As the House select committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol begins its deliberations, it’s not surprising that Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, the two Republicans who rejected Kevin McCarthy’s boycott of the committee and accepted Nancy Pelosi’s invitation to participate, are extremely unpopular among their GOP colleagues. But that’s nothing new. They have been pariahs since voting (along with eight other House GOP members) to impeach Donald Trump on January 14 for his conduct in inciting the January 6 insurrection. Cheney lost her House conference leadership post, and both rebels have been marked for extinction in 2022 primaries, drawing multiple opponents who describe them as traitors and puppets of the hated socialist Democratic Party.
But the drive to formally punish Cheney and Kinzinger by stripping them of committee assignments, which is being led by members of the House Freedom Caucus, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Republicans have no power to do this in a Democratic-controlled chamber without Democratic support, which will under no circumstances be available, so the most a committee-stripping move would accomplish is to express an intraparty hostility that is already abundantly apparent. It would probably help the two “mavericks” raise money, in fact. And it would draw more, not less, attention to the select committee proceedings that most Republicans would love to submerge.
Demands for further condemnation of Cheney and Kinzinger, though, are more rational from the perspective of the Freedom Caucus. Their friend Marjorie Taylor Greene, after all, lost her committee assignments on February 5 merely for making violent threats against “Democrat Socialist” leaders, mostly before she took office. Kinzinger (though not Cheney) was among the 11 House Republicans who voted with Democrats to punish MTG. What is sauce for the MAGA goose must obviously be sauce for the RINO gander.
But beyond that, the House Freedom Caucus demands represent the opening shot in intra-House-GOP hostilities should Republicans win back control of the chamber in 2022. If that happens, the margin of control will likely be as fragile as that currently enjoyed by Democrats. It’s an environment in which surviving anti-Trump Republicans could be in the catbird seat when it comes to leverage with presumed-Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Putting down a marker right now that loyalty to Trump, and his lies about both the 2020 election and the January 6 insurrection, are a litmus test for the GOP and the conservative movement could help boost 2022 primary purge efforts, while informing McCarthy that concessions to these traitors are unacceptable.
It’s also another milepost on the road to a 2024 presidential contest in which either Trump or an outspoken Trumpist will lead a united (or in some respects, cowed) party pledged to consummate the January 6 effort once and for all. From that evil point of view, putting Cheney and Kinzinger on a ice floe and letting them drift out to sea makes perfect sense.