction of a true conservative record: When it came time to take a stand on truth to conserve democracy itself, she refused to throw her principles away with the anti-democratic actions of the ex-president.
The most significant opportunity for real conservatives is to separate from Donald Trump altogether. If none of his prior offenses were enough, surely his continued attempt to overturn the very foundations of democracy is the least conservative conduct imaginable.
Corey Nathan is a Castaic resident and host of the podcast, “Talkin’ Politics & Religion Without Killin’ Each Other.”