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Opinion Liz Cheney’s biggest problem has nothing to do with Trump

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) listens as President Biden addresses a joint session of Congress on April 28. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post/POOL)
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Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) is purportedly again at risk of losing her position as House Republican Conference chair, the third-ranking member of the House GOP leadership. For most Republicans, the reason is that she crossed President Donald Trump in voting for his impeachment, but that shouldn’t be the case. Far more important is that she is out of step with Republican ideology.

Cheney has been harshly criticized because she has bravely refused to stay silent over Trump’s outrageous post-election comments and behavior. Her vote to impeach Trump over his contribution to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot was, in hindsight, merely the opening salvo in this ongoing war. She has since refused to let go of the matter, even in the presence of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who has tried to finesse the party’s relationship with Trump. She also vociferously rebutted Trump’s statement on Monday that the election was stolen, tweeting that his “BIG LIE” is “poisoning our democratic system.” She went on to state at a closed-door conservative confab that Trump’s actions that instigated the riot were “a line that cannot be crossed.”

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On this, her colleagues should be defending her to the hilt. Trump’s continued lies about election fraud should be called out; indeed, Republicans should be actively dismantling them. There is no evidence that mass voting by mail allowed Democrats to flood the election with fraudulent ballots. Nor is there evidence to support repeated claims that Democrat-controlled election boards in party bastions such as Atlanta or Missoula, Mont., counted thousands of fraudulent ballots. Mass fraud is usually easy to detect because it almost always results in a clear break in patterns without explanation. That wasn’t the case. If anything, Cheney should be more vocal and detailed in her defense of democracy, not less.

The problem, however, is that Cheney’s insistence that the election was secure is not the only thing that separates her from her colleagues. She is clearly at odds with modern Republican thinking on both foreign and domestic policy issues. That — not her unwillingness to be Trump’s lap dog — is what should trouble Republican members.

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The withdrawal from Afghanistan is one such item. Cheney has attacked President Biden’s decision, calling it a huge propaganda victory for the Taliban and al-Qaeda. That would have been a near-unanimous opinion among Republicans as recently as 2015, when Islamist terrorism seemed to be the nation’s serious foreign threat. But that is no longer the case. Most Republicans now rightly see China as a more dangerous foe, and many are willing to cede Afghanistan to a minor set of foes to concentrate our efforts on the bigger threat. Cheney’s mind-set seems to be stuck back in 2003, when U.S. power was preeminent and the United States did not face a serious threat from a large state actor.

Cheney’s views on domestic policy are also antique. She recently criticized a memo from the head of the House Republican Study Committee, Indiana Rep. Jim Banks, who said the GOP should cement itself as a “Working-Class Party.” The memo advocated some pretty mild ideas, such as limiting illegal immigration and maintaining trade restrictions on China as ways to increase jobs and wages for working-class Americans. Cheney, however, reportedly described it as neo-Marxist during a Congressional Institute call, sources familiar with the matter told Politico. This is an example of George W. Bush-era globalism — precisely the views that majorities of Republicans now reject. How can she lead a party whose views she largely disagrees with?

In truth, both sides in this dispute need the other to beat the Democrats. Trump acolytes such as Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) seem to think that people like them represent majority thinking in America. But they don’t. Not only did Trump and the GOP lose the 2020 election, but many of those same voters side with Cheney in her views on Trump and on policies. Cheney-type Republicans are clearly a minority of today’s GOP, but the party cannot afford to excommunicate them for their purported heresies.

People like Cheney, however, often don’t want to admit that they are the minority part of the coalition. Former House speaker John A. Boehner is an example of this blindness, saying in a recent interview that Republicans should “go back to being Republicans” and emphasize old priorities from the Reagan era. Today’s GOP voters, as a January EPPC-YouGov poll I helped create showed, are largely concerned about culture and nationalism and are divided over the old priorities. That people such as Cheney and Boehner are still in denial about this demonstrates how out of touch they are.

It’s ultimately unimportant whether Liz Cheney holds on to her leadership position. Resolving the disputes that have led to that contest, however, will be crucial for a Republican Party that wants to regain power.

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