The Republican Party’s crusade to enforce allegiance to former President Donald Trump claimed its most high-profile victim this week when Rep. Liz Cheney, Wyoming’s reliably conservative congresswoman and its sole representative in the House, was stripped of her leadership position in a swift voice vote.
Her ouster provides a fresh answer to the question: Just how far will the GOP go to defend Trump and advance the falsehood that he was cheated out of re-election?
The party has been making similar moves across the country. From county party organizations to Capitol Hill now, Republicans have repeatedly subjected their elected officials to a Trump loyalty test, centered around affirmations of support for the former president and his bogus claim.
Those who refuse to swear by Trump and his “Big Lie” about the election result face heckling, censure, demotion and character assassination from the party’s grass roots. On the other hand, those who objected to the certification of the election or advanced the falsehoods are being left alone or elevated.
So while Cheney is out of favor, Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, a confrontational freshman Republican who wears a “Trump Won” face mask, remains a member of the GOP caucus in good standing. Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, a Trump loyalist who supported a failed effort to have the Supreme Court void Biden’s victory, is taking Cheney’s place.
The claim that the 2020 election was marred by fraud or irregularities flies in the face of all available evidence and the full range of constitutional processes that validated and certified the results. Those results included Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential race by about 7 million votes, but also significant gains for Republicans in the House and the re-election of several senior GOP senators.
Nonetheless, along with fealty to Trump, the claim has now become a piece of Republican orthodoxy, a pillar of the party platform. And the party that once celebrated a so-called 11th Commandment — “Thou shalt not speak ill of any Republican” — is cracking down on its dissidents with fervor.
Party stalwarts such as Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, the 2012 presidential nominee, and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp have been scolded by local GOP groups, along with state election officials who had a role in certifying the 2020 results.
“As much as they are touting the ‘big tent’ party, it’s clear you are not welcome unless you are willing to push the big lie and unless you are willing to fall in line with what the former president believes,” said Olivia Troye, director of the Republican Accountability Project and a former homeland security and counterrorism adviser to former Vice President Mike Pence.
This week, more than 100 Republicans, including some former elected officials, signed a letter threatening to create a third party if the GOP doesn’t move away from Trump, although it didn’t name him.
“Our nation’s future should not be dictated by a single person but by principles that bind us together,” the letter states. “That’s why we believe in pushing for the Republican Party to rededicate itself to founding ideals — or else hasten the creation of an alternative.”
Fraud claims aren’t true, but they’re popular
One reason Republican leaders have leaned into the falsehood is that Trump remains a central figure for the party, with proven ability to rally supporters and raise funds. Kevin McCarthy, the House GOP leader who helped engineer Cheney’s demotion, is under pressure to deliver for the GOP in next year’s midterm elections. His strategy? Loyalty to Trump.
The fraud claims also undergird state-level Republican campaigns to pass new voting laws that in various ways restrict mail and absentee voting, which were popular with Democrats in 2020. After the election, Republicans aggressively sold these policies as “making it easier to vote and harder to cheat.” But voting was already easy enough to produce record turnout in 2020 — in the midst of a pandemic — and there was no evidence of widespread cheating.
One other reason for perpetuating the claims: Republican voters appear to believe them.
Following a torrent of misinformation before and after the election — Trump and his allies have continued to flog false claims more than six months later — a broad swath of Republicans have told pollsters that they do not believe Joe Biden legitimately won the election.
While the rebukes of Republicans by county or state groups are largely symbolic, they serve as a warning that dissidents could face competitive primaries against Trump loyalists or tight general election races in battleground states.
Cheney demoted from Republican leadership role
Cheney’s May 12 ouster as the House Republican conference chair — the third-highest Republican position in the House — shows how the party is coalescing around the false stolen-election narrative at the national level.
A previous effort to boot Cheney from the leadership failed in February, but the clouds had been gathering over her ever since she came out strongly in favor of impeaching Trump over his role in the Jan. 6 riot, drawing a censure from the Wyoming Republican Party.
A May 5 op-ed she wrote for the Washington Post — in which she pleaded with Republicans to abandon the falsehood that Trump was cheated out of reelection — appeared to seal her fate.
“The 2020 presidential election was not stolen,” Cheney had tweeted days earlier. “Anyone who claims it was is spreading THE BIG LIE, turning their back on the rule of law, and poisoning our democratic system.”
Cheney has steadfastly refused to accept Trump’s false claims of a fraudulent election and has blamed him for inciting the violent mob that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 as Congress certified the results of the presidential election. (Even as the riot raged, Trump was repeating his claims.) She is one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump after the insurrection.
McCarthy said during a May 4 interview on Fox News that the movement to oust Cheney wasn’t driven by her impeachment vote. Instead, McCarthy said that he had heard from members concerned about Cheney’s ability “to carry out the job as conference chair, to carry out the message.”
McCarthy and Trump endorsed Stefanik as Cheney’s replacement.
Censures and rejections after challenging Trump
Meanwhile, Republican leaders at the state and county levels have for several months been admonishing members of Congress for breaking party ranks on Trump’s impeachment.
In Ohio, Republicans censured Rep. Anthony Gonzalez for voting to impeach Trump after the insurrection and called for his resignation. Party leaders claimed that Gonzalez had “betrayed his constituents” and “resorted to emotional conclusions that misplaced blame on President Trump.”
Angered by Romney’s votes to convict Trump twice, Utah Republicans took a censure vote at a state convention earlier this month. The effort narrowly failed. But soon after, Weber County Republicans passed a resolution to censure him. Washington County Republicans had already done so in April.
Romney’s impeachment votes “hurt the Constitution and hurt the party,” said Don Guymon, a Davis county delegate who supported the motion at the state gathering, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. The newspaper noted that Romney “drew a torrent of boos” when he spoke at the convention before the vote.
Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania are among other lawmakers reprimanded by party groups for voting for Trump’s impeachment and conviction.
“My party’s leadership has chosen loyalty to one man over the core principles of the Republican Party and the founders of our great nation,” Burr said in February after North Carolina’s Republican Party voted unanimously to censure him.
For Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, the backlash has come from county Republicans and his own family. On Jan. 7, the day after the insurrection, Kinzinger said that “for the sake of our democracy,” the vice president and the Cabinet should invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office.
The next day, several of Kinzinger’s family members wrote in a letter that he had “embarrassed the Kinzinger family name!”
Rebukes hit state and local officials
In 2020, Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, a Republican, pushed back on election falsehoods promoted by Trump and his allies. This year, Nevada Republicans passed a resolution accusing her of making “dismissive” statements regarding “election integrity concerns.”
Cegavske said her job was to carry out the duties of her office, “not carry water for the state GOP or put my thumb on the scale of democracy.”
Other officials who have been rebuked or sidelined include:
- Georgia’s Kemp: Some county GOP groups passed resolutions in April criticizing the governor for not backing Trump’s false claims about voter fraud. Some GOP activists also voted to condemn Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who concluded the election was fair and accurate and rejected Trump’s assertions.
- Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey: State Republicans censured Ducey in January after he angered Trump and his allies by certifying that the state voted for Biden.
- Iowa’s Scott County Republican Party Chairman Dave Millage: In January, Millage told the Quad City Times that Trump egged on the Capitol rioters and deserved to be impeached. Millage’s comments angered fellow Republicans, and he quickly resigned.
Millage told PolitiFact he was shocked that Republicans attacked him for his comments about Trump.
“I thought everybody should have been appalled by his conduct,” Millage said. “He was undermining our democracy.”
John J. Pitney, Jr., a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College, told PolitiFact that there is no clear historical parallel to the way current House Republicans are rallying around a former president. Pitney left the GOP after Trump’s victory in 2016.
Both Bushes got plenty of pushback from congressional Republicans, Pitney said, but after they left office, they stopped trying to influence Republican politics.
“And congressional Republicans,” he said, “simply stopped talking about them.”
PolitiFact researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this article.
This article was originally published by PolitiFact, which is part of the Poynter Institute. It is republished here with permission. See the sources for these fact checks here and more of their fact checks here.