(CNN)Former President Donald Trump promised to exact his revenge on Republicans who refused to go along with his election lies or turn a blind eye to his role in the January 6 insurrection. This week, Americans are likely to watch his first political casualty fall as the House GOP is poised to oust Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney from her No. 3 leadership post and replace her with Rep. Elise Stefanik.
The drive to swap out Cheney for Stefanik, who has a far less conservative voting record but the golden calling card of loyalty to the former President, demonstrates that the GOP now values political expediency over the willingness to stand on principle in the post-Trump era.
At first, many Republicans said Cheney had the right to speak her mind and criticize Trump for his role in the insurrection as they danced around his damaging and inaccurate statements that the election of President Joe Biden was rigged. Now their worries about appealing to his base in the upcoming elections seems to have convinced them that there is no room for disagreement with the former President and that having a vocal Trump critic on their leadership team is too much of a liability.
That may be true when facing the most conservative voters who dominate the Republican primaries given that a March CNN poll showed that about 67% of Republicans said they believed Trump had a good effect on the party. But House Republicans appear to be taking a harder line than most Republicans about the need for unquestioning loyalty to Trump. More than three-quarters (76%) of Republicans or Republican-leaning independents said the party should not penalize members who expressed opposition to him.
On Sunday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — who flew to Mar-a-Lago in January to shore up his relationship with the former President despite his initial misgivings about Trump’s role in the riot on January 6 — confirmed that he supports Stefanik’s ascension to GOP conference chair.
“Everyone in leadership serves at the pleasure of the conference and as you know, there’s a lot at stake. Democrats are destroying the nation,” McCarthy told Fox News’s Maria Bartiromo. “That’s why we will have a vote next week and we want to be united.”
Though Trump endeared himself to 74 million voters by convincing them that he spoke his mind regardless of the consequences, Stefanik and other Trump allies seem to think that the safest political bet is to just fall in line with the former President’s misinformation campaign. The New York Republican, who promoted some of Trump’s lies about the 2020 election and objected to the Electoral College vote in Pennsylvania, argued in an interview with Breitbart News radio on Saturday that it is the role of the GOP conference chair to set aside her own views.
While holding that No. 3 position, Stefanik said, Cheney has failed in her duty to “speak with a unified voice for the majority of Republican members.”
“When you are the conference chair and communicating and in charge of the message of the party in the House, you have to represent a majority of the members and the majority of the voters across this country,” Stefanik said. “There has been significant frustration among the members of the Republican conference that she is no longer doing that, and we hear that frustration at home among voters,” she said, arguing that unified message will be “really important going into 2022 to have the best chance to win back the majority.”
The conference chair position is “not an opportunity to share your personal views — whatever they may be,” Stefanik added. “You speak for the team,” she said. “I would also make sure we’re not attacking our fellow members and attacking President Trump and Trump supporters.”
As the internecine struggle played out last week, some GOP leaders were blunt about their view that the party must stand by the former President as a matter of political survival — no matter how he is perceived by the broader public — an unpredictable facet of the current political environment that will be tested in swing districts in 2022.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham — who warned after Trump’s February speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference that the former President has the ability to expand the Republican party or “destroy it” — outlined the Republican Party’s current calculus in clear terms when he was asked about Cheney.
“I just say to my Republican colleagues — can we move forward without President Trump? The answer is no,” Graham said in an interview with Fox News Thursday. “I’ve always liked Liz Cheney, but she’s made a determination that the Republican Party can’t grow with President Trump. I’ve determined we c
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