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Kevin McCarthy: Master of Strategery

Pushing out Liz Cheney makes it easier to turn 2022 into another referendum on Trumpism.
May 4, 2021
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The best political mind in the GOP. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Kevin McCarthy, apparently, thinks that if he can stop Liz Cheney from talking about former President Trump’s promotion of the election lies that led to the January 6 riot, then he’ll have an easier time winning the 2022 midterms and becoming speaker of the House.

He has determined that her inability to “carry out the message”—translation: whitewashing the insurrection and hyping up concerns about “election integrity”—is somehow the problem

Now, in fairness to McCarthy, those two things are actually problems for the GOP. And, booting Cheney might make Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene happy for five minutes. But those problems aren’t going away. They will haunt McCarthy forever.

What McCarthy is missing is that ousting Cheney is likely to make matters worse for Republicans.

If Cheney is ousted, McCarthy will be the feckless House Republican leader who acted as the toady enforcer of Trump’s dangerous election lies. Every Democrat can say, with a straight face, that in Kevin’s House, lying is a litmus test for leadership.

This dispute has nothing to do with policy. Cheney is a rock-ribbed Republican with a strong conservative voting record. It’s purely about psychology and how the party is continuing to transform away from conservative policy and into a cult of personality. Otherwise, the plain facts that Cheney has stated about the events on January 6 wouldn’t be at all controversial.

The other problem for McCarthy is that when Cheney speaks the truth, she makes people like him look bad. She’s a reminder that 147 Republicans voted to object to certifying Biden as president even after the insurrection. The contrast between Cheney and the people groveling to Trump, insisting that he still should be leader of the party, is too uncomfortable.

With Trump out of the White House, sheltering in place as the Golden Hermit King of Mar-a-Lago, the GOP could have put this all behind it. That would have taken courage—something not in large supply in the party.

At the very least, McCarthy could allow the handful of dissenters to do their thing, hoping that they were able to kickstart a post-Trump era, while the rest of the conference looked the other way. That would have given the GOP a thin veneer of plausible deniability about all the lies, anyway.

Instead, McCarthy and his confederates are looking to dump Cheney, which can only serve to tie the party more tightly to Trump, who has proven to be nothing short of a political disaster.

Under Trump, the GOP lost the House, the Senate, and the White House. He was twice-impeached, let a deadly pandemic ravage the country, and incited an insurrection on his way out.

And by pushing to excise Liz Cheney, Kevin McCarthy is helping to make the 2022 midterms another referendum on that loser.

Amanda Carpenter

Bulwark political columnist Amanda Carpenter is a CNN contributor, author, and former communications director to Sen. Ted Cruz and speechwriter to Sen. Jim DeMint.