Liz Cheney vs. Donald Trump

Plus, what is "left" and "right"?
Isaac Saul May 5, 2021
I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum — then “my take.” You can read Tangle for free or subscribe for Friday editions, and you can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone sent you this email, they’re asking you to sign up. You can do that by clicking here.

Today’s read: 11 minutes.

We are diving into the Liz Cheney fracas. Plus, a reader asks me to define “left” and “right” and a “Have a nice day” story about you.

Rep. Liz Cheney from Wyoming

My last day…

As I announced on April 19th, today is my last day at my full-time job as an editor. It ends a seven-year streak, and starting tomorrow I’ll be working on Tangle full-time. It took two years of working two full-time jobs to get here, and I could not be more thrilled about what the future holds. Please, if you haven’t yet, consider becoming a Tangle subscriber to support me and the Tangle staff. At $50/year, subscriptions are just 98 cents a week and $4.16 a month. I can rarely find a beer for that price in New York City. In return, you’ll get special Friday editions, first looks at new features, access to the comments section, and can also say you are supporting a new, better kind of political news.

Subscribe now


Quick hits.

  1. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen walked back comments about concerns over inflation hours after her comments set off panic on Wall Street. (The Washington Post, subscription)
  2. A Facebook-appointed panel of journalists, activists and lawyers has decided to uphold the social network’s ban of President Trump for another six months. (The New York Times) Separately, President Trump launched his own blog to share videos, comments and social media posts. (Donald J. Trump)
  3. The U.S. birth rate has fallen to its lowest point in four decades after the coronavirus pandemic. (The Hill)
  4. American’s new normal temperature is one degree Fahrenheit hotter than it was just two decades ago, according to the latest report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (The Associated Press)
  5. Jared Kushner is founding an organization called the Abraham Accords Institute for Peace in an effort to deepen relationships in the Middle East that were the crowning achievement of former President Trump’s foreign policy. (Axios)

What D.C. is talking about.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY). Cheney is the Republican Conference Chairwoman, which means she is the third-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives behind Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the Republican leader, and Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), the Republican Whip. She is the highest-ranking Republican woman in Congress and often described as “the heir to the Cheney political dynasty,” as she is the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Earlier this year, in the wake of the Capitol riots, Cheney was one of the few Republicans who voted to impeach President Donald Trump. She criticized the former president relentlessly, which led to the party holding a secret ballot vote on whether to replace her as Conference chair. She won that vote overwhelmingly, 146-51, with the support of Rep. McCarthy, who was attempting to keep the party’s tent big enough for both Trump’s supporters and his critics.

Since then, though, Cheney has continued to lambast Trump and has remained at odds with other Republican leaders about whether Trump should be a part of their future. On Monday, Cheney tweeted that anyone promoting “THE BIG LIE” that the 2020 election was stolen is “turning their back on the rule of law” and “poisoning our democratic system.”

Top Republicans are now openly calling to replace her. Yesterday, Rep. McCarthy was caught on a hot mic talking about Cheney. "I think she's got real problems," he told Steve Doocy off-air. “I've had it with her. You know, I've lost confidence… someone just has to bring a motion, but I assume that will probably take place.” Rep. Scalise, the No. 2 Republican, told Axios he wanted to replace her with Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), and that the party should be solely focused on “taking back the House in 2022 and fighting against Speaker Pelosi and President Biden’s radical socialist agenda.” It was a remarkable moment of infighting between the party’s leadership.

Voting to replace Cheney would require two-thirds of the 212 Republicans in the House of Representatives to vote her out, which is no guarantee — especially if it’s a secret ballot.

Cheney’s spokesperson responded to the criticisms by saying, “This is about whether the Republican Party is going to perpetuate lies about the 2020 election and attempt to whitewash what happened on Jan. 6. Liz will not do that. That is the issue.”

Below, we’ll look at some reactions.


What the left is saying.

The left has cheered on Cheney’s commitment to speak truthfully about the 2020 election, but continues to criticize her politics on the whole.

In The Plum Line, Paul Waldman said that the whole episode shows how scared Republicans are of their base.

“We’ve stopped repeating ‘This is not normal’ since Trump left office, but it is absolutely not normal that in one of our two major parties it is considered an unforgivable apostasy to say that the last election was legitimate and that lying to voters is wrong,” he wrote. “Think about that. I can promise you that every Republican considering running for president in 2024 certainly has… There will be times in that primary campaign when the candidates will be asked to say whether the 2020 election was stolen. They know that the true answer — of course not — will not be permitted.

“Telling the truth would make them the Liz Cheneys of that race — with zero chance to win, left only to plead that they are still Republicans in good standing,” he added. “So they’ll craft answers that pander to their base without quite saying Trump won, something like ‘There were serious questions about the integrity of the vote, but like it or not Joe Biden is president, and that’s why I’m running.’ … They know that most of their party has bought into Trump’s lie that the election was stolen; according to a recent CNN poll, 70 percent of Republicans say they don’t think Biden legitimately won the election, and 50 percent believe that there exists “solid evidence” proving that Trump actually won.”

In CNN, Stephen Collinson said Cheney has chosen a “lonely path” in today’s GOP.

“Sen. Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican, is hassled by Trump fans at airports and booed at party conventions for his votes to impeach an aberrant President who abused his power,” he wrote. “Others, like Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, face primary challenges for daring to expose Trump's lies about a stolen election. In the service of his ego and his wounded pride after losing handily to Biden last year in a free and fair election, Trump is completing the work he began in 2015 of purging anyone from the Republican Party who does not share his populist, nationalist creed and rejects his personality cult.

“Try as they might to avoid it, each Republican leader eventually faces the same choice over whether to side with Trump or to stick firm to more traditional Republican principles like the rule of law and support for democracy,” he said.

In a February op-ed, John Nichols urged the left not to make Cheney a hero, writing that she is “a corporation-coddling and warmongering neoconservative, a hate-amplifying liar whose only sin in the eyes of her colleagues is that she got one thing wrong,” he wrote, adding that Democrats “ought not make the congresswoman from Wyoming out to be some kind of hero. Nor should they imagine that she is now—or ever might be—a principled alternative to the extremists who have made the Republican Party a fever swamp of hate, fearmongering, and conspiracy theories…

“It wasn’t Marjorie Taylor Greene who called Democrats ‘the party of anti-Semitism, the party of infanticide, the party of socialism.’ That was Liz Cheney, who spouted that line during a March 2019 appearance on Meet the Press… It wasn’t Marjorie Taylor Greene who claimed that Vice President Kamala Harris ‘sounds like Karl Marx.’ It was Liz Cheney… It wasn’t Marjorie Taylor Greene who suggested that Harris supported infanticide. It was Liz Cheney, who announced on national television after Biden had selected the California senator as his running mate that Harris supported ‘abortion up until the ninth month and beyond.’ And it was Cheney who then proceeded to dismiss Harris’s qualifications—as a former elected prosecutor, state attorney general, and US senator—by claiming that ‘Joe Biden clearly decided that he was going to make a choice based on somebody’s gender, based on their race and based on his need to placate the very-far socialist left of his party.’”


What the right is saying.

Many on the right see Cheney as a relic of Bush-era Republicanism and want her leadership to end. Though plenty of conservatives are still going to bat for her, we won’t know where members of her Caucus sit until an actual vote.

In PJ Media, Stephen Kruiser wrote that the “Trump-hating” GOP is learning that it isn’t popular.

“We’ve been hearing a lot from the hacks in the mainstream media about a post-Trump battle for the soul of the Republican party. This battle is yet another MSM fabrication,” he wrote. “As I am fond of saying, any time two Republicans have lunch together [in] D.C. and order something different the MSM writes about a Republican Civil War.’ … We all know that there is no battle at all. It’s Trump’s party now and, as I’ve written more than once, if it’s going to survive this Biden horror, it needs to stay that way. Going back to pre-Trump business as usual will guarantee that the Democrats will stay in power forever. Or at least until they kill the Republic. The GOP types who decided to be vocal about hating Donald Trump have been marginalized and are getting pushed more toward the party’s fringe every day.”

In RedState, the blogger Bonchie said that since surviving a previous vote, Cheney gave “one giant middle finger to those who stood beside her, hoping she would now focus on helping the Republican party instead of fighting pointless, long-past battles.”

“The situation is untenable at this point,” Bonchie wrote. “How can you keep someone in leadership who is so hostile towards the party’s other leaders and members? And I’m not even talking about Donald Trump. If you are making an enemy of Steve Scalise, something is wrong. Republicans are eager to move forward and present a unified front in a favorable election environment. Meanwhile, Cheney continues to selfishly fight battles that aren’t even being fought anymore, and she’s doing so by going to left-wing media sources and providing them with fodder. There’s nothing that animates Republican voters more than that.”

In The Washington Post, Henry Olsen said Cheney’s biggest problem has nothing to do with Trump.

“Cheney has been harshly criticized because she has bravely refused to stay silent over Trump’s outrageous post-election comments and behavior,” he wrote. “On this, her colleagues should be defending her to the hilt. Trump’s continued lies about election fraud should be called out; indeed, Republicans should be actively dismantling them. There is no evidence that mass voting by mail allowed Democrats to flood the election with fraudulent ballots. Nor is there evidence to support repeated claims that Democrat-controlled election boards in party bastions such as Atlanta or Missoula, Mont., counted thousands of fraudulent ballots. Mass fraud is usually easy to detect because it almost always results in a clear break in patterns without explanation. That wasn’t the case. If anything, Cheney should be more vocal and detailed in her defense of democracy, not less…

“The problem, however, is that Cheney’s insistence that the election was secure is not the only thing that separates her from her colleagues,” Olsen wrote. “She is clearly at odds with modern Republican thinking on both foreign and domestic politics issues… She recently criticized a memo from the head of the House Republican Study Committee, Indiana Rep. Jim Banks, who said the GOP should cement itself as a ‘Working-Class Party.’ The memo advocated some pretty mild ideas, such as limiting illegal immigration and maintaining trade restrictions on China as ways to increase jobs and wages for working-class Americans. Cheney, however, reportedly described it as neo-Marxist during a Congressional Institute call, sources familiar with the matter told Politico. This is an example of George W. Bush-era globalism — precisely the views that majorities of Republicans now reject. How can she lead a party whose views she largely disagrees with?”


My take.

I’ve had an odd feeling over the last 24 hours: I found it difficult to disagree with just about anything that was written about Liz Cheney.

She does embody Bush-era Republicanism that the party’s base has rejected, and I don’t think it’s unfair to call her a warmongering neocon or a corporate shill. John Nichols is also right that Cheney has engaged in some of the ugliest, most divisive kinds of politics in America, from claiming her political opponents want to kill babies to broad-brushing the entire Democratic party as anti-Semites. She is not some hero of bipartisanship, moderation or honesty.

She’s also right about the 2020 election. We’ve got a lot of new Tangle readers this month, but those of you who have been around for a while know that I was on the front lines of shooting down election fraud conspiracy theories. The election was not stolen. And months later, there’s still been no evidence of anything more than the usual smattering of fraud that occurs in every other election. Cheney deserves props for at least being honest about that with Republican voters, especially with so much pressure not to be.

And yet… she does seem incompatible with the party’s current ideology. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for Republican leadership to oust her when she is so openly critical of former President Trump. Over half of Republican voters still believe the election was stolen regardless of the complete lack of evidence, and many take Cheney’s criticisms as a personal attack. While I believe her criticisms of Trump have merit — especially on his personality and the lies about the 2020 election — I also prefer many of Trump’s policy instincts to Cheney’s. So do most Republican voters, apparently. Couple that with the widespread view among Republican voters that the election was stolen, and I’m not sure how she can lead the party — or help usher in its future.

All of this, though, is complicated by one particular statistic that caught my eye: while Cheney may be publicly pushing back on Trump, or may publicly stand for “Bush-era” Republicanism, during his presidency she was remarkably aligned with him. Cheney voted with Trump 92.9 percent of the time. The frontrunner to replace her now, New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, only voted in line with him 77.7 percent of the time. So for all the bluster and talk, the party is basically talking about replacing Cheney with someone who has been less loyal on policy but more loyal in the press. Which I think speaks volumes about the party’s priorities right now (kiss the ring or get out, regardless of how you vote).

What does that say about Trump’s version of Republicanism vs. Cheney’s? It’s complicated. Mostly, it’s a reminder that Trump’s rhetoric was often divorced from his policy, and that he was more of a “populism deferred” than a populist president. He has pushed and changed the party’s priorities, but he has also stayed close enough to the traditional lanes of Republicanism that Cheney was able to vote with him nearly 93 percent of the time.

All that being considered, I do think the least convincing argument was from Henry Olsen, who tried to frame this as “not being about Trump.” It is, in my opinion, all about Trump. It’s about keeping his voters aligned with the GOP which, incredibly, now means perpetuating the delusion that the 2020 election was stolen, rigged, compromised or otherwise invalid. Politically, it may seem to be a smart move to rid the party of Cheney and her allies — and that is the clear path forward for Republicans. But it’s impossible not to shudder at the implication for everyone else, including the 40% of Republicans who don’t believe the election was stolen: Republicans now have a new litmus test, along with traditional pro-life values, protecting the second amendment and defending Constitutional rights, and it’s falling in line with the claim that the current president rigged an election to win. The dangers of this should be self-evident, and they can’t be understated.


Most people do not have a news source they say they can trust. Tangle is trying to be that source — for global citizens on the left, right and center. If you believe in this new generation of covering politics, please consider sharing Tangle:

You can email Tangle to friends by clicking here.

You can post about Tangle on Twitter by clicking here.

You can post about Tangle on Facebook by clicking here.

You can post about Tangle on LinkedIn by clicking here.

Thank you!

— Isaac and the Tangle team


Your questions, answered.

Q: Where do the labels right and left come from? Do you think they are still effective labels today (and what do you do with people/politics that don't seem to fit either label)?

— Frank, Fort Worth, Texas

Tangle: I actually answered a similar question in January. The reason we call it “right” and “left” comes from the seating arrangement in the 19th-century French parliament. Those sitting on the right and left sides of the chamber were generally lumped into two divergent belief systems, and that language has persisted to political alignments globally ever since. There are other ways to describe political alignments, too. One reader suggested I use “open” and “closed” instead of left and right, terminology that David Brooks introduced to the mainstream in a 2016 column in The New York Times.

When Tangle started, I used to say “What Democrats are saying” and “What Republicans are saying.” I changed that because many on the left and right no longer identify with either political party. Today, I would define “left” as generally aligning with Democratic principles: an expansive view of the role of government, a belief that major economic issues cannot be addressed without regulation, and a pro-immigration attitude. Left-wing politics are usually centered around pursuing equality of opportunity, a belief that societal inequalities can and need to be solved, and a general opposition to what they see as an unfair social hierarchy that still exists in America today.

Right, to me, is still defined by a general alignment with Republican policies: a desire for limited government, a belief that regulation can stifle economic growth, and a desire to favor U.S. citizens over those of other nations while also limiting immigration. Right-wing politicians generally accept societal hierarchies and argue that they are a natural component of human nature, unavoidable and perhaps even something we should want. There is a strong desire to sustain and encourage what they see as a fair meritocracy in America.

There are plenty of contradictions and nuances in this, which I have detailed before, But that’s my general answer.

As for whether I think they’re still effective… I’m not sure. I’ve been kicking around the idea of changing the Tangle format from “left” and “right” to “On the one hand…” and “On the other hand…” My thought is that presenting arguments without labels might do more to allow people’s minds to stay open, while also preserving a level of intellectual honesty so folks aren’t pre-biased. That, plus it reduces the divisiveness of pitting left vs. right.

The downside to that arrangement would be that it could obscure what each party is saying on an issue, and could also reduce opportunities for me to highlight common ground. In other words, when the left and right are making similar arguments, that’s a productive thing to take note of — but in the alternative format I wouldn’t be able to show readers that as clearly.

I think about this a lot, and I’m not entirely sure what I’ll end up doing.

Have a question you want to be answered in the newsletter? Simply reply to this email or write in using this form.


A story that matters.

The Labor Department is rescinding a rule from the Trump administration that made it harder for gig and contract workers to argue they were entitled to a minimum wage and overtime. The withdrawal of the Independent Contractor rule will become effective on Thursday, and could open the door for gig workers at companies like Uber or DoorDash to lobby to be re-classified as full-time employees entitled to a wider range of benefits. More than one-third of U.S. workers participate in the gig economy. (Reuters)


Numbers.

  • 3,605,201. The number of babies born in the United States, Puerto Rico and the Northern Marianas Islands in 2020 according to provisional data released by the CDC.
  • 3,747,540. The number of babies born in the United States, Puerto Rico and the Northern Marianas Islands in 2019 according to data released by the CDC.
  • 91%. The drop in social media interactions on stories that have to do with Donald Trump since January, according to NewsWhip.
  • 70%. The percentage of Americans President Biden hopes will have one shot of the coronavirus vaccine by July 4th.
  • 58%. The percentage of all voters who strongly support or somewhat support Joe Biden’s “American Families Plan,” according to a Morning Consult poll.
  • 54%.The percentage of Independent voters who strongly support or somewhat support Joe Biden’s “American Families Plan,” according to a Morning Consult poll.
  • 25%. The percentage of Republican voters who strongly support or somewhat support Joe Biden’s “American Families Plan,” according to a Morning Consult poll.

Reminder.

If you are enjoying Tangle, there are a few great ways to support us:

  1. Become a subscriber by clicking here.
  2. Buy some stuff from our merch store here (we have a great logo, you know it).
  3. Subscribe to our podcast here.
  4. Email Tangle to friends by clicking here.

Have a nice day.

Today’s “Have a nice day” is about you. And me. It’s about us. A couple of years ago, the idea of a politics newsletter that focused on turning the temperature down seemed absurd. How could something like Tangle work when clickbait, primetime punditry and Twitter flamethrowing were so popular and garnering so much attention? When we were in an election year? When Americans loathed their neighbors’ politics so much? Each of you has proven that cynicism to be wrong. It doesn’t matter your political leanings, everyone reading this is doing so because they want to engage with views they don’t like and are trying to better understand everyone’s politics. It’s an incredible community — and tomorrow it becomes my full-time job. Thank you all so much for joining us in this effort.

Comments

Only paid subscribers can comment.
Please subscribe or sign in to join the conversation.

Isaac Saul

I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Buck County, PA — one of the most politically divisive counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.

Great! You've successfully subscribed.
Great! Next, complete checkout for full access.
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.
Success! Your account is fully activated, you now have access to all content.