Infighting within the Republican party is set to come to a head this week, goaded on by the ghostly figure of former president Donald Trump in his Mar-a-Lago hideout in Florida.
House Republicans are gearing up to oust Liz Cheney on Wednesday from her position as the party’s number three leader in the chamber.
Her removal would come as punishment for her public criticism of Trump with regard to his role in inciting the 6 January Capitol insurrection and his “big lie” that last year’s presidential election was stolen from him.
Cheney was one of 10 Republicans to vote in favor of impeaching Trump for “incitement of insurrection”.
Leading Republicans took to the political talk show circuit on Sunday to express support or opposition to the congresswoman from Wyoming. Critically, Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader who has in the past stood up for Cheney, made their break-up official when he told Fox News that he was endorsing Cheney’s rival Elise Stefanik for the number three post.
“What we’re talking about is a position in leadership. As conference chair, you have one of the most critical jobs as a messenger going forward,” McCarthy told Maria Bartiromo on Sunday.
Jim Banks, an Indiana congressman who chairs the largest Republican caucus in the House, attempted to justify the action against Cheney on grounds of “party discipline”.
“Republicans are almost completely unified by a single mission to oppose the radical, dangerous [Joe] Biden agenda – any other leader who is not focused on that needs to be replaced,” he said.
Pressed by Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday, Banks was unable to hold up appearances for long. Asked whether he still questioned whether Biden won the presidential election “fair and square”, Banks said that he stood by his decision on 6 January to object to certifying the electoral college votes in several states.
“I have serious concerns about how the election was conducted, that’s why I objected on January 6 – I’ll never apologise for that,” he said.
Stefanik, a representative from New York who is now frontrunner to take over from Cheney, has a paradoxically much more moderate voting record than the woman she would replace. Significantly, Stefanik has been preferred because she has gone along with Trump’s lies about the “stolen” election, despite officials calling it the most secure in US history.
As Cheney’s fate comes to a head, the fall-out from Trump’s false claim that the vote count was rigged against him continues to destabilise the Republican party. Several states, including Texas, Georgia and Florida, have moved aggressively to restrict access to the ballot box in ways that will especially impact communities of color, under the same discredited theory of “voter integrity”.
In Arizona, Republican party leaders have brought in an audit firm called Cyber Ninjas, which has no expertise in election monitoring, to examine how the presidential vote was conducted in Maricopa county.
Part of the exercise involves checking to see whether 40,000 ballots cast for Biden contain traces of bamboo – according to a conspiracy theory that would indicate they were smuggled in from Asia.
As Trump’s enduring grip over his supporters roils the party, rare individuals still publicly defend Cheney. Bill Cassidy, US senator from Louisiana, told NBC News’ Meet the Press that “there’s a whole group of folks that agree with Liz Cheney … for us to win in 2022 and 2024, we need everybody. We need those who feel as Liz.”