Liz Cheney has become the figurehead of the Never Trumpers, Republicans seeking to loosen the former president’s grip on their party, but the Wyoming congresswoman was for him in the last election.
Newly removed from House leadership, Cheney spoke to ABC’s This Week. Asked if she voted for Trump in 2020, she replied: “I did.”
Asked if she regretted it, she said: “I was never going to support Joe Biden and I do regret the vote. I think that it was based on policy, based on sort of substance and what I know in terms of the kinds of policies [Trump] put forward that were good for the country. But that I think it is fair to say I regret the vote.”
Cheney came out against Trump after the deadly attack on the US Capitol on 6 January, by supporters the then president told to “fight like hell” in service of his lie that his conclusive defeat by Joe Biden was the result of mass electoral fraud.
Most of the congressional GOP has stayed behind Trump – to the extent that one representative claimed this week those who entered the Capitol were as orderly as regular tourists.
“It’s indefensible,” Cheney said. “I will never forget seeing the law enforcement officers, the members of the Swat team, the rapid response forces, seeing them and their exhaustion. And they had been through hand-to-hand combat – and you know, people died.
“And the notion that this was somehow a tourist event is disgraceful and despicable. And I won’t be part of whitewashing what happened on 6 January. Nobody should be part of it. And people ought to be held accountable.”
Cheney was one of 10 Republicans in the House to vote for Trump’s impeachment, on a charge of inciting an insurrection. Trump was acquitted at trial after only seven Republican senators followed suit.
Cheney also told ABC Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, should either voluntarily testify before any 6 January commission about his conversation with Trump as the attack happened, or be compelled to do so.
Cheney is a staunch conservative and a daughter of Dick Cheney, a former congressman, secretary of defense and vice-president. As such she is a member of a party establishment either beaten into near-silence by Trump’s harangues, like Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell; vilified by Trump’s supporters, like Utah senator and 2012 nominee Mitt Romney; or simply acquiescent.
Trump remains excluded from social media over his role in the Capitol riot but on Saturday he issued statements replete with rants about supposed electoral fraud.
On ABC, interviewer Jonathan Karl asked if Cheney would stay in her party should Trump decide to run for president again and win the nomination in 2024.
“I will do everything that I can to make sure he’s not the nominee,” Cheney said. “And, you know everything necessary to make sure he never gets anywhere close to the Oval Office again.”
But, Karl repeated, would she remain in the party if Trump were the nominee?
“I will not support him,” said Cheney. “And we’ll do everything I can to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Asked if she would run for president herself, Cheney said she was focused on re-election in Wyoming, where she will be challenged from the right. Asked if her father would want her to run, she laughed and said: “Well, yeah, but he’s my dad, so he’s not objective.”
Some Republicans outside Congress have mooted a new conservative party. Most observers think that unlikely to succeed. Karl pointed out that other Republicans who have stood up to Trump, including senators Bob Corker and Jeff Flake, have been swiftly run out of town.
Cheney said only a “handful” of Republicans actually believed Trump’s lies. But, she said, “I know that there are many members who have expressed concern about their own security. And I think that’s an important point to think about as well, that we now live in a country where members’ votes are affected because they’re worried about their security, they’re worried about threats on their lives.
“But there’s no question that at this moment, the majority of the Republican party is not where I am.”
The brewing Republican civil war was set to dominate the political talk shows.
Cheney was also interviewed on Fox News Sunday. Another anti-Trump House Republican, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, spoke to NBC’s Meet the Press – as did Dan Crenshaw of Texas, a Trump loyalist. CBS’s Face the Nation was due to feature Joni Ernst of Iowa, the only woman in Republican Senate leadership, who criticised the House GOP for “cancelling” Cheney.
Fred Upton, a Michigan representative who has been close to Biden, spoke to CNN’S State of the Union. He said attempts to deny the events of 6 January were “absolutely bogus” and said allegiance to Trump would guarantee electoral defeat.
“We’re not going to win unless we’re a big tent,” Upton said.
The Maryland governor Larry Hogan, a possible candidate for the Republican nomination, told CNN Trump was “toxic for the Republican party”.
Cheney’s replacement as the No3 House Republican, Elise Stefanik, was due to speak to Fox Business. The New Yorker, once a moderate, backed an objection to electoral results in Pennsylvania, one of two states Republicans challenged on the day of the Capitol riot. She indicated a willingness to challenge other states.
Cheney told ABC there was “no question” an event like the Capitol attack could happen again.
“We’ve seen how far President Trump was willing to go,” she said. “We’ve seen not only his provocation of the attack, but his refusal to send help when it was needed, his refusal to immediately say, ‘Stop.’ And that in and of itself, in my view, was a very clear violation of his oath and of his duty.”
“I think the issue really is Donald Trump and it really is the party and whether we’re going to be a party that’s based on the truth,” she said.