In criticizing House GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney’s repeated condemnations and refutations of former President Donald Trump’s “big lie” about his electoral loss last fall, Republicans have said the party needs to be forward-looking and that she is distracting from messaging against the Biden administration.
“Republicans are almost completely unified in a single mission to oppose the radical, dangerous Biden agenda and win back the majority in the midterm election,” Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., told “Fox News Sunday.” “And any other focus other than that is a distraction from stopping the Biden agenda.”
One Republican leader who apparently did not get that message: Trump.
Within the past six weeks, Trump has released more than 20 statements falsely claiming last fall’s election featured “massive fraud,” was “rigged” or “stolen,” and that he “won by a landslide,” among other electoral assertions. He’s praised “great patriots” overseeing a partisan audit of ballots in Arizona as well as an audit in a small New Hampshire town.
In the last week, Trump tried to reframe language around “the big lie” — which has been used to describe his claims about a stolen election — and made reference to “vote dumps.” He also wrongly proclaimed that if only then-Vice President Mike Pence and then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had “fought” harder, he’d still be president — language he used in the immediate run-up to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
On the flip side, Trump has posted just one statement directly criticizing President Joe Biden’s administration over that same stretch, lambasting it over the temporary pause placed on the Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccine.
In the weeks following the riot, which featured his second Senate impeachment trial and departure from office, Trump has mostly curtailed such election messaging. But Cheney’s recent criticism of his falsehoods has coincided with a much greater push on his end. This past week alone, Trump released about a half-dozen statements questioning the legitimacy of last fall’s election.
A Trump representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
His recent comments come amid the backdrop of Facebook’s Oversight Board saying the social media giant was justified in barring Trump from it’s platform after the riot, citing the “ongoing risk of violence,” while Twitter suspended an account that was posting Trump’s statements, circumventing its ban on the former president.
“We’re four months after Jan. 6,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., told CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “An insurrection, something that was unthinkable in this country. And the message from people who want to get rid of Liz Cheney is to say ‘it’s just time to focus on the future and move on.’ Like this was 10 years ago and we’ve been obsessed with it since.”
“It’s been four months and we have so many people, including our leadership in the party, that has not admitted this is what it is, which was an insurrection led by the president of the United States well deserving of a full accounting from Republicans,” said Kinzinger, one of 10 House Republicans, including Cheney, who voted in February to impeach Trump over his conduct around the riot.
The long-simmering House GOP leadership feud heated up last week after Cheney, R-Wyo., responded to Trump’s statement attempting to reframe “the big lie” — in which Cheney said rhetoric claiming a stolen election was “poisonous” to American democracy. In a Washington Post op-ed article published Wednesday, Cheney argued: “While embracing or ignoring Trump’s statements might seem attractive to some for fundraising and political purposes, that approach will do profound long-term damage to our party and our country.”
Banks, the chairman of the Republican Study Committee and a member who objected to certified Electoral College votes in January, defended his vote and a Texas lawsuit he signed seeking to overturn electoral results. In his Sunday interview, Banks recognized Biden as president and said he never claimed the election was stolen.
“The focus on this program and on other news shows about Liz Cheney and Jan. 6 and Donald Trump distracts us from what we need to do to win back the majority to save this country,” Banks said, adding that Cheney has “failed in her mission” as his party’s chief spokesperson. “We should be pushing back on the radical Biden agenda and this is all a distraction from our ability to do just that.”
Cheney could be voted out of her leadership position — one tasked with leading House GOP messaging — as early as Wednesday. Many Republicans, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., have decided the path to retaking majority control of Congress in 2022 requires embracing Trump — which means either repeating his false assertions about a stolen election or keeping quiet, neither of which Cheney, has been willing to do.
“Any member can take any position they believe in,” McCarthy told Fox News on Sunday. “What we’re talking about is a position in leadership.”
“As conference chair, you have one of the most critical jobs as messenger going forward,” McCarthy added, saying the person in that role must deliver anti-Biden messaging “day in and day out.”
Republicans appear to be coalescing around Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., as a possible Cheney replacement. Cheney’s voting record is considered to be more conservative than Stefanik’s, but Stefanik has embraced Trump and has echoed his language around last fall’s election.
On NBC’s ‘Meet the Press,” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican who has often criticized Trump, said he is bothered “you have to swear fealty to the dear leader or you get kicked out of the party.”
“It just doesn’t make any sense,” he added. “It’s sort of a circular firing squad where we’re just attacking members of our own party instead of focusing on solving problems.”
Pointing to remarks from an interview Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., gave to Fox News last week in which he expressed the belief Republicans “can’t grow without Trump,” Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., told “Meet the Press” both Trump and Cheney constituencies must be welcomed by the party.
“I would argue there are some that still see him as the messenger of that set of policies that they felt was incredibly positive for our country,” Cassidy, one of seven Senate Republicans who voted to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial, said. If you look at polls, there’s a whole group of folks that agrees with Liz Cheney. So for us to win in 2022 and 2024, we need everybody. We need those who feel as Liz. We need those who feel as Lindsey.”