A day after being censured by her state’s Republican Party, Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, the third-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, went on Fox News to defend her vote to impeach former President Donald Trump — and to argue that the GOP will have lost its way if it doesn’t reject Trump’s brand of politics.
“People have been lied to,” Cheney told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday when asked about being censured. “The extent to which the president, President Trump, for months leading up to January 6, spread the notion that the election had been stolen or that the election was rigged was a lie. And people need to understand that.”
Cheney’s decision to explain her rejection of Trump on a Fox News show suggests she’s not been swayed by weeks of criticism within the party over her vote, or attempts to topple her from her leadership position. She’s also trying to persuade Republican voters that her faction of the party offers a more authentic and sustainable vision for conservatism.
Cheney was one of just 10 House Republicans who joined Democrats in impeaching Trump for the charge of incitement of insurrection at the US Capitol in January. And she has been facing the consequences of that vote ever since.
After Trump loyalists in the party called for her ouster from party leadership for turning against Trump, House Republicans held a secret ballot vote Wednesday on whether she should retain her No. 3 position among her colleagues.
She handily won the vote to remain in her position, 145 to 61, but the share of votes against her was not trivial, and if the vote had been public, experts say it’s quite possible that more lawmakers would’ve objected to her continuing as a leader in order to signal their commitment to Trump to their constituents.
Then, on Saturday, the Wyoming Republican Party approved a censure resolution by a vote of 56 to 8. The resolution says that the party won’t raise money for her going forward — and requests that she repay state party donations made to her 2020 campaign.
But on Wallace’s show on Sunday, Cheney appeared unfazed, and defended her decision to impeach Trump without hesitation.
“Look, I think people all across Wyoming understand and recognize that our most important duty is to the Constitution,” Cheney said. “And as I’ve explained and will continue to explain to supporters all across the state, voters all across the state, the oath that I took to the Constitution compelled me to vote for impeachment, and it doesn’t bend to partisanship, it doesn’t bend to political pressure, it’s the most important oath that we take.”
The Wyoming lawmaker said Trump was not only a bad leader for the Republicans to embrace, but also posed an existential threat to the nation.
“The single greatest threat to our republic is a president who would put his own self-interest above the Constitution, above the national interest,” Cheney said. “And we’ve had a situation where President Trump claimed for months that the election was stolen, and then apparently set about to do everything he could to steal it himself.”
Cheney wants to take the GOP back from Trump. That’s an uphill climb.
Cheney’s plea to Fox viewers to turn away from Trump — in which she said she believed the GOP was the party of Ronald Reagan, not QAnon — shows that she’s committed to fighting for the return of an older version of the party.
The question is whether she can persuade Republican voters and fellow lawmakers that repudiating Trump is wise for the party after a presidency in which he cultivated an extremely devoted following among the party base.
While polling indicates that most Republicans disapprove of the Capitol riot, it also shows that most Republicans don’t think Trump is to blame for the event, and that most Republicans align with Trump’s view that the election was rigged.
For example, a Washington Post-ABC News poll from mid-January found that most Republicans said Trump bore no responsibility for the assault, and nearly half said Republican lawmakers didn’t actually go far enough in supporting the president’s efforts to overturn the election results.
According to the survey, about two-thirds of Republican and Republican-leaning participants thought Trump acted and spoke responsibly after the November 3 election.
And a new ABC-Ipsos poll, taken February 5 to 6, found that just 15 percent of Republicans support convicting Trump in a Senate impeachment trial and barring him from running for office again.
In other words, if Cheney hopes that the storming of the Capitol would be a wake-up call to Republicans about the dangers of backing Trump and his wing of the party, it would appear those hopes are unfounded.
Pro-Trump lawmakers have tried to weaponize Cheney’s views against her. In the run-up to the House Republican vote on whether she should retain her leadership, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, one of the fiercest pro-Trump voices in the party, held an anti-Cheney rally in her home state and slammed her policy record.
“Liz Cheney is a lot like Congress — deeply unpopular and owned by special interests,” he said at the rally. “She’s taken more money from PACs than people. She works for them, not you.”
Other lawmakers have also faced sharp pushback for voting for Trump’s impeachment. Rep. Peter Meijer — a first-term Republican from Michigan and the only first-term Republican to buck Trump — faced some angry questions from constituents during his first virtual town hall this week.
Meijer said during the event that he believed a majority of Republicans in his district — “maybe a strong majority” — disagreed with his decision to vote for impeachment. But ultimately he stuck by his decision.
“What we witnessed at the Capitol — the attempted insurrection, the involvement of a sitting American president propagating the falsehoods that led up to that — required a significant response,” he said. A number of his constituents reportedly disagreed during the town hall, with some saying they planned to work to unseat him over his vote. A primary challenge to Cheney is underway as well.