Like the Big Bad Wolf, the National Republican Committee huffed and puffed and tried with all its might to blow down Donald Trump’s biggest enemy.
But U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney is still standing, and the GOP’s leaders look worse for wear. If the best the party can do is give some money to her opponent, its attack on Wyoming’s congresswoman is much ado about nothing.
The censure of Cheney and Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois by their own party Friday was unprecedented, but hardly surprising. The once proud and effective RNC has degraded itself into Trump’s personal attack dog — and a toothless one at that.
There’s an inherent problem for the disgraced former president. The more Trump and his surrogates throw at Cheney, the stronger she gets.
Cheney and Kinzinger voted for Trump’s second impeachment after he incited the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the Capitol. They have denounced him since that day, but unlike Cheney, Kinzinger isn’t running for re-election. Trump is singularly obsessed with destroying Cheney’s political career.
How’s it going? Well, her extreme-right state party immediately censured her for her loyalty to the Constitution. Then colleagues removed Cheney as chairman of the House Republican Conference, the party’s No. 3 position in the chamber, for refusing to just get over Trump’s attempted coup.
But anyone who expected Cheney to cower in fear doesn’t know her very well. She and Kinzinger took more active roles as the only Republicans serving on the House committee investigating what happened before, during and after the Jan. 6 attack on democracy. As vice chairman, Cheney has been a burr under Trump’s saddle.
She pointedly noted the panel isn’t playing games. “Any communication Mr. Trump has with this committee will be under oath,” Cheney said in a statement reported by the Washington Examiner. “And if he persists in lying, then he will be accountable under the laws of this great nation and subject to criminal penalties for every false word he speaks.”
Later, Cheney said the committee will investigate whether Trump, “through action or inaction,” sought to obstruct or impede Congress’ official count of electoral votes. That’s also a serious federal crime.
Once public hearings start, the heat on former Trump officials and their boss will intensify.
Trump and Cheney both earned about 70% of the vote in Wyoming in 2020. The difference is she kept her job, and is using it to daily gather evidence against him. No wonder he’s tried to make her Republican Enemy No. 1.
Yes, many Wyoming Republicans were outraged by her impeachment vote. But it’s reasonable to believe as Trump continues to perpetuate the “Big Lie” that the election was stolen from him — with zero credible evidence to back it up — that some voters are growing tired of this nonsense.
Trump interviewed several candidates seeking his endorsement, and he handed it to Harriet Hageman. The Cheyenne attorney is far from a household name as the third-place finisher in the 2018 GOP primary for governor.
Hageman came with her own anti-Trump baggage. As a delegate to the 2016 Republican National Convention, she actively opposed his nomination.
Cheney’s fundraising has been remarkable, with donations of nearly $7.2 million. In October through December, the first quarter of her head-to-head match-up with Hageman, Cheney outraised her by more than four-to-one.
A larger proportion of Hageman’s total contributions are from Wyoming donors. But given the national interest in this race, both candidates will get far more out-of-state contributions than in a typical contest.
Money isn’t everything. While some voters have likely already made up their minds based on their feelings about Trump, others will wait to see what happens. Because independent and Democratic voters can register for the GOP primary on election day, they’ll have an important say in the outcome, a factor many pundits overlook.
After the RNC censure, Cheney was typically defiant.
“I’m a constitutional conservative and I do not recognize those in my party who have abandoned the Constitution to embrace Donald Trump,” she tweeted. “History will be their judge. I will never stop fighting for our constitutional republic. No matter what.”
Cheney and Kinzinger are in some pretty good company condemning the horrendous events of Jan. 6.
Who said this on that infamous day? “These violent scenes we have witnessed do not represent acts of patriotism, but an attack on our country and its founding principles. Our Founding Fathers established a nation of laws, not a nation of anarchy.”
That was the official statement of the Republican National Committee. “What happened today was domestic terrorism,” added Michael Ahrens, communications director.
In its complete whitewash of the insurrection, the committee now says, “Reps. Cheney and Kinzinger are participating in a Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse.”
The RNC got it right the first time. The mob that Trump sent to the Capitol to “fight like hell” and stop the peaceful transition of power injured 140 police officers.
Rioters called for the hanging of Mike Pence, Trump’s own vice president, because he wouldn’t halt the certification of Electoral College votes. As the halls of Congress were invaded, Republicans and Democrats alike ran for their lives.
It’s obscene to say that any of this criminal behavior was “legitimate political discourse.”
The RNC’s censure is pure political theater. It means nothing.
But what could negatively impact Cheney’s chances in the Aug. 16 primary is the party’s resolution to recognize Hageman as the party’s presumptive congressional nominee. Orchestrated by the Wyoming delegation, the unconventional move opens the door for the national party to contribute to the challenger of a sitting member of Congress.
That’s absolutely amazing. But it also appears to violate Wyoming election law, which clearly states that “no political party funds shall be expended directly or indirectly in the aid of the nomination of any one person as against another person of the same party running in the primary election.”
One can’t help but wonder if the attempted legal end run is an early sign of fundraising desperation.
The RNC handed Cheney and two other contenders, State Sen. Anthony Bouchard of Cheyenne and Denton Knapp of Gillette, a major campaign talking point. Cheney’s camp is already running with it.
“[Wyoming GOP Chairman] Frank Eathorne and the Republican National Committee are trying to assert their will and take away the voice of the people of Wyoming before a single vote has even been cast,” Jeremy Adler, a Cheney spokesman, said.
More than six months remain in what will be the most closely watched election in Wyoming’s history. In what may be a huge political miscalculation, Trump has made a three-term congresswoman who voted for his positions nearly 95% of the time an underdog!
Knowing she has a fistful of cards to play as vice chairman of the Jan. 6 committee, he has staked his hold on the party on his ability to topple Cheney.
Trump hand-picked her opponent and vowed to raise a mountain of money for Hageman (though I’m sure none of it will come out of his own pocket).
Now, Trump has sicced the national GOP on Cheney. Many people around the country, including the media, think her political career is toast. They’re convinced she can’t win.
But what if she does? Trump will claim the Wyoming election was rigged, of course.
It reminds me of another fairy tale, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” In defeat, with his name not even on the ballot, Trump could cement his reputation as the nation’s biggest sore loser.