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What Cheney Republicans Keep Missing About January 6th

Trump 2024
President of the United States Donald Trump speaking at the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Photo by Gage Skidmore .

When the next round of Jan. 6 committee hearings conclude, Rep. Liz Cheney will undoubtedly be celebrated as a profile in courage. It has happened before.

The Wyoming lawmaker has gone from being the third-ranking Republican in the House to the vice chair of this committee, close to a token GOP member, over her break with former President Donald Trump.

Whatever praise Liz Cheney garners for her role in the hearings, her decline within the Republican Party is not yet complete — and she risks taking former Vice President Mike Pence down with her.

Tuesday night was a preview. Rep. Tom Rice is a conservative South Carolina Republican who voted with Trump 94 percent of the time. But his vote to impeach Trump after the Capitol riot ended his congressional career: he lost his primary by a 2-1 margin. The Trump-endorsed candidate won an absolute majority in a multi-candidate field, avoiding a runoff.

Trump’s Republican primary endorsements aren’t infallible. Nearby South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace survived a Trump-backed challenge, though that race was closer than it ought to have been. But she also stopped short of supporting Trump’s impeachment and faced an opponent who had previously lost the red district to a Democrat in the general election.

Of the ten House Republicans who voted for Trump’s second impeachment after the events of Jan.  6, half are already going to be out of Congress next year. Rice was defeated and four retired rather than try to seek renomination under the circumstances.

Liz Cheney appears unlikely to buck this trend. Instead, she is poised to be the sixth pro-impeachment Republican to fall. A poll found her trailing by 30 points. Reporters covering the race have found her facing an intensely hostile environment. Wyoming Republicans have been as quick to disavow her as their Washington counterparts. And Cheney no longer talks like someone who expects to work with GOP leadership.

The polls, and out-of-town reporters, could be wrong. Small states are notoriously hard to poll reliably. The Cheneys are a political institution, and they wouldn’t have to turn out many people to win the primary. There are also more important things than polls and election victories, as Cheney’s admirers will undoubtedly argue if the likeliest outcome becomes reality.

While the Jan. 6 committee has some investigative aspects, its purpose is largely to craft a narrative about Trump’s 2020 election claims, widespread rank-and-file Republican skepticism of President Joe Biden’s win, and the violence at the Capitol. That narrative is incomplete, but it isn’t wrong in every particular or even in its most important points: Trump purported to believe, and encouraged his supporters to believe, some dubious things about the 2020 results; he seriously entertained progressively more dubious mechanisms for continuing to contest the outcome after all genuinely constitutional options were exhausted; he then encouraged his supporters to protest in Washington and did little to stop the non-trivial subset of them who became violent and overran the Capitol.

That is all true, and certainly bad enough. But there are two places where it becomes polemical rather than strictly factual. Cheney alleges Jan. 6 was the culmination of a “sophisticated seven-point plan” to overturn the election. That it was sophisticated, or even much of a plan, is highly debatable. 

Most of the people in serious positions of government authority, with the important exception of Trump himself, rejected key elements of the plan. By Jan. 6, it was almost entirely outside agitators who continued to behave as if the outcome was in doubt.

Then there is the important area where most members of Cheney’s party regard the narrative as incomplete. The committee with which she has aligned herself is populated by people who doubted the 2016 election results, as many of them doubted 2000 before that, to varying degrees regarded Trump as an illegitimate president, and entertained various unorthodox ways to remove him. Cheney’s remaining conservative admirers include people who wanted to deny Trump the GOP nomination through arcane convention rules even if he won a majority. Cities hunkered down before the election because locals feared violence — if Trump won.

It is within this context that many Republicans don’t agree with Cheney that Jan. 6 was a unique event that should be used to discredit vast swathes of their own party. 

To be sure, the committee’s marriage of “stop the steal” and the Capitol riot is intended to illustrate how Trump’s actions were distinctly different — Al Gore, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, and Stacey Abrams may have all thought they really won but gave up when they ran out of realistic ways to keep pressing the issue, and none of their supporters attacked the Capitol. Only small fringes opposed certifying their rivals’ elections. But it could also be argued that Trump was an escalation of already eroding norms rather than something completely different.

Liz Cheney’s argument might be stronger in 2024 if Trump runs again. After all, he isn’t going to have Bill Barr as his attorney general. Maybe it will be someone more like Rudy Giuliani, if they can win Senate confirmation.

Small-d democratic accountability, however, must include some accountability from Republican elected officials to Republican voters. Cheney Republicans may learn that lesson the hard, but democratic, way.

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, W. James Antle III is the Washington Examiner’s politics editor. He was previously managing editor of the Daily Caller, associate editor of the American Spectator, and senior writer for the American Conservative. He is the author of Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? You can follow home on Twitter: @Jimantle.

Written By

W. James Antle III is the Washington Examiner's politics editor. He was previously managing editor of the Daily Caller, associate editor of the American Spectator, and senior writer for the American Conservative. He is the author of Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped?

11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Error404

    June 15, 2022 at 7:53 pm

    Evidently liz cheney is a democrat in GOP disguise.

    She hasn’t said a word about democrat presidents who have been proven to be inveterate liars, from jimmy carter to bill clinton, obama (“US one of the largest moslem nations in the world”) to great cheater-and-liar joe biden who has innocent blood on his hands.

    Perhaps cheney should join biden’s coterie of advisers and handlers and kickstart ww3. Massive oceans of blood available to stain yer hands.

  2. Holly T.

    June 15, 2022 at 9:31 pm

    She can’t take Mike Pence down with her – he is already down for the count as far as Republican politics is concerned.

    He might win a local race in Indiana (which would be a comedown from VP) – but he can never win the Republican presidential nomination. Would he even win a primary for Senate in Indiana? Maybe a Republican President (other than Trump) would make him a cabinet member. Or a federal judge with a lifetime appointment.

    But he is 63. Will be 65 in 2024 – and he has no chance in 2024. Maybe by 2028 he will be rehabilitated (69) but unless Trump runs ins 2024, a Republican President will be the incumbent. And in 2028 (73) there may be a different Vice President looking to get the nomination – but that would be his last chance. Biden is going to sour voters on any candidate over 75.

    So she cant take Pence down. He is already out – he just doesn’t know it yet.

  3. Error402

    June 16, 2022 at 3:14 am

    US Democrat party is the fascist wing or fascist branch of the deep state nexus that controls all life in the US.

    Evidently, Liz cheney is counting on joining democrats to become the next nancy pelosi in the capitol.

    Way to go, cheney!

  4. Rio

    June 16, 2022 at 6:45 am

    She accused him of provoking violence by spreading misinformation in the weeks after the 2020 election, and ignoring his advisers’ calls to instruct rioters to stand down.

  5. Bill in Houston

    June 16, 2022 at 9:16 am

    It wasn’t a riot. It was a protest that got out of hand.

    • Ben d'Mydogtags

      June 17, 2022 at 9:20 pm

      There was a riot on J6. The Capitol Police and DC Metro rioted. They fired flash-bangs, tear-gas and pepper-balls unprovoked into the crowd. They beat a protester to death inside a tunnel. They executed a protester at point-blank range while lying in wait. After those actions, and only after being violently attacked, the Stop-the-steal crowd became agitated and pushed back.

  6. William L. Gensert

    June 16, 2022 at 11:36 am

    I would add one point. In 2017, the left rioted in DC resulting in somewhere around 240 arrests after Trump’s inauguration. They might not have breached the capitol but they certainly were more legion than the J6 rioters and did more damage than the J6 crowd is alleged to have done.

  7. Ghost Timahawk

    June 16, 2022 at 1:23 pm

    All we had to do was actually audit the votes. A full mail in campaign with virtually zero excluded ballots when this number ranges from 3-5% is highly dubious. Record turnouts ballot harvesting…the list is pretty long for at LEAST an eye brow raise. But we ignored the “anomolies” and put Biden in for the fastest implosion in our nations history. Great job. But Biden doesnt tweet…because he cant…the Easter bunny wont let him.

  8. Stefan Stackhouse

    June 16, 2022 at 1:38 pm

    The US needs a responsible and reasonable center-right party. For over a century, the Republican Party was that, but no longer. Those few who are sticking around and valiantly trying to bring the party back around are wasting their efforts on a vain hope. It isn’t going to happen. The only way we are going to get that center-right party that we need is for the present Republican Party to self-destruct and be swept out of the way and into the dustbin of history. Move over, Federalists and Whigs! Staying in the party in the vain hope that it can still be changed only delays the inevitable, and prevents the formation of the replacement party. It also tarnishes the reputation of those who continue to associate themselves with a party that has entirely disgraced itself.

    • Jack

      June 20, 2022 at 7:04 am

      I think I agree with you but just for clarification what sort of party has the Republican Party been in the past few years? You say they need to become center right which I think I agree but what has the party been recently?

      • Stefan Stackhouse

        June 20, 2022 at 12:17 pm

        It has clearly swung far to the right. There are few parties among any of the other countries that HAVE multiple parties that are a far to the right as the Republicans have become. Most of the countries that do have a comparable far right party also have a viable centrist or center-right party, as well as parties on the left. The US is unusual in having a party system that is so polarized (and the Democrats have moved far to the left as well), with nothing but vacant space in the middle. This appears to me to be a very dangerous development.

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