For months, Republicans eager to rally around the idea that former president Donald Trump is a great and blameless winner have felt impaired by Cheney, a member of GOP leadership, who has been saying quite the opposite: The congresswoman has continued to point out that the former president lied about there being “widespread voter fraud” in the 2020 presidential election, that the presidency was not stolen from him and that his claims to the contrary led to January’s violent insurrection at the Capitol.
She wasn’t wrong, at least not about the lack of evident fraud; Trump’s own Justice Department said there was no indication of election fraud on a scale that would have changed the result.
Nonetheless, “Some of what she’s said has been problematic,” Matt Schlapp, a lobbyist who had spent the day chatting with upset lawmakers, said in a phone call. “Let’s just say that what she’s said was offensive to me, and many others.”
What made it all so “offensive,” so “problematic,”— or, dare we say triggering — was that Cheney was chair of the House Republican Conference. And so, on Wednesday morning Cheney marched into an auditorium in the bowels of the Capitol, where her Republican colleagues prepared to vote on her status as a member of their leadership team.
“If you want leaders who will enable and spread his destructive lies, I’m not your person, you have plenty of others to choose from. That will be their legacy,” Cheney told her colleagues, according to a person familiar with her remarks who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk about a private meeting.
“But I promise you this,” Cheney continued, according to this person, “after today, I will be leading the fight to restore our party and our nation to conservative principles, to defeating socialism, to defending our republic, to making the GOP worthy again of being the party of Lincoln.”
Taken as a voice vote, the chorus to remove Cheney, according to one congressman present, was “deafening.”
The expulsion of Cheney from her post in the party’s leadership took place, as most things in the GOP do these days, against the backdrop of fretting about “cancel culture,” a vaguely defined term that broadly refers to the phenomenon of people losing work or status for saying or doing things other people find objectionable. The irony was available to those who objected to Cheney’s ouster and dared say so.
“Liz Cheney was canceled today for speaking her mind and disagreeing with the narrative that President Trump has put forth,” Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) said to a gaggle of reporters after he left the auditorium.
Buck had voted against the motion to remove Cheney, even though he disagreed with her views on Trump. He said he felt that a political party is better off with a variety of perspectives.
“Cancel culture is a dangerous phenomenon,” Buck had intoned to a mostly empty House chamber the previous night. “It aims to cancel certain elements of society, and to replace them.”
His had been the first in a series of speeches Tuesday evening, when a handful of conservatives spent the better part of an hour enumerating the alleged victims of “cancel culture” on the House floor: Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.); the year 1776; Presidents Lincoln, Jefferson and Washington.
“Pepe Le Pew!” shouted Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), name-checking a handsy cartoon skunk. “No longer tolerated by the woke mob!”
It’s all about tolerance, you see. People are too sensitive. Too quick to insist that if somebody offends them, then they gotta go. Today it’s an actress who loses her job because she posted a meme that compares America’s polarization to Nazi Germany. Tomorrow, it could be Pepe Le . . . You.
“I tell my colleagues, the serpent who bites your enemy today could bite you tomorrow,” Buck said.
In most cases, people tend to cry “cancel culture” for personal gain: either to try to wriggle out of a political scandal (see: Cuomo, Andrew) or to help sell something, say a book (see: Hawley, Josh). Recently, the horse trainer Bob Baffert even tried to blame cancel culture after his Kentucky Derby-winning horse, Medina Spirit, tested positive for an illegal substance.
So, Republicans, what are we to make of the punishing of Liz Cheney?
“This is totally cancel culture,” said Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.). “There is no member, maybe a couple, that really believes the election was stolen. She’s telling the truth and it makes them uncomfortable. You cancel people and things that make you uncomfortable.”
“Liz Cheney is not being canceled. That is completely insane,” Hogan Gidley, Trump’s former spokesman, said in an interview. “It’s not even close to what the left is doing to people expressing their First Amendment rights.”
Dozens of journalists roamed the basement of the Capitol, drawn to the intraparty fighting. Television crews camped out in front of the auditorium doors, as members ducked past them — one muttering, under their breath, “I don’t see why you are all so interested in this.”
When Cheney emerged from the auditorium, the scrum surrounded her instantly. The shutter from the photographers’ cameras echoed off the marble floors, and every television camera pointed directly at her.
She might have been canceled, but everyone in the room was paying attention to what she was going to say next.
“I will do everything I can,” said Cheney, “to ensure that the former president never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office.”