The Republican establishment played a dirty trick on voters this week. With the ouster of Wyoming representative Liz Cheney from leadership, and her subsequent replacement by New York representative Elise Stefanik, the GOP pretended to value its base. It was, however, a fake virtue signal.
The mainstream media has tried to frame Cheney’s removal as House Republican Conference chair as a consequence of not being sufficiently loyal to former president Donald Trump, who is still extremely popular with GOP voters. The timeline of her removal makes it quite clear that is not the case. Remember, Cheney survived a vote to oust her from leadership in February after she voted to impeach Trump. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Republican whip Steve Scalise both supported Cheney ahead of the vote, with McCarthy saying that the party values ‘differences of opinion’. It wasn’t until Cheney started undermining the party and her colleagues to the press, and arrogantly making the House GOP retreat about herself, that McCarthy decided she needed to go. It was her insubordination, not her anti-Trumpism, that caused the party establishment to turn on her.
Why else would they replace neoconservative Cheney with Stefanik, who is one of the most moderate Republicans in the House? It is a purely symbolic elevation. Stefanik defended Trump during his first impeachment trial, so she is ostensibly more ‘pro-Trump’ than Cheney, but her voting record is hardly conservative. She supported the Equality Act, amnesty for DACA recipients and criticized the decision to leave the Paris climate agreement.
Meanwhile, Texas representative Chip Roy, who is significantly better on the issues than Stefanik, was hardly given a second look when he said he was going to run for conference chair. That is partially his fault — he made the decision to run far too late in the game, plus he once said that Trump had committed ‘impeachable’ acts. Trump’s ego leads him to prefer people who say nice things about him rather than people who would help him accomplish his agenda. So the former president released a statement claiming Roy ‘has not gone a great job’ and re-endorsing Stefanik for the gig. GOP leadership was more than happy to have another reason to ignore Roy, whose more aggressive conservatism would certainly cause problems for the establishment wing of the party that is desperately clinging to relevance and donor dollars.
The GOP is hoping its pro-Trump base will see it bolstering a congresswoman who says the right things about Trump and be satisfied. Actually embracing the issues that made Trump so popular is a different story.