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GOP seeks unity, even if that means embracing election lie

WASHINGTON (AP) — There’s a new buzzword among Republicans in Washington: unity.

The House GOP, led by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, is moving toward stripping Rep. Liz Cheney of her leadership post for her frequent criticism of former President Donald Trump. The unusual step, they say, is necessary to unify a party whose base still reveres the former president four months after he incited a deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol.

“We all need to be working as one if we’re able to win the majority,” McCarthy said this week.

With Republicans close to reclaiming control of the House next year, the treatment of Cheney suggests GOP leaders will do almost anything to rally the party’s base, even if that means sweeping the events of Jan. 6 under the rug and embracing — or refusing to confront — Trump’s ongoing lie that he won the 2020 election, a campaign that he actually lost by a wide margin.

Those backing Cheney’s ouster argue she has become a distraction by continuing to criticize Trump, who remains the dominating force in the party. They want to move forward, they say, and focus on policy ideas and providing a clear contrast with Democrats. But critics see the fight as a larger distraction.

“My unsolicited advice would be: Talk about the future and what you offer to Americans,” said Alyssa Farah, the former Trump White House communications director. “I do worry that this is sort of showing that we’re going to continue more the politics of personality as opposed to the politics of policy and deliverables to the American public.”

While a message about being “sufficiently pro-Trump” may work in certain districts, she noted Republicans’ focus on election interference depressed GOP turnout in Georgia, where the party lost two runoff elections in January that gave Democrats control of the Senate. And she warned that aligning the party with lies about voter fraud could turn off suburban voters and older voters in key swing districts.

“Those are the ones where you have to win over moderates and independents, and that message does not resonate with them, fundamentally,” she said.

The GOP’s leadership turmoil could pose some risks for Democrats as well. While many Democrats are only too happy to let Republicans fight among themselves, the drama could distract from President Joe Biden’s effort to promote his massive infrastructure package, a push he took on the road Thursday with a visit to Louisiana.

Still, Republicans are making a clear political calculation. Trump remains deeply popular among GOP voters, and many continue to believe the lies he continues to spread about what happened in November. A CNN poll in late April found that 70% of Republicans believe that Biden did not legitimately win the election, even though dozens of local Republican election officials, state audits and even Trump’s former attorney general have said there was no evidence of widespread fraud.

Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik, who has Trump’s backing to serve as Cheney’s replacement, said Thursday that she was “sending a clear message that we are one team. And that means working with the (former) President and working with all of our excellent Republican members of Congress,” even as she parroted election conspiracies on former Trump strategist Steve Bannon’s podcast.

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