One woman in Donald Trump’s party has repeatedly spoken out against him – and the former president has clearly had enough.
Four months after Donald Trump’s supporters attacked the US Capitol Building, the Republican Party has largely fallen back in line behind the former president – with the exception of one senior leader.
Congresswoman Liz Cheney, the third-highest ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, voted to impeach Mr Trump in January and has not stopped speaking out against him since, denouncing him for lying to his supporters about his election defeat.
Now she is facing the consequences.
In recent days, Mr Trump and Ms Cheney have escalated their public feud, and her colleagues in Congress are preparing to oust her from her role as chair of their conference.
It’s a telling lesson for Republican politicians: Mr Trump may not be president anymore, but disloyalty will still be punished.
‘NEVER BEEN A GREATER BETRAYAL’
In the immediate aftermath of the Capitol riot in January, Democrats in the House moved to impeach Mr Trump for a second time.
About a year earlier, when Mr Trump was first impeached for pressuring the Ukrainian government to investigate his political opponent, Joe Biden, it was a partisan vote. No Republicans were in favour of it.
This time, ten Republicans turned on Mr Trump, and Ms Cheney was easily the biggest name among them. She explained her decision in a statement.
“On January 6, a violent mob attacked the Capitol to obstruct the process of our democracy and stop the counting of presidential electoral votes. This insurrection caused injury, death and destruction in the most sacred space in our republic,” Ms Cheney said.
“Much more will become clear in coming days and weeks, but what we know now is enough. The president summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack.
“Everything that followed was his doing. None of this would have happened without the president. The president could have immediately and forcefully intervened to stop the violence. He did not.
“There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution. I will vote to impeach.”
From that moment onward, Ms Cheney faced a fierce backlash from Mr Trump’s supporters.
There was a swift attempt to push her out of her job as conference chair, led by Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz, who even travelled to her home state of Wisconsin to campaign against her (this was before we learned Mr Gaetz was under criminal investigation).
Ms Cheney survived, winning a secret ballot vote 145-61, though she was also censured by the Wisconsin Republican Party.
At that point, she still had the public support of her party’s most senior member in the House, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and a handful of other Republicans were also criticising Mr Trump in harsh terms.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called the former president’s actions a “disgraceful dereliction of duty”, despite voting to acquit him. Former UN ambassador Nikki Haley said the party “shouldn’t have followed him”.
Within weeks, Mr McConnell and Ms Haley had both backtracked, and Ms Cheney was becoming an increasingly lonely figure.
TRUMP’S REVENGE: ‘GET RID OF HER’
Unchastened by the effort to unseat her, Ms Cheney appeared on Fox News in February and said Mr Trump “does not have a role as the leader of our party going forward”.
“The oath that I took to the Constitution compelled me to vote for impeachment,” she said.
“It doesn’t bend to partisanship, it doesn’t bend to political pressure. It’s the most important oath that we take.
“The single greatest threat to our republic is a president who would put his own self-interest above the Constitution, above the national interest.”
She also slammed the former president during an interview with the Reagan Foundation, saying Republicans should “recognise the damage” his “dangerous” claims about last year’s presidential election had done.
Mr Trump hit back during his speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference at the start of March, urging Republican voters to “get rid of her”.
“The good news is, in her state, she’s been censured. And in her state, her poll numbers have dropped faster than any human being I’ve ever seen,” he said.
“So hopefully they’ll get rid of her with the next election.”
Things chugged along, with the occasional potshot flying back and forth between them, until last week, when the Republican conference held its annual policy retreat in Florida.
Speaking about the 2024 election, Ms Cheney told reporters it was “disqualifying” for any candidate to have opposed certifying Mr Biden’s victory.
“I do think that some of our candidates who led the charge, particularly the senators who led the unconstitutional charge not to certify the election – you know, in my view that is disqualifying,” she said last Monday.
She also voiced support for forming an independent commission to investigate the Capitol riot – and, crucially, nothing else.
Mr McCarthy had argued for a broader inquiry looking at other types of political violence as well, such as the riots at some of last year’s Black Lives Matter protests.
“What happened on January 6 is unprecedented in our history, and I think that it’s very important that the commission be able to focus on that,” Ms Cheney said.
“I’m very concerned, as all my colleagues are, about the violence that we saw, the Black Lives Matter, last summer. I think that’s a different set of issues, a different set of problems and a different set of solutions.
“And so I think it’s very important that the January 6 commission stays focused on what happened on January 6, and what led to that day.”
She had broken from her leader, and in the process, alienated him.
“When leaders try to go out and not work as one team, it creates difficulties,” Mr McCarthy told Politico.
Asked whether Ms Cheney was still a “good fit” for the Republican leadership team, he said that was “a question for the conference”.
‘NO WAY SHE CAN WIN’
The next day, on April 27, Mr Trump weighed in again.
“Liz Cheney is polling sooo low in Wyoming, and has sooo little support, even from the Wyoming Republican Party, that she is looking for a way out of her congressional race,” the former president said in a statement (emphasis his).
“Based on all polling, there is no way she can win. She’ll either be yet another lobbyist or maybe embarrass her family by running for president, in order to save face.
“This warmongering fool wants to stay in the Middle East and Afghanistan for another 19 years, but doesn’t consider the big picture – Russia and China!”
The polling is indeed grim for Ms Cheney, and has been for some time. Back in mid-February, a Quinnipiac survey found just 7 per cent of Republican voters – 7 per cent – had a favourable opinion of her.
Meanwhile, last week a CNN poll showed 70 per cent of Republicans do not believe Mr Biden won enough votes to become president – in other words, they believe Mr Trump’s false claims about the election being “stolen” from him.
Last Wednesday, Ms Cheney copped more criticism for greeting Mr Biden with a friendly fist bump before his joint address to Congress.
“I disagree strongly with Joe Biden’s policies, but when the President reaches out to greet me in the chamber of the House of Representatives, I will always respond in a respectful and dignified way,” she said in response.
“We’re different political parties. We’re not sworn enemies. We’re Americans.”
That did not sate her critics, including Mr Trump’s son Donald Jr.
“So glad she’s in the GOP leadership, I guess they wanted to be more inclusive and put Democrats in there too,” he tweeted.
Which brings us to the last 24 hours or so.
Yesterday, Mr Trump issued a rather brief statement repeating his rhetoric about the election.
“The Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2020 will be, from this day forth, known as THE BIG LIE!” Mr Trump said, co-opting a term his political opponents have used to describe his misinformation.
Ms Cheney hit back at him on Twitter, implicitly accusing Mr Trump of “poisoning” America’s democratic system.
Later, during a closed-door event in Georgia, she doubled down.
“We can’t embrace the notion the election is stolen. It’s a poison in the bloodstream of our democracy,” said the Congresswoman, according to CNN.
“We can’t whitewash what happened on January 6 or perpetuate Trump’s big lie. It is a threat to democracy. What he did on January 6 is a line that cannot be crossed.”
Before long, Mr Trump had posted another statement targeting her.
“Heartwarming to read new polls on big shot warmonger Liz Cheney of the great state of Wyoming. She is so low that her only chance would be if vast numbers of people run against her which, hopefully, won’t happen,” he said.
“They never liked her much, but I say she’ll never run in a Wyoming election again!”
‘LIZ IS GONE’: CHENEY’S SUPPORT COLLAPSES
Crucially, Mr McCarthy is no longer voicing support for Ms Cheney.
Appearing on Fox News today, he implied another vote on her position would take place soon – this time, presumably, with a different outcome.
“I have heard from members concerned about her ability to carry out the job as conference chair, to carry out the message,” the Minority Leader told Fox & Friends.
“We all need to be working as one if we’re able to win the majority.
“I haven’t heard members concerned about her vote on impeachment. It’s more concerned about the job ability, and what’s our best step forward that we can all work together, instead of attacking one another.”
“Liz is gone. Just a question of how and when,” a Republican House member told CNN.
Meanwhile, Ms Cheney is refusing to back down.
“This is about whether the Republican Party is going to perpetuate the lies about the 2020 election and attempt to whitewash what happened on January 6. Liz will not do that. That is the issue,” her spokesman said.
But even Trump critics within conservative circles concede Ms Cheney is likely to lose her job.
“Liz Cheney is going to lose her position in leadership. That’s clear. It’s a matter of days or a week or two,” said former congressman Joe Walsh, who ran (very unsuccessfully) for the Republican presidential nomination last year.
“She’s going to be penalised for speaking the truth. I mean, think about that. Think about where the Republican Party is.
“Think how surreal this is, right? To be viable in today’s Republican Party, you have to lie. You have to commit to the big lie, the undemocratic lie that the 2020 election was stolen.
“I stand with Liz Cheney, and I respect the hell out of her, but there’s no room in this Republican Party for her. It’s sad.”
Mr Walsh said he hears from thousands of Republican voters, and “they all believe the lie”.
“That’s what Trump wanted. He got it. He got his lie.”