Character is what you do when no one is watching. That quote is widely attributed to the late, great ”Bruin” John Wooden, and it was on full display this week in Washington.
On Wednesday, there was quite a juxtaposition. Capitol police officer Brian Sicknick was laying in honor in the rotunda, a casualty of an attempted insurrection on January 6th. Rioters intended to overturn an election result due to their belief in conspiracy thinking and a president’s incitement.
The night of the Sicknick memorial, Marjorie Taylor Greene, one of the spreaders of the very type of conspiracy that gave rise to his death, was subjected to scrutiny by her GOP colleagues. But rather than being disciplined by her team, she was lauded – some even gave her a standing ovation.
That same night, a separate inquiry began for a different GOP Congresswoman, Liz Cheney, who thought a president deserved impeachment for his role in the rioting. As Republicans were voting on whether to remove Liz Cheney from leadership behind closed doors, I tweeted.
So House Repubs now voting Secretly re @Liz_Cheney – that might help her. GOPers have no need to show their beer muscles to colleagues and can instead can vote for what is really best for party – to support her.
— Michael Smerconish (@smerconish) February 4, 2021
I suspected anonymity would provide Cheney the security of her colleagues, who could vote without fear of the base that elects them. In the end, 145 of 211 republicans voted to keep Cheney in leadership – 61 were against.
That’s quite a change from the vote taken the night of January 6th when the House reconvened after the capitol had been secured.
At stake then was a challenge to the Electoral College, specifically the certification of the vote from Arizona and Pennsylvania. In a public vote to certify Pennsylvania, 138 of 211 republicans voted to object to the state’s election results. For Arizona, it was 121 republicans. In both cases, Republicans voted for what president trump had advocated – a challenge to the legitimacy of the electoral college vote.
The electoral college challenge and Cheney leadership votes are inconsistent. Think about it. You can’t believe the election was “rigged,” but also want to protect Liz Cheney for her vote to impeach.
Imagine you’re a Republican in the House. You think the election was stolen. Logically, suppose you want to overturn the Electoral College. In that case, you’d be upset at Liz Cheney, who wanted to impeach Trump for falsely claiming the election was stolen.
In light of day, 138 of 211 Republicans in the House voted to challenge the Pennsylvania certification. Roughly the same number who behind closed doors defended Cheney.
What happened? In the public vote, the members “performed.” Their primary mission is re-nomination in secure districts, and they played to the base – all 138 of them.
But when behind closed doors, with no one watching and no individual accountability, they voted their conscience. That Liz Cheney was right, and the electoral college challenge was bogus – only 61 disagreed.
It was a stunning admission.
If the base can’t see, 138 becomes 61!!!
And then came the Thursday night vote by the entire House. Republicans refused to clean their own house, and it was left to Democrats to demand a vote on stripping Marjorie Taylor Greene of her committee assignments.
Again, in a public vote watched by the base, only 11 Republicans were willing to strip Greene of her committee assignments. I think if they’d had the chance to discipline her without the base watching, they’d have done it.
You know who gets what I’m saying? Marjorie Taylor Greene. Yesterday she said this:
“So I hope that my Republican colleagues really think about what they’ve done. I’m sure they’re going to hear from their voters at home because the base is loyal to President Trump and the base has been very loyal to me, and they’ve shown me that.”
It all begs the question of whether this Republican fear of the GOP base is warranted. Sadly the answer is yes.
In a Quinnipiac University survey just released, 76% of self-identified Republicans said they believe there was “widespread fraud in the 2020 election.”
According to an Axios/Survey Monkey survey, Greene is more popular than Cheney and party leaders Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell.
But one question remains: While Marjorie Taylor Greene may have lost this battle, will she and her brand of politics win the war?
Since McCarthy and House Republicans failed to police Greene from within, she has positioned herself as a martyr of the conservative cause. Even while attempting to walk back her past comments on the house floor, she claimed the mainstream media are “Just as guilty as QAnon” and attacked Big Tech, “cancel culture,” and Black Lives Matter.
And she’s being rewarded financially. In late January, Greene said she’d already raised $1.6 million amid the media’s coverage of her controversial comments. She told The Washington Examiner: “They don’t even realize they’re helping me. I’m pretty amazed at how dumb they are.”
With more free time on her hands, Greene said she would boost conservative candidates and former President Donald Trump’s plans to oust so-called “weak” republicans.
If she’s right, we could see more Greene’s and fewer Cheney’s.
Republicans decided this week to keep everyone in the tent – Liz Cheney and Marjorie Taylor Greene – instead of disassociating themselves from the fringe. They calculated that they could not win without people like the guy who stormed the capitol bare-chested and wearing horns.
That move comes at the expense of winning back people in the burbs who are still Republicans but could not stomach Trump and voted for Biden.
And you have to wonder if while watching Greene’s emboldened presser on Friday, did Kevin McCarthy and company have buyer’s remorse?
Using the perfect blend of analysis and humor, Michael Smerconish delivers engaging, thought-provoking, and balanced dialogue on today’s political arena and the long-term implications of the polarization in politics. In addition to his acclaimed work as nationally syndicated Sirius XM Radio talk show host, newspaper columnist, and New York Times best-selling author, Michael Smerconish hosts CNN’s Smerconish, which airs live on Saturday at 9:00 am ET.