Most Americans recoil from calls for political purges. Despite that, Republicans are contemplating just such a measure over the conduct of two members of their House caucus. The participation of Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger in the Jan. 6 Committee convened by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has led many conservatives, both in the House and out of it, to demand their ouster from the GOP conference.
Although it might not have been her intent, Cheney just gave Republicans a compelling reason to expel her from the party. When Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., wrote to the Department of the Interior demanding that, as the person appointed by the Republican Conference to be the ranking minority member of the Jan. 6 Committee, he be given all copies of any information they give to the body, Cheney spoke on the floor of the House claiming his assertion was incorrect.
Cheney claims that since Pelosi named her to be the vice-chair of the committee, she is the ranking member. But that assertion merely confirms she is operating not merely independently of the GOP caucus but as an agent of Democrats, something that is clearly incompatible with her continued membership in the conference.
Even more than Cheney’s ouster from the House GOP leadership this past spring, an effort to expel them from the conference would allow the pair to pose as martyrs to what they and their media enablers describe as an intolerant and proto-authoritarian Trump cult. For that reason, and because it would provide both Cheney and Kinzinger undeserved publicity as well as giving Democrats an excuse to ignore the abysmal failures of the Biden administration, it’s likely that House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy would prefer to avoid a formal expulsion vote.
Besides, both are living on borrowed time in the House. Kinzinger has already announced that he won’t seek re-election in 2022. Cheney is running for re-election and, despite the magic of the Cheney name in Wyoming and a formidable campaign war chest, she is facing an uphill primary battle against a Trump-endorsed opponent.
But those calling for formally tossing Cheney and Kinzinger out of the party are not out of line. On the contrary, they are taking notice of something that many in the GOP establishment inside the Beltway still prefer to ignore.
Rather than just another special congressional committee that its members will use to grandstand on a given issue, the Jan. 6 committee is different.
The Jan. 6 Capitol riot was a shocking disgrace. But almost from the moment the incident began, Democrats began to inflate what happened from a shameful affront to public order and the sanctity of a national shrine into something far more politically useful.
Although the rioters had behaved similarly to those who engaged in hundreds of “mostly peaceful” convulsions of violence and looting the previous summer on behalf of the Black Lives Matter movement, they were immediately labeled as “insurrectionists” and criminal traitors by the same liberal media that had winked or cheered when BLM rioters had attacked police and government buildings.
One didn’t need to sympathize with President Trump’s complaints about an election in which the guardrails against fraud had been discarded because of the pandemic and which was affected by big tech companies silencing stories that might have hurt Biden and otherwise tilted the scales against the Republicans to understand what was happening.
Not satisfied with their election victory or the opprobrium that was directed at Trump in the aftermath of the riot, Democrats and their media cheering section sought to expand the list of Jan. 6 villains. They began to treat not just the rioters, but all of the thousands of people who had attended a lawful rally and then all those who supported Trump election claims or even who had voted for him, as somehow responsible for what happened.
Rather than just a riot, it was now the moral equivalent of the Confederates firing on Fort Sumter or the 9/11 attacks. What Democrats had done in the previous four years as they consciously sought to portray their efforts as a “resistance” to a supposedly authoritarian fascist rather than a loyal opposition was forgotten. The same applied to three years of lies and conspiracy theories about Trump colluding with Russia to steal the 2016 election that had been endlessly echoed by Democrats and their talking heads on the broadcast networks as well as CNN and MSNBC.
Branding all Republicans as terrorist sympathizers would effectively make the culture war about Trump a permanent feature of American politics and make opposition to what they claimed was a Trumpist assault on the entire idea of democracy the defining issue of every debate and all future elections.
The presence of Cheney and Kinzinger on the committee was already an affront to other Republicans. Pelosi had rejected McCarthy’s choices of GOP members to serve on the committee and instead invited the pair to join. As outrageous as that was, it is the actions of the committee on which the Republican renegades have sat that is especially damning.
There wasn’t much to investigate about Jan. 6 over and above the prosecutions of those involved. The entire event took place on live television and we all know what Trump and those who had organized the rally protesting the certification of the Electoral College vote did and didn’t do and how, once that event ended, a small portion of the crowd went to the Capitol, where the demonstration turned ugly.
To justify a proceeding of indefinite length, the Jan. 6 Committee began casting a wide net in a fishing expedition aimed at treating all those involved in a legal rally or entirely legal if foolish efforts to find a legal stratagem that would somehow prevent Biden from taking office, which was something that many Democrats and their Never Trump former Republican allies mooted in the weeks and months preceding Trump’s inauguration in 2017, as conspirators.
Thus began the process by which both White House officials, like chief of staff Mark Meadows as well as those who were tangential to the Trump effort, like former Breitbart CEO and White House strategist Steve Bannon were subpoenaed. Even more egregious, the committee is now attempting to haul in some Republican House members like Rep. Jim Jordan for an inquisition.
There is no likelihood of any proof — nor any likelihood of any being found — that any of those who are being brought before the committee were in any way involved in the riot, let alone that Trump and his inner circle were even contemplating anything so absurd as having a few hundred people barge into the Capitol to no particular purpose.
But if your goal is to invent a grand conspiracy behind an alleged coup d’etat out of thin air in order to delegitimize one of America’s two major parties, none of that matters. That is why newspapers like The New York Times and networks like CNN and MSNBC have continued to breathlessly report new “developments” in the Jan. 6 investigation much the way they did similarly mendacious accounts of claims that would justify the Russia collusion hoax throughout Trump’s presidency.
Cheney and Kinzinger tell fawning reporters that in joining the Democratic crusade against Trump they are putting patriotism over partisanship. But at no point have either of them pushed back against the rhetorical excesses of their committee colleagues demonizing all those who supported Trump’s claims.
Nor have they attempted to use their outsized influence on the proceedings to limit its scope or prevent it from seeking to put House GOP colleagues in the cross-hairs of its investigators. On the contrary, they have nodded along when Democrats make extravagant claims about an insurrection or what they seem to be asserting is a vast conspiracy on the part of Republicans to support a coup and played a helpful role in their attack on figures like Meadows.
Were the pair interested in defending ordinary Republicans or the party, they might use their places on the committee to act as a check on its activities or to reassure ordinary Republicans who voted for Trump and think there was plenty that was fishy about the 2020 election that this isn’t about targeting them or their beliefs. They might speak up when people like Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., refers to the support for Jan. 6 terrorism in the Republican Party.
But they have done none of those things and instead, seem all too happy to be the token Republican members of a kangaroo court that respects no limits to its efforts to paint the GOP with the broad brush of “insurrection.”
As such, participation in this farce isn’t mere dissent from a Republican consensus or opposition to the ongoing influence Trump exercises over the party. It is instead a demagogic effort to destroy the GOP for its sin of backing the former president. That this harassment of legitimate opponents is done in the name of protecting democracy is an irony that would be laughable if it weren’t itself such a serious threat to democracy.
Seen in that light, Cheney and Kinzinger aren’t just anti-Trump establishment outliers. They are instead part and parcel of their Democrat friends’ attempt to falsely label every Trump voter and conservative as would-be authoritarians and traitors.
Their role in this vile effort means they have forfeited any right to call themselves Republicans or conservatives since they are actively assisting the left in its effort to forestall any challenges to their rule. Whether they are formally expelled from the conference or not, their indecent behavior means they should be treated as pariahs undeserving of respect or a place in any party that purports to uphold the principles they once claimed to support.