Editor’s Note: Charlie Dent is a former Republican congressman from Pennsylvania who served as chairman of the House Ethics Committee from 2015 until 2016 and chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies from 2015 until 2018. He is a CNN political commentator. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
The dismaying events of recent days by the House GOP leadership to purge and cancel Rep. Liz Cheney has shined a bright light on former President Donald Trump’s iron grip on the House GOP and its base voters. Loyalty to Trump trumps strict adherence to policy and ideological orthodoxy. In 2017, I had stated this simple fact – that the GOP litmus test shifted from fidelity to conservative policy principles and ideals to loyalty to the man – and little has changed since then. What remains so utterly gobsmacking is the GOP’s doubling down on Trump loyalty after his two presidential defeats (including in the popular vote), two impeachments, the loss of the House and Senate and an insurrection brought on by his assault on the constitutional order.
In yet another twisted turn, the RINO (Republican In Name Only) hunters at The Club For Growth (CFGF) , an organization purportedly dedicated to free markets and fiscal conservatism, launched a Twitter attack against Rep. Elise Stefanik who hopes to replace Cheney as GOP Conference Chair for the balance of this Congress. The organization charges that Stefanik is a “liberal with a 35% CFGF lifetime rating, 4th worst in the House GOP; House Republicans should find a conservative to lead messaging and win back the House Majority.”
Wait a second. Wouldn’t the person CFGF is looking for be Cheney? After all, these so-called conservative groups like the Club For Growth, Heritage Action and other self-designated chiefs of the GOP purity police consistently give high marks to Cheney, a strong and consistent conservative. In the eyes of the GOP, Cheney’s mortal sin is her temerity in stating the truth about Trump’s 2020 election loss and refusal to absolve the former president of his role in inciting the insurrection of January 6th. Apparently, Cheney missed the memo from on high that these inconvenient facts are off-message and verboten.
After all, the thinking goes, Americans have a short attention span and they will soon forget the events of that shameful day. Time to move on. Now let’s all hold hands and jump together in the shared quest to recapture the House majority. Onward to victory.
Well, well. If the Club For Growth was truly concerned about a conservative in the House GOP Conference Chair, they would simply endorse Cheney and fight to defend her. But like so many in the GOP/conservative ecosystem, these so-called conservative groups are terrified of crossing Trump and losing funding from a base that is either completely unaware of or indifferent to their meaningless ratings and scoring systems waved around like a bloody shirt. Monetizing the Trump movement supersedes all else. Cheney’s stubborn resistance is bad for fundraising and that’s why she will be sacked.
Stefanik, with whom I enjoyed a close working relationship while serving in the House, had at one time carved out a truly pragmatic, more moderate brand as an articulate, vivacious, young millennial woman capable of speaking to constituencies Republicans have struggled with. Sadly, she has sacrificed that skillfully earned and highly prized brand to become an outspoken Trump defender during the 2019 impeachment hearings. Her ideology and CFGF rating mean nothing in the battle for today’s GOP Conference Chair. From my more centrist perspective, Stefanik’s earlier brand –pre-impeachment – deserved a prominent seat at the House GOP leadership table. Instead, the House GOP will have another reliable Trump loyalist as a GOP Conference Chair.
One would think that an organization purportedly committed to conservative principles would understand all of this and would set themselves on fire in defense of a genuine conservative like Cheney who is courageously standing up for core conservative principles like truth, democracy, the rule of law and constitutional order.
Don’t hold your breath. Business is business. Cheney is being sacrificed on the altar of greed and for failing to fall on bended knee to such hypocrisy and cynicism.