CNN  — 

The only thing Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz was worried about going into Wednesday’s meeting of the House GOP Conference was that somehow the leaders of the party would postpone a vote on Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney’s fate following her vote to impeach former President Donald Trump.

“My concern is that though today, we have the votes to remove Liz Cheney, somehow the establishment’s going to find a way to kick the question, avoid a vote,” Gaetz told former White House adviser Steve Bannon.


See, there was a vote. And Cheney won it. Convincingly. By a vote of 145-61.

While we don’t know for sure who the 61 dissenters were and whether Gaetz was one of them – the vote was, lamely, conducted via secret ballot – it’s pretty safe to assume that the five dozen votes opposing Cheney came from the wing of the party most closely aligned with the 45th President.

After all, Trump had released a poll last month purporting to show Cheney in trouble in Wyoming for her impeachment vote and, according to conservative reporter Stephen Hayes, the former President was “calling R House members to encourage them to sack Cheney.”

And yet, despite all of Gaetz’s braggadocio and Trump’s efforts to rally opposition to Cheney, she still retained her third ranking leadership post very easily.

“This was a big, big miss by the Trump wing of the House GOP,” tweeted Jake Sherman, co-founder of Punchbowl news. “Big. Big. Big. Big. Big.”

Added Hayes: “Yes, secret vote. But it’s a big loss for Trump, too.”

Yes it is!

Make no mistake: Gaetz, Trump and the rest of that crowd wanted to make an example of Cheney. They, rightly, viewed her impeachment vote – and the ensuing controversy – as the first major battle for control of the post-Trump Republican Party.

She had broken publicly with the President and needed to be punished! And punishing her would prove that Trump (and his allies in Congress) still retained just as much power within the Party as they did when he was in office and was able to intimidate the vast majority of Republican members of Congress to stay silent (or even voice support) amid his repeated transgressions.

But they lost. And it wasn’t even really all that close.

Now, it’s important to remember that what this doesn’t mean: It does not mean that the Trump wing of the Party is on the run or that the ex-President’s ability to influence where the GOP heads in the future is gone. As evidenced by House Republican leaders’ failure to discipline Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a disciple of Trumpism, for her past anti-Semitic and Islamophobic comments – not to mention her support for the execution of Democratic leaders – the fear of blowback from crossing Trump remains very real in some sectors of the GOP.

That said, there’s no question that the vote of confidence in Cheney is rightly read as a rebuke for the Trump wing within the Republican Party. (Thought experiment: What would the vote have looked like if it wasn’t a secret ballot?)

It’s an assertion – by a clear majority of the House GOP conference that Cheney’s vote to impeach Trump – for which she did not apologize – is not disqualifying. And that, more broadly, speaking out on principle against Trump is not a death sentence.

Which is a change from where the party has been over the last four years! From Jeff Flake to Justin Amash, Republican members who have previously stood up to Trump have paid a major political price. Not so, Cheney. (Or, at least, not yet. She is likely to face a serious primary challenge next year due to her impeachment vote.)

The lesson? Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, an outspoken critic of the ex-President and his congressional enablers, said it well after the Cheney vote: “Great example: the loudest isn’t always the majority.”