Rep. Liz Cheney says former President Donald Trump’s incitement of the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol was a historically egregious violation of a president’s oath and she was shocked to see House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy pay the ex-president a visit at his private club in Palm Beach, Florida, weeks later.
“I think what Donald Trump did is the most dangerous thing, the most egregious violation of an oath of office of any president in our history,” Ms. Cheney, Wyoming Republican, told David Axelrod’s “The Axe Files” podcast. “And so the idea that a few weeks after he did that, the leader of the Republicans in the House would be at Mar-a-Lago, essentially, you know, pleading with him to somehow come back into the fold, or whatever it was he was doing, to me was inexcusable.”
Mr. McCarthy said Mr. Trump bore some responsibility for the Capitol attack after the president, during his final days in office, repeatedly questioned the results of the 2020 election. But the California Republican visited Mr. Trump in Florida after President Biden’s inauguration to seek help in bolstering the GOP during the midterms.
“I asked him why he had done it, and he said, well, he had just been in the neighborhood, essentially,” Ms. Cheney said.
Mr. McCarthy and other GOP leaders backed a decision to oust Ms. Cheney as House GOP conference chair and install Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York in her place. They said Ms. Cheney had lost touch with the conference’s message, but it was widely viewed as punishment for speaking out about Mr. Trump’s Jan. 6 culpability and voting in favor of impeachment.
Her ousting raised questions about the long-term strategy and endgame for a contingent within the GOP that sees Mr. Trump’s influence as an existential threat to the party.
They say his repeated claims about widespread fraud in his 2020 loss imperil democracy and will further erode the Republican Party’s standing after it lost the White House and both chambers of Congress during Mr. Trump’s single term.
Allies of Ms. Cheney say her repeated criticism of the ex-president comes from a genuine worry over what happened between November and January — Congress faced a riot as it tried to confirm election results — and that someone has to reaffirm the GOP’s commitment to constitutional principles and rule of law.
They argue her public comments aren’t a calculation to position herself for political gain, pointing to her loss of the No. 3 spot in the House as proof. She hopes more Republicans will see unquestioning allegiance to Mr. Trump as a dangerous and losing proposition over time.
For now, Mr. Trump shows no signs of going anywhere or losing his grip on the party.
He received cheers and a standing ovation as he took the stage in Greenville, North Carolina, on Saturday for a speech attacking Mr. Biden, Dr. Anthony Fauci and China.
The ex-president, who plans to tour the country with former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, is banned from Twitter but issues a daily flurry of statements about his political enemies, the origins of the coronavirus and even the Kentucky Derby from his private club in Palm Beach, Florida.
Experts say Mr. Trump’s foes could be banking on outside forces to redirect the party.
“Trump’s GOP opponents know he faces serious legal risks and think his Republican support will soften if he is indicted,” said Darrell West, director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution. “They hope that will break the fever and create opportunities for them to push the party back towards its traditional, conservative values. It is an open question whether his stock will drop even if he is indicted, but something like that could change the former president’s standing within his own party.”
The quandary for anti-Trump Republicans is they must pull for GOP wins in 2022, yet a big midterm comeback would likely be ascribed to Mr. Trump, said Ross Baker, a politics professor at Rutgers University.
“The anti-Trump Republicans are a kind of insurgent band that has fled to the mountains to regroup and plot long-term strategy. While the number of anti-Trump Republicans is not inconsiderable, they are scattered and few hold the elective office needed to command public attention,” Mr. Baker said. “The most profitable activity for them right now is to get behind moderate candidates in GOP primaries and pray for an unsurvivable scandal to bring Trump down. It’s hard to imagine what that might be.”
Allies of Ms. Cheney say she certainly wants the GOP to retake the House in 2022, though on policy grounds that oppose the agenda espoused by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer and Mr. Biden.
They say Republicans can win by adopting Mr. Trump‘s policies, so there is no need to embrace his strident rhetoric and unproven claims about the 2020 contest. They also acknowledge it is too early to tell how 2022 will play out.
For the time being, Mr. Trump’s critics are using social media, TV hits and podcasts to try and persuade anyone who will listen.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, Illinois Republican and outspoken Trump critic, said it was fitting that the theme from “Titanic” played ahead of Mr. Trump’s North Carolina speech.
“As I said before, the president is frantically searching for women’s clothing and throwing everyone out of his way for the lifeboat. Meanwhile, so many GOP leaders are playing in the band,” Mr. Kinzinger tweeted.
Speaking to Mr. Axelrod, Ms. Cheney also compared Mr. Trump’s rhetoric to what emanates from Beijing.
“When you listen to Donald Trump talk now, when you hear the language he’s using now, it is essentially the same things that the Chinese Communist Party, for example, says about the United States and our democracy,” she said. “When he suggests that it’s, you know, incapable of conveying the will of the people, you know, that somehow it’s failed — those are the same things that the Chinese government says about us.
“And and it’s very dangerous and damaging,” she said, “and it’s not true.”