This morning, the Republican Party further etched their authoritarian drift into stone. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) was removed from her role as GOP Conference Chair for speaking the truth about the 2020 election and Donald Trump’s role in the January 6 insurrection. In a hearing shortly after this, House Republicans repeatedly sought to rewrite the history of January 6 and defended Trump forcefully. When the GOP tells you who they are, believe them.
In a conference meeting that started at 9am and lasted only 20 minutes, House Republicans swiftly ousted Cheney with a voice vote. Led by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the GOP caucus, known for crying cancel culture and for referring to their Democratic counterparts as “Orwellian”, canceled a leader of their own party for simply stating facts. After the vote, former president Trump released a classically unhinged statement attacking Cheney as "bitter" in apparent celebration of the ousting.
We need to look at the bigger picture here. The Republican Party’s rejection of Liz Cheney is about much more than punishing her for disloyalty to Trump. This is about creating a litmus test for their new brand of authoritarianism. Republicans are seeking monolithic support of their election lies and opposition to democracy itself. It’s not hyperbolic to say that.
Aside from their foolish culture wars, the one "policy" approach that the Republican Party unites around is their voter suppression initiative. GOP state lawmakers have weaponized the Big Lie to undermine democracy with hundreds of voter suppression bills in at least 47 states. Republicans know they can’t win on the issues. Given President Biden’s high approval ratings and popular policies, it’s clear right-wing messaging and disinformation are increasingly ineffective. In light of this, Republicans are betting their entire political future on the Big Lie and their ability to engineer minority rule via undemocratic means. Anyone who calls out that lie is an existential threat to their power.
The Big Lie has more GOP support today than it did before Trump left office. It was clear the GOP would exploit the Big Lie as a fake justification for their usual voter suppression, asI wrote in The Independent back in December, but they’re now doing something much more nefarious. In state after state, GOP lawmakers are systematically targeting the guardrails that prevented Trump from overturning the 2020 election.
If just a few dozen people made different decisions last year, Trump might have been successful. Republicans know it and are making changes based on this. The most overt example is Georgia’s election law. There were changes made to limit the Secretary of State’s role on the election board after Brad Raffensperger refused to do Trump’s bidding in 2020. The law also gave the state legislature the power to appoint a majority of the state election board members, giving them the power to take over county election boards. These are direct remedies for Trump’s failed post-election tactics.
We also have new voter suppression bills in Texas, Florida, and Arizona. This comes as Arizona state lawmakers authorized a private company called Cyber Ninjas, whose CEO has pushed conspiracy theories, to run a seemingly dubious audit of millions of Maricopa County ballots. All of these measures are built upon the foundation of the Big Lie.
How is any of this relevant to Liz Cheney’s ousting? The fact House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and the majority of his caucus ousted Cheney over the Big Lie means their caucus is united around this undemocratic idea. This raises new concerns and stakes for future elections. If Republicans win the House in 2022, the party will have another tool to help them overturn the election in 2024.
Republicans had a very clear opportunity to reject Trump and everything he stands for after the insurrection, but instead, they’ve embraced him more tightly. For a very brief moment, both Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Kevin McCarthy had harsh rhetoric for Trump. But when presented with the chance to convict him for his role in the insurrection, McConnell voted no. McCarthy was soon seen at Mar-a-Lago kissing Trump’s ring. Since then, Republican lawmakers and right-wing media have made concerted efforts to seek to create a revisionist history of January 6.
Now that we know House Republicans are united around the Big Lie, we have to ask ourselves: What happens if we have a GOP-controlled House during the 2024 election and they refuse to certify the results in January 2025? What happens if Republican legislatures send Congress an alternate slate of electors? Needless to say, in such a context the 2022 midterm elections just became significantly more consequential.
Yesterday, McConnell said, "Our democracy is not in crisis and we aren’t going to let one party take over our democracy under the false pretense of saving it.” The irony could not have been any thicker.
It’s now clear that Republicans don’t see Trump’s efforts to overturn the election as a depraved stain on our history. They see it as a trial run.
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