Why Liz Cheney angers Republicans: The GOP must keep Trump's Big Lie alive for the next election

The GOP ginning up baseless concerns about voter fraud and an Arizona recount could fire up their base or backfire

By Heather Digby Parton


Published May 5, 2021 9:52AM (EDT)

Former President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally on October 28, 2020 in Bullhead City, Arizona. (Isaac Brekken/Getty Images)
Former President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally on October 28, 2020 in Bullhead City, Arizona. (Isaac Brekken/Getty Images)

The biggest news in Washington continues to be Liz Cheney's ongoing refusal to bend the knee to the former president and formally repudiate her inexplicable fealty to the truth. It's one thing to be investigated by the FBI for paying for sex with minors or to be a blatant white supremacist — these are human foibles that can be forgiven — but to unapologetically assert that Donald Trump's insistence that the election was stolen is a Big Lie simply cannot be tolerated.

I've written before that I believe regardless of whether she is truly incapable of swallowing this election nonsense, Cheney also has a strategy. There is an open "lane" for a Republican woman, especially one with a pedigree like hers, to be the tough conservative who stood up to Trump in the event the magic veil ever falls from voters' eyes. So far that lane looks like it gets narrower every day, but kicking her out of the leadership for telling the truth in the face of massive dishonesty can only add to her heroic luster in the long haul. The worst thing that happens is she is remembered as the Margaret Chase Smith of her day, after the brave senator from Maine who denounced the Wisconsin demagogue Joseph McCarthy long before anyone else had the nerve. There are worse fates for a politician than that.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Republican establishment continues to run around in circles clucking furiously like a brood of barnyard hens, trying to keep Trump and his cultlike following happy. They appear to have decided that their voters require human sacrifices for the cause so Cheney must be thrown over the cliff. (And to think "Democrats are in disarray" used to be a perennial trope. They're amateurs compared to the GOP.)

But when I read Salon's Sophia Tesfaye's piece about former House speaker Paul Ryan, who reportedly really doesn't care for Donald Trump and his shenanigans yet remains glued to his chair in the Fox boardroom, unwilling to utter a peep about what's going on with his party, it occurred to me that it's giving them far too much credit to simply call them cowards. They are much more craven than that. It's not that they are afraid of their Trump-loving constituents who are metaphorically brandishing pitchforks and torches against anyone who dare call the Big Lie a big lie. It's that they are seeing the upside for them personally.

While Washington officials clutch their pearls about Liz Cheney's apostasy, consider all the anti-democratic activity that's taking place around the country which these people are either explicitly or tacitly endorsing.

 The Republican Attorney Generals Association has been in turmoil since January 6th when some members objected to the group's sponsorship of the violent insurrection. The chairman resigned last month after being unable to handle the internal strife and is to be replaced this week by a hard-core Trump supporter who has promised to "take a blowtorch to Biden's agenda." In Florida, a state Trump won handily, they are nonetheless busily enacting voting restrictions which they belatedly realized might even suppress their own vote. They did it anyway. Ohio Republicans decided this week to censure Republican politicians who voted to impeach Donald Trump even though they are from other states. And the New York Times reports that the Texas GOP is now eating its own over "pandemic and voter-fraud conspiracy theories."

But the big story is in Arizona, where the state Senate has hired an untried company led by a man with a history of floating vote fraud conspiracy theories to "audit" last November's vote in Maricopa Country, which was won by Joe Biden. Despite the fact that the county was recounted twice by hand and found to match the machine count perfectly, Trump-supporting volunteers are laboriously examining the ballots without any proper monitoring, determined to prove that the election was stolen. The good news is that the Space Force is supposedly on alert to ensure that everything is done properly.

For his part, Trump is reportedly obsessed with this recount. He apparently believes it will prove the election there was stolen and that other states will follow. Here he is last week pontificating before his paying guests at Mar-a-lago:

What all these supposed successful "audits" would add up to is not immediately clear, but on Tuesday Trump did say, "I think people are going to be very, very happy when I make a certain announcement," so perhaps he believes having a bunch of his loyal fanatics falsely testify that they finally "found" the votes he wanted will somehow launch him back into the White House in 2024.

According to Tierney Sneed of Talking Points Memo, the Trump team expect these audits to take place elsewhere, starting next with Georgia:

Peter Navarro, a Trump White House advisor and the author of several reports asserting mass election fraud, told OAN last week that he believed the Arizona audit could precede a similar audit in Georgia, where the scale of voter fraud was, in his universe, "much larger." Speaking to Steve Bannon Thursday, Trump supporter Boris Epshteyn said that if the audit shows "even a small fraction" of what the former president's devotees expect, "the freight train of audit is coming down the way. It's on the train to Georgia."

All of this may very well be why even the Republicans who obviously know this is nuts are all climbing on board that crazy train. If they can stage one of these "audit" pageants in a place like Georgia they might just juice their turnout for 2022 and take out newly-elected Democratic Sen. Rafael Warnock. And there are dozens of House districts where that dynamic could play itself out as well.

It isn't new for Republicans to say that Democrats are illegitimate. They used to say that President Clinton only won with a plurality in a three-way race, so his presidency wasn't really valid. And we all know that Trump himself pushed the grotesque Birther lie which claimed that Barack Obama wasn't born in the U.S. and was therefore not qualified to be president. But this is taking all that to a much higher level. Republicans no doubt realize that this flurry of anti-democratic activity in the states —ostensibly on behalf of Donald Trump and his Big Lie — is really going to pay off for them.

So the House GOP's leadership apparent decision to purge Liz Cheney from their ranks is their way of telling all these rabid Trumpist activists in the states to have at it, the GOP establishment is with them all the way. They aren't afraid of Trump voters. They're grateful to them.

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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Donald Trump Elections 2022 Elections 2024 Gop Civil War Liz Cheney Trump's Big Lie