Can McCarthy be House Speaker after Liz Cheney fiasco?
There is an old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy appears to have missed out on that bit of folk wisdom.
Earlier this year, House Republicans re-elected Congresswoman Liz Cheney to her number three post in Republican leadership. She had originally attained that office by four years of hard work and unwavering devotion to conservative principles.
In the closing days of the Trump administration, Cheney expressed her displeasure with President Trump by voting to impeach him for his role in ginning up the protest on Capitol Hill during the presidential election certification process. All that was known when House Republicans re-elected her.
That should have ended the issue. If it had, Liz Cheney would have been a relatively “good soldier” – although no fan of Trump. Her opinion of Trump is shared by a number of her Republican colleagues. More than are willing to say so publicly.
At that point, it was up to the voters of Wyoming to decided if Cheney still represented their interests in Congress. They could make that decision in 2022 – less than two years from now. In the meantime – and based on her legislative history – Cheney might have redeemed herself among her colleagues and the voters back home.
What happened next is a bit murky.
For some reason, McCarthy either decided or was persuaded to re-visit the Liz Cheney issue. This time, he removed her from her leadership post. She was to be replaced by New York Congresswoman Elise Stefanik.
But why? What changed? The reason that was floated out for public consumption was that impeachment vote. But that was taken into consideration when House Republicans re-elected her. Forcing them to now un-elect her just weeks later has put the entire Republican caucus in the embarrassing position of reversing their votes for no apparent or saleable reason.
There must be more to it.
One speculation is that McCarthy and Cheney had a classic personality clash. If that is behind the sudden reversal, McCarthy has put pettiness atop political savvy. And he has unleashed any number of unfortunate consequences.
Rather than a marginally independent member of the leadership, McCarthy has made Cheney a woman scorned – and an instant national celebrity. In terms of public appeal, Cheney is now the most powerful woman in the GOP. She has proven that with the surge in her fundraising. She has become – if not likely – at least a credible candidate for President in 2024.
No longer restrained by the discipline of leadership, she can and has gone full force in her attacks on Trump – taking up the left’s claim that he was responsible for the rioting on Capitol Hill and even using the left’s claim that it was an insurrection. She sees Trump as not only a threat to the Republican Party, but to the nation, the democracy and the very future of the Republic.
It is the kind of hyperbole in which Liz Cheney could not have engaged as a member of the leadership team. In a sense, McCarthy has created a political monster for himself.
It would appear – true or not – that McCarthy dumped Cheney in obedience to some secret – or suspected – order from Trump. Whether it is true or not, Democrats have been able to give the claim political gravitas, much to McCarthy’s detriment.
The only possible positive McCarthy may derive out of this mess is that Cheney’s bitterness may propel her too far. Based on her current statements, she is certainly on the cusp of that possibility.
Liz Cheney has every chance of pushing away too much of the Republican base.
And she will get no future benefit from the left who finds the current controversy politically useful at the moment. Cheney needs to get re-elected in 2022 to something if she is to remain politically viable.
Her biggest problem may not be her personal dislike for Trump, but that her current statements – that she would do anything to stop Trump from returning to the Oval Office – aligns her with the most radical left-wing Democrats in history. Would she really support President Biden for a second term … or the more likely candidacy of Vice President Kamala Harris?
Both Cheney and McCarthy – and the House Republicans – would have been better off if they had let the initial Cheney election stand and gotten on to the business of the people. The situation was not broken when McCarthy went to fix it.
So, what about Stefanik?
She is a good congresswoman – not as conservative as Cheney, but still a pretty good legislative record. She is the fungible pawn in this political melodrama. With the ousting of Cheney, someone had to be brought up to fill that position. It could have been one of any number of House members. For, reasons that generally expressed behind closed doors, she got the job.
There has been a little stir over the fact that she is not as conservative as Cheney. And that does remove philosophy as one of the reasons for Cheney’s ouster – and loses McCarthy a few points with the more conservative members of his Republican caucus.
House members in leadership play an important role in the Chamber but are not well knowns or influential across the nation. They are the worker bees of the legislative process.
Stefanik will do an acceptable to good job in her new position. But as soon as the Liz Cheney affair moves on to different issues, Stefanik will return to relative obscurity. She may have now reached the peak of her political career – and that is no criticism.
Unlike Stefanik, Cheney will be one of the most watched politicians in America for the next two years – maybe second only to Trump, himself.
And as far as McCarthy is concerned, if Republicans win control of the House, he is anticipated to be the Speaker. But even if he is, he will be a less formidable Speaker after his mishandling of the Cheney situation – and she will be around to drive that point home every day.
So, there ‘tis.