February 25, 2021

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The GOP’s First 2021 Victory

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Potomac Watch: House Republicans stay united over Liz Cheney and punishment for Marjorie Taylor Greene. Images: AFP via Getty Images Composite: Mark Kelly

Joe Biden

has decreed quite a few policy wins in recent weeks. But the biggest political win of 2021 so far may go to Republicans, with their vote this week to keep Wyoming Rep.

Liz Cheney

in her House leadership post.

This was a victory mostly in that it wasn’t much about Ms. Cheney at all. It was instead the party sending a message that it remains a big tent and isn’t going to grant or revoke membership purely on fealty to one politician,

Donald Trump.

Just as important, it was the party stomping on the new Democratic and media strategy to cast the entire GOP as extremists and kooks.

Ms. Cheney, chairman of the House Republican Conference, had managed to irk more than a few of her colleagues over the past year, particularly with her decision last spring to back a primary opponent of a House colleague. This frustration boiled over when Ms. Cheney voted with House Democrats to impeach Donald Trump and issued an aggressive statement that even many of her backers felt inflamed the left’s bonfire.

Minority Leader

Kevin McCarthy

could have tried to paper over this divide. Instead on Wednesday he held a four-hour meeting in which members aired their grievances. He then delivered an impassioned closing speech laying out the bigger stakes—the need for the party to get past November, to focus on the Biden agenda, and to win the majority next year. The pitch ruled the day; the vote to retain Ms. Cheney was reportedly 145-61. Even many of those who voted against her did so out of broader beefs with her leadership rather than as a Trump purity test.

Mr. McCarthy capped that success with another: the handling of

Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.

At the Wednesday meeting, Mrs. Greene finally answered questions about, and disavowed, inflammatory comments she’d made and conspiracy theories she’d perpetuated on social media prior to her election last year. She took to the floor on Thursday to express her regret at having been seduced into the social-media vortex and to state that those views “do not represent my district, and they do not represent my values.” Mr. McCarthy issued his own statement to “condemn” QAnon, political violence, anti-Semitism, and everything else the left has associated the right with of late.

This came as a blow to Democrats, Lincoln Projectors and the media, who’ve been building a campaign strategy around the claim that the GOP is the embodiment of violence and nutballs. They’ve used the Capitol riot of Jan. 6 to launch impeachment and to argue that Mr. Trump is the leader of an entire party of insurrectionists. This crowd was salivating at the prospect of the House conference exiling Ms. Cheney, the better to claim Trump thugs were purging disloyal party members.

The press’s disappointment with the outcome was palpable, even as it did its best to keep the headlines flowing. “Donald Trump’s backers failed to take down Liz Cheney, but the GOP’s ‘civil war’ is nowhere near over,” insisted USA Today. The left’s strategy is to stoke GOP division, to keep it in the headlines, and to hobble the party’s efforts to block radical Democratic policies. Fortunately, Republicans are belatedly cottoning on.

They are also realizing the risk of letting Democrats and the media define them as the party of “hoaxes, lies and collective delusions” (as the

New York Times

recently put it). This is why newspapers have made a national story of Mrs. Greene, which they didn’t do to previous congressional conspiracy theorists like

Cynthia McKinney,

a former Georgia Democratic member and 9/11 truther. Mrs. Greene’s election was the left’s opportunity to argue the GOP had brought the QAnon cult into the mainstream. “Greene is no longer the outlier in her party across America’s vast heartland,” CNN pronounced this week.

Yet she is, as Mr. McCarthy and other GOP leaders made clear this week. The press is trying to muddy that clarity, by noting that Mr. McCarthy refused to strip Mrs. Greene of any committee assignments. But punishing a member for conduct that took place before her election to the House would have been unprecedented.

Mr. McCarthy did offer to transfer Mrs. Greene to a less visible committee, only to have that proposal rejected by Majority Leader

Steny Hoyer.

Democrats cared more about forcing a floor vote on stripping Mrs. Greene, the better to continue pumping the story. In a stunning break with tradition, the majority party on Thursday moved to dictate the committee assignment of a member of the minority party. Don’t think Republicans will forget that precedent when they have control.

The GOP still has a long way to go to unify after its November loss. But this week it passed a first, big test.

Write to kim@wsj.com.

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

Appeared in the February 5, 2021, print edition.

2021-02-04 18:23:00

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