It was just another week in Donald Trump’s Republican Party, and once again, truth was a casualty.
A House committee heard testimony about the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. During the week, one GOP lawmaker claimed that what took place looked like a group of sightseeing tourists walking through Statuary Hall. Another member contested the fact that those who broke through windows, attacked law enforcement officials, marauded through offices and trashed parts of the building were supporters of the former president.
In Arizona, a Republican-ordered audit of the certified presidential vote in Maricopa County was ready to hit the pause button, far behind schedule amid continuing controversy about the validity of the process and intraparty tensions.
Meanwhile, in states around the country, Republican lawmakers continue to press for new laws to restrict voting procedures in future elections, arguing that public concerns about election integrity — concerns that exist because of Trump’s false claims — require them to take action, despite the absence of any evidence of widespread fraud or irregularities in the 2020 vote.
These events are all of a piece.
The removal of Cheney as chair of the House Republican Conference has been described as part of a Republican Party civil war, and it certainly reflects divisions within the party over Trump’s continuing role and raises questions about the future of the GOP.
But talking about the removal of Cheney from leadership in the context of a civil war understates the stakes involved. It is far more than a case of internecine warfare, as a Democrat who has been in many partisan battles against GOP candidates said in a private email praising Cheney. “As regards the politics of the moment, Cheney needs affirmation and a megaphone,” wrote the Democrat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to express himself freely. “She is preaching for principle — and that is important. This is so far above partisan nonsense. We must all understand what she is doing and applaud it.”
The conference vote had nothing to do with Cheney’s conservative bona fides or her willingness to challenge President Biden and the Democrats on issues. In a party that claims to be conservative, Cheney’s ideological credentials are superior to Stefanik’s. Truth is the issue upon which Cheney has made her stand — truth and her unwillingness to be silent for the supposed good of the team.
The House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing about the attack on the Capitol was held the same day that Republicans voted to remove Cheney. Rep. Andrew S. Clyde (R-Ga.) acknowledged that there was a “mob” in the Capitol, “some rioters and some who committed acts of vandalism.” But he also said this about that day: “If you didn’t know the TV footage was a video from January the 6th, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit.” Really?
Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) trafficked in baseless claims that those who stormed the Capitol were plants — left-wingers trying to embarrass the president rather than supporters of the president. “I don’t know who did the poll to say that they were Trump supporters,” he said. No poll was needed. Nonetheless, a part of the GOP fringe has embraced this falsehood, and an elected official helped give it wider attention.
Clyde, Norman and some of the other Republican lawmakers who have tried to rewrite the history of what happened on Jan. 6 or have dismissed the former president’s role in the attack might be considered outliers, were it not for the fact that a majority of rank-and-file Republicans say they believe what Trump has peddled and still question the legitimacy of Biden’s presidency.
Other Republican lawmakers may not say the kinds of things that Clyde or Norman said, but in their failure to challenge Trump’s claims (if they don’t believe them), or worse, their willingness to repeat them, as many did in the months after the election, have allowed the claims to take root.
Which is why there is an audit underway in Arizona. The audit was ordered by the Republican-controlled state Senate. It is another truth-denying act. Arizona’s election between Trump and Biden was decided by 10,457 votes, with Biden victorious, in an election free of irregularities.
Arizona is one of many states that require voters to present identification. A thorough reexamination of the vote in Maricopa County took place after the election. When all the counting was completed, Gov. Doug Ducey (R) signed the papers certifying the statewide results, taking heat from Trump for doing so.
The audit in Maricopa County by a private contractor was supposed to be finished by about now, but counting the 2.1 million ballots has been slow and controversial, with questions continuing to arise about how the process is being carried out. It was reported recently that ballots were being examined to see whether they contained traces of bamboo, based on a wild claim that thousands of ballots from Asia were shipped into the state.
The Justice Department recently informed Arizona Senate President Karen Fann (R) that parts of the contractor’s audit process might be in violation of federal law. Fann and others involved in the audit defend what they are doing, but it is what it is: a rogue effort to undermine the legitimacy of the 2020 election.
Efforts across many states to enact new voting laws continue, with Florida becoming one of the most recent to pass legislation, signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R). It’s true, as advocates of the new laws say, that some blue states have more restrictive laws than some red states, New York being a prime example. But the across-the-board effort by Republican state legislators to change laws after an election that saw no widespread fraud speaks to the party’s insecurity. No confident party seeks to make voting more difficult.
The maneuvering of recent days, the resistance to truth-telling and action in the states all point to something worrisome. That is the prospect of a wider and more persistent effort to challenge the legitimate results of the 2022 or 2024 elections, if they go against the GOP.
The past week saw a new effort by disaffected Republicans to form an alliance or movement to combat Trumpism within the GOP. Past efforts of this kind have failed, because Trump’s hold on the party remains strong, and party leaders see no path back to power in Congress unless his supporters are motivated to vote, which means keeping him from being unhappy with them. These disaffected Republicans have a potential leader in Cheney, and she is willing.
In a floor speech the night before she was removed from leadership, Cheney blistered the former president and vowed to continue to speak out against him. She warned that he threatens to incite further violence and said remaining silent only “emboldens the liar.” She added: “Our freedom only survives if we protect it.”
That’s what elevates the Cheney purge beyond intraparty warfare and why it connects to the other things happening. This is about more than the future direction of the Republican Party. It is about the future of the country and its democracy.