Two things have become very, very clear over the last 24 hours:
1. Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney is likely to be removed as the third-ranking Republican in House leadership – as soon as next week when the House reconvenes.
2. New York Rep. Elise Stefanik is the preferred replacement for Cheney in leadership, with House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (Louisiana) now publicly supporting the Cheney-for-Stefanik swap.
These two developments are quite clearly related – and revealing.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (California) has said that the reason Cheney appears to be on her way out is because she isn’t the best policy messenger for the party. Which, as I noted on Tuesday, is totally ridiculous, since Cheney is a consistent conservative on everything but her willingness to speak out against former President Donald Trump and her vote to impeach him for his role in the January 6 riot at the US Capitol.
The move to sub Stefanik in to replace Cheney is yet more proof of what’s really going on here. Stefanik, who was elected to a fourth term from an upstate New York seat, has seen her star rise directly in concert with her ardent public defense of Trump during both of his impeachment trials.
Stefanik first came to the attention of Trump (and his allies) with her interrogation of witnesses during the House Intelligence Committee hearings over Trump’s possible quid pro quo in Ukraine. That won Stefanik a place as part of Trump’s PR efforts during the Senate trial.
Trump singled Stefanik out for praise at the White House in February 2020. “I was up campaigning for helping her and I thought, ‘She looks good, she looks like good talent,’” the President said in a speech celebrating his acquittal by the Senate. “But I did not realize when she opens that mouth, you were killing them, Elise, you were killing them.
And, Stefanik – contra Cheney – opposed the second impeachment of Trump earlier this year for his role in the January 6 insurrection. “It is a partisan ploy with no basis in the Constitution,” Stefanik wrote in explaining her vote. “The Democrats’ decision to impeach the President with one week remaining in his term further fuels the divisions in the country during this very trying time.”
What’s remarkable about all of this is how incredibly transparent all of this is.
CNN’s Gabby Orr reported Wednesday morning that McCarthy and Trump have been in regular touch about the fight over Cheney. “They’ve definitely spoken recently … within the last couple of days for sure,” Trump aide Jason MIller said via text.
This is Trump as puppeteer, with McCarthy and Scalise dancing to his preferred tune. Still don’t believe me? Check this out: According to the conservative Heritage Action group, Cheney’s lifetime vote score is 80%. Stefanik’s is 48%. And even when it comes to votes in support of Trump, calculations done by 538 show that Cheney voted with the former president 92.9% of the time while Stefanik backed him 77.7% of the time.
So, yeah. This isn’t about conservatism. Or even, really, supporting Trump’s agenda while in office. This is about Cheney drawing a line in the sand over the events of January 6, as well as the runup to that day and its aftermath, all centered on Trump arguing, contra all available evidence, that the 2020 election was stolen. And yes, Stefanik voted to object to the Electoral College count in Pennsylvania on the same day that the Capitol was overrun by Trump-inspired rioters.
If you needed any more evidence that the Republican Party is currently a cult of personality around Trump, the fall of Cheney and rise of Stefanik should help convince you.