Events Thursday, though, suggest that the party is having second thoughts about how tenable that position is.
Two Republicans who offered significant defenses of Cheney, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.), both turned on her in significant ways.
In an interview on Fox News in the morning, McCarthy seemed to distance himself from Cheney. A day before, Cheney had offered a much different answer than McCarthy — while speaking right after him — when it comes to whether Trump should speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) this weekend. After McCarthy said flatly that Trump should speak at CPAC, Cheney reemphasized that the party should move on from Trump. McCarthy ended the news conference by saying, “On that high note, thank you.”
McCarthy’s remark could have been dismissed as merely an awkward moment, but on Fox News he made clear what it was about.
Asked about Cheney’s comment, McCarthy initially launched into a broader commentary on “cancel culture.” But then he added: “But the idea that a Republican would join with the cancel culture, I just think is wrong. It’s beyond just having a difference of opinion.”
It bears noting that while McCarthy has stood by Trump and voted against impeachment, he, too, said Trump bore “responsibility” for what occurred during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. He’s now suggesting that a member who said the party should move beyond such a figure is trying to “cancel” him.
The other Republican who previously stood up for Cheney, then pulled a pretty substantial about-face Thursday, was Roy. He had previously been among the earliest members to issue a statement rejecting the anti-Cheney effort. But Roy said at a news conference: “Yesterday, Liz [Cheney] forfeited her right to be chair of the Republican conference. You cannot stand up and make a statement that is so completely out of step with the Republican conference.”
A couple points are worth emphasizing.
One is that Roy was pretty out of step with his conference on the same initial issue as Cheney. He also had said Trump had indeed committed impeachable offenses — but that it wasn’t specifically the impeachable offense Democrats had charged Trump with. Roy said after the storming of the Capitol that Trump “deserves universal condemnation for what was clearly impeachable conduct: pressuring the vice president [Mike Pence] to violate his oath to the Constitution to count the electors.”
Roy also initially defended Cheney, despite their differences.
“Liz came to her conclusion based on the totality of the circumstances surrounding the president’s actions leading to the events that occurred on January 6, 2021,” Roy said in a statement, adding: “Liz should be commended, not condemned, for standing up in defense of the Constitution and standing true to her beliefs.”
That apparently no longer applies — at least when it comes to Cheney’s leadership role. While Cheney departed significantly from her conference on that vote, her call for the party to move on from Trump while standing alongside McCarthy, Roy said, took things to a different level.
Roy told The Post that that her comments were “a gratuitous and unnecessary slap” at Trump and his role in the party, “uttered even as she was representing the conference as the chair." Roy did refer to Cheney as “my friend.”
“It was deliberately stated — in direct contradiction to the majority views of the conference and tens of millions of Republicans nationwide,” Roy said. “The conference chair should not unnecessarily sow division in a caucus and movement that is very strongly united against the radical leftist agenda being advanced by Democrats. I will continue to work with Liz to those ends, but I believe she undermined her ability to lead the conference effectively by making that statement as chair.”
But Cheney had also criticized Trump for many months before her impeachment vote in a way few Republicans had. She also has called for the party to move on from Trump for weeks. An impeachment vote is also an extremely significant one against a sitting president, which strongly suggests that perhaps they should be persona non grata moving forward.
Roy also agreed with Trump’s impeachment, albeit for different reasons. The logical extension of his comments is that he thinks Cheney has a right to say Trump committed conduct warranting his potential removal from office, but that saying the party should distance itself from such a person is beyond the pale for a party leader speaking in that capacity.
More than anything, though, both he and McCarthy’s comments seem to be a case in point when it comes to where the party truly lies right now. A president can be blamed for violence or even have committed an impeachable offense, but calling for the party to chart a new course from them when other members aren’t on board is just not okay.
That this was coming from two of the rare Republicans who emphasized Trump’s culpability in the immediate aftermath of Jan. 6 should escape nobody’s attention when it comes to what this means for the party moving forward — nor should the highly unusual rebuke from a fellow leader who might just be watching his right flank right now.