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Here’s How Republicans Have Been Justifying the Censure of Cheney and Kinzinger

With hypocrisy, insinuations, and excuses.
February 11, 2022
Here’s How Republicans Have Been Justifying the Censure of Cheney and Kinzinger

As the Republican party continues to degenerate into a cult, its leaders are stepping forward to do what they do best: rationalize the party’s mounting corruption.

Last week, the Republican National Committee censured Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger and resolved to “cease any and all support of them as members of the Republican Party.” The resolution cited their participation in the work of the House Jan. 6th Committee, which the RNC called a “Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse.” Meanwhile, in a speech to the Federalist Society, former Vice President Mike Pence said he had “no right to overturn the election” by halting the electoral count on Jan. 6th, as then-President Donald Trump had pressured him to do.

With very few exceptions, elected Republicans lack the integrity or courage to stand up for Cheney, Kinzinger, or Pence. Instead, they’ve been inventing excuses for the censure, for Trump’s attempts to block the peaceful transfer of power, and for burying the Jan. 6th investigation. Here’s what they’re saying.

1. Cheney and Kinzinger deserved censure because they voted to impeach Trump. The impeachment (the second one, that is—in Trump’s case, we have to distinguish) seems to be what really chafes Trump and his supporters. Most elected Republicans don’t want to admit that this grievance was behind the movement to oust Cheney and Kinzinger, since the logical upshot is that anyone who’s honest about Jan. 6th should leave the party. But some Trumpists can’t hide their rage. Last Friday, when Newsmax asked Montana Rep. Matt Rosendale about the censure, he accused Cheney of “undermining our work” by “voting for the impeachment” and helping Democrats “put on that show on the House floor”—the presentation of evidence of Trump’s guilt. For that, she had to be purged.

2. Cheney and Kinzinger are part of a plot to sabotage the GOP. This conspiracy theory isn’t just coming from the fringe. It’s coming from Rep. Jim Banks, the chairman of the 159-member Republican Study Committee. On Tuesday, Banks—who was originally nominated by House GOP leaders to serve on the Jan. 6th Committee—declared that “the RNC was absolutely right to censure Kinzinger and Liz Cheney,” because “they’ve converted to the other side.” He accused the two lawmakers—who had voted with Trump 93 percent and 90 percent of the time—of using the committee to “go after anybody that has any ties to Donald Trump or represents anything that had to do with the agenda of the Trump presidency.” In fact, Banks alleged, “Liz Cheney is a part of a well-designed plot to prevent Republicans from winning back the majority.”

3. Who are we to judge the RNC? Republican politicians love to accuse Democrats of moral relativism. But when they’re asked about shameful conduct by Trump or his party, these same Republicans shrink from judgment. On Sunday, Rep. Mike McCaul ducked three times when he was asked by Martha Raddatz of ABC News to weigh in on the censure. Eventually, McCaul pleaded: “You know, that’s—that was a—I’m not a member of the RNC. I wasn’t privy to the resolution.” Two days later, when House GOP Conference Chair Rep. Elise Stefanik was asked at a briefing about the censure, she retreated to judgment-free liberalism, invoking rights—“the RNC has every right to take any action”—and declining to pass judgment.

4. Who are we to judge the propriety of overturning elections? Nikki Haley, Trump’s former ambassador to the United Nations, is one of her party’s most remorseless hypocrites. She routinely chides others for moral cowardice. But on Tuesday, when Fox News host Bret Baier asked her about the Trump-Pence dispute over blocking the electoral count, she refused to take sides. She distanced herself from Pence—conceivably a rival for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, if Trump doesn’t run—shrugging that he “did what he thought was right” and “was saying what he thought he needed to say.” But she implored Trump and Pence to “come together” to help the party regain power in 2022, and she cautioned: “I’m not a fan of Republicans going against Republicans, because the only ones that win when that happens are the Democrats and the media.” Saving the country from Democrats is too important, in Haley’s view, to fuss over preserving democracy.

5. Republicans aren’t responsible for the RNC. Five years ago, Chris Christie, who was then the governor of New Jersey, tried to get the incoming Trump administration to install him as chairman of the RNC. But now, as a paid commentator and likely presidential candidate, he says the RNC’s censure resolution is irrelevant. “This is just a majority of 168 people,” he scoffed during the roundtable on ABC’s This Week. “And the RNC, most of those folks were put into place over the course of the four years by Donald Trump. . . . So let’s not make it bigger than it is.” According to Christie, Democrats are responsible for any leftist who says “Defund the police,” but Republicans aren’t responsible for resolutions adopted by the committee that literally defines their party.

6. Let the voters decide. For five years, Sen. John Barrasso has been Cheney’s colleague in Wyoming’s tiny congressional delegation. But on Sunday, when he was asked on Fox News about her censure, he backed away from her. “Liz and I disagree,” he said. “I voted against the Jan. 6th commission, voted against impeachment twice. We’re going to have a very spirited primary . . . and Liz is going to have to travel the state and make her case to the voters of Wyoming if she intends to get re-elected.” In other words: She’s on her own.

7. Cheney and Kinzinger are losers. In lieu of defending the censure, some Republicans point out that Cheney has been purged from House GOP leadership over her apostasy (she was replaced last May as House Republican Conference chair by Stefanik) and will probably lose her primary back home. To them, her ouster and Kinzinger’s decision not to seek re-election are the only verdicts that matter. When House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was asked last Friday whether the censure was “appropriate,” he replied: “Look, there is a reason why Adam is quitting. There’s a reason why Liz Cheney is no longer in leadership and has very low poll rating in Wyoming.” This is how McCarthy thinks: Right and wrong are irrelevant. All that counts is winning or losing.

8. The Jan. 6th investigation is illegitimate because it’s out to get Trump. Why stop at smearing Cheney and Kinzinger? The bolder move is to use them to smear the whole committee. That’s what Rep. Jim Jordan—who, like Banks, was originally nominated to the committee by McCarthy—has been doing all along. “This is all about getting President Trump,” Jordan told Fox News on Tuesday. “It’s about getting his family. It’s about getting his friends” and “all the people he represented, all the people he fought for.” Jordan is doing on TV exactly what he would have done if he’d been on the committee: telling the public to ignore whatever it finds.

9. The investigation is illegitimate because it’s partisan. It’s “not really a bipartisan committee,” since Speaker Nancy Pelosi “rejected Kevin McCarthy’s appointees,” said Marc Short, a former senior official in Trump’s White House, on Meet the Press. That isn’t quite true: Pelosi rejected two of McCarthy’s five nominees, Banks and Jordan, who had signaled that they would sabotage the investigation. McCarthy then set up the GOP’s line of attack against the committee—that it was “partisan” and “illegitimate”—by pulling all his nominees and refusing to cooperate. Cheney and Kinzinger messed up McCarthy’s plan by agreeing to serve on the committee, and that’s why the GOP is desperate to disown them. They’re “basically Democrats now,” says Sen. Rand Paul.

10. The investigation is illegitimate because it goes beyond the events of Jan. 6th. The committee isn’t just looking at the violence at the Capitol. It’s also investigating backstage maneuvers—coercion of state officials, recruitment of fake electors, threats to seize voting machines—that led up to the crisis. Republicans want to invalidate these avenues of investigation. That’s why Sen. Marco Rubio, appearing on Face the Nation, denounced the committee as “a complete partisan scam.” It’s “focused well beyond Jan. 6th,” Rubio protested. “I do not believe that we need a congressional committee to harass Americans that weren’t even in Washington on Jan. 6th.” Banks tried to draw the same boundary. The party that wanted to know everything about Benghazi wants to know nothing about what led to Jan. 6th.

11. The investigation is illegitimate because it goes beyond security failures. At her press conference on Tuesday, Stefanik dismissed the Jan. 6th investigation as “political theater. It’s about punishing partisan opponents and not getting to the real facts, which should be: How can we ensure that the Capitol complex is safe?” This is the same message McCarthy, Jordan, and others are pushing: Investigate the Capitol police and their bosses, not the perpetrators.

12. Nobody cares about Jan. 6th. Enough already,” Christie told Hugh Hewitt in a radio interview on Monday. “We all know what happened.” The media “push it and push it, because they know that that’s harmful to Republicans.” Hewitt admitted that he avoids the topic for business reasons: “I never talk about Jan. 6th, because I like my audience. I don’t want them to turn me off. And they’re bored. They do not like it.” Likewise, on Fox News, Barrasso brushed off a question about whether Pence should have blocked the electoral count. “I’ve been at 15 events in Wyoming in the last week,” he said. “This never comes up. . . . People in Wyoming want me to focus on the future, not the past.”

13. Trump is right to question the election. Even when Republicans concede President Biden’s legitimacy, they appease Trump’s base by repeating myths, lies, or insinuations about the election. “We have seen fraud in elections time and time again,” Haley told Fox News. Short said there was a “cloud” over the election because of “significant concerns about what transpired in Pennsylvania, what transpired in Wisconsin, what transpired in Georgia,” particularly with respect to “mail-in balloting” and “matching signatures.”

Not everything in the RNC’s censure resolution is a lie. It’s true, for instance, that Cheney and Kinzinger have engaged in behavior “inconsistent with the position” of the House GOP. It’s also true that their conduct in the Jan. 6th investigation is “not befitting Republican members of Congress.” That’s because the position of the House GOP is spineless obeisance to Trump, and the conduct of Republican members has been thoroughly corrupt. What unites today’s Republican party is a steadfast commitment not to any underlying principle, but to rationalizing a complete lack thereof.

William Saletan

William Saletan is a writer at The Bulwark.