The House Republican Party conference last week voted to remove its chairman, U.S. Representative Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.). Her ouster as the third-ranking member of House Republican leadership was widely expected. Cheney was one of only 10 Republicans—and the only member of leadership—who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump in the hastily improvised and constitutionally questionable proceedings that followed the Capitol riot of January 6. Despite Cheney’s solid conservative credentials, her vote made her wildly unpopular in a party that still overwhelmingly supports Trump and more than ever resents establishment Republicans exemplified by her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Calls for Liz Cheney’s removal were almost immediate. Wyoming’s state Republican Party censured her in an open vote and then demanded her resignation from Congress, which she refused to tender. On February 3, the Republican House leadership called a closed-door, secret-ballot recall vote on her leadership post. She survived. But afterward, she escalated her battle against Trump, calling for a criminal investigation of the January 6 events and declaring that not only would she refuse to support him if he were the Republican nominee in 2024 but that she would “do everything I can to ensure that he never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office.”
The ax fell swiftly. Renewed calls for Cheney’s removal emerged from among the Republican rank and file. Her next move was strange. She published a lengthy op-ed in Washington Post—Beltway insiders’ newspaper of record—appealing to what she called “the basic principles that underpin and protect our freedom and our democratic process.” On the eve of her removal, she repeated her arguments on the House floor, calling Trump “a threat America has never seen before” and accusing him of having “provoked a violent attack on this Capitol in an effort to steal the election.”
Suffice to say, her arguments were unconvincing. In another closed-door vote, this time a voice vote that took just 16 minutes, she was summarily removed from her post. On Friday, Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York was handily elected to replace her.
Media Malpractice (As Usual)
“Hypocrisy!” cried much of the Left, arguing that Cheney had become a victim of “cancel culture,” an oppressed target of right-wing extremist “snowflakes” who simply cannot tolerate any difference of opinion.
Senators Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), who voted to convict Trump, along with Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who voted to acquit, joined in. “We shouldn’t be trying to cancel voices,” Ernst pleaded. The mainstream media had a field day with what it hopes will become a Republican civil war that will hobble GOP prospects in the 2022 midterms and beyond. The press also wasted no time using the Cheney brouhaha as ammunition to try to neutralize the potent issue of cancel culture, one of the few Republican tropes that enjoys broad and compelling bipartisan support, and which Democrats are increasingly unable to justify.
The plain fact, however, is that Liz Cheney was not “canceled.” She held an elected leadership post in her party that was subject to recall in well-defined intraparty voting procedures that no one disputes were twice correctly employed. She had—and availed herself of—every opportunity to speak freely and publicly on any issue of concern to her, to state her case on the House floor, to address Republican colleagues on whose votes her future depended, to publish her uncensored thoughts in the media and on social media, and to make the strongest argument she could for retaining her post and promoting her vision for the Republican Party. In February she succeeded. This month she failed.
At no point, however, was Cheney forcibly prevented from presenting views to which some object, as so many less fortunate individuals across the political spectrum have been. She was not “deplatformed,” shouted down, heckled, or physically attacked and forced to flee. She has no real or even possible block on expressing herself in the media, which is much more than some of her colleagues and, indeed, President Trump himself can rightly say.
Ironically, if evil machinations had succeeded in “deplatforming” Cheney earlier this year, she would almost certainly still hold her leadership post now. She lost her position precisely because she had full access to all available platforms and then used her uncanceled rights of free speech and expression to squander whatever faith in her remained among House Republicans, who then exercised their right to vote her out.
A Proper Exercise of Democracy
It should go without saying that no one has a constitutional or human right to continue holding an elected leadership post, especially one that is subject to recall by democratic vote. In the absence of such a right, Liz Cheney’s removal cannot possibly constitute “cancellation.”
Like any elected official who suffers defeat, she lost the confidence of her voters. In this case, all but a tiny handful of Cheney’s House colleagues disagree with her views of Trump’s alleged culpability in the January 6 events and support both his continuing party leadership and possible 2024 candidacy. So does an overwhelming majority of their constituents.
Since February, a critical balance of House Republicans, including minority leader Kevin McCarthy, have come to view her continuing, if relatively isolated, truculence as a significant threat to party unity in a chamber where the Democratic majority is so slim that dissension within the leadership could make a real difference in critical votes. Naturally, Cheney’s newfound leftist friends are aware of this and, with a whole progressive agenda at stake, deeply fear the more united Republican opposition heralded by her ouster.
Even now, nothing prevents Cheney from continuing to hold her House seat over the objections of her state party. She can campaign for another party leadership post at a future time, or make her case to her constituents in Wyoming when she comes up for reelection in 2022. They may well choose to nominate a pro-Trump Republican opponent in her statewide district’s primary. But, like her recall vote, that would be an exercise in liberal democracy and not the totalitarian cancel culture that Democrats cannot win without.