Banks, a veteran of the Afghanistan war who has aligned himself closely with Trump, has raised his own profile since taking the reins of the conservative caucus earlier this year. And the media-savvy 41-year-old is making clear that he views his RSC’s communications shop as superior to the conference’s formal, Cheney-led hub. Banks described it as “filling a void.”
“We’re in the minority, and this is a messaging battle as much as a policy battle,” Banks told POLITICO in an interview. “RSC is providing that framework better than anyone else on Capitol Hill.”
But replacing the highest-ranking woman in GOP leadership with Banks, or any other white male, could be a major optics problem for a party that has made recruiting more women and minorities a key part of its strategy for winning back the House next year. Banks also insists he’s focused on the RSC chairmanship and would rather see Cheney become a team player than get the boot. Still, Banks’ attempt to bigfoot Cheney is only fueling speculation that he’s a top candidate to replace her — whether it’s this month or in the next session of Congress.
“If there’s a role to play, where I can continue to do what I’m doing as RSC chairman, I want to do it,” Banks said, when asked whether he’d run for leadership. “The most natural comparison to RSC chair is conference chair … And that’s something I think I would really enjoy, because it’s what I’m doing now.”
Cheney, once a fast-rising star in the GOP praised for her sharp tongue and conservative credentials, became conference chair as only a sophomore Wyoming lawmaker. The 54-year-old mother of five was unanimously reelected to that post in November.
And even though Cheney publicly split from most of her party when she voted to impeach Trump, her allies argue that she has continued to succeed in her leadership role by providing the conference with important messaging tools. Under Cheney’s leadership, the GOP conference has sent out messaging emails every morning that Congress has been in session, in addition to a weekly email with shareable social media content focused on hitting the Biden agenda, according to sources who have seen the communications.
But Cheney’s critics, who unsuccessfully tried to oust her from leadership in February, are growing ever more frustrated by her readiness to call out Trump and his baseless claims about the 202 election. Days after drawing attention at the retreat, Cheney fist-bumped President Joe Biden before his joint address to Congress, further enraging the far right. Even senior Republicans who had her back earlier this year, such as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, have soured on her.
One senior Republican lamented that some donors will no longer contribute to the House GOP as long as Cheney is still serving in leadership. “It’s a liability for us,” said the GOP lawmaker.
But even with her leadership job on the line, Cheney has not backed down. “The 2020 presidential election was not stolen,” she tweeted Monday. “Anyone who claims it was is spreading THE BIG LIE, turning their back on the rule of law, and poisoning our democratic system.”
The question of who can — or would — replace Cheney is a conundrum that vexed her critics last time around. Besides Banks, two other Republicans considered serious contenders for the role are Rep. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), who won over the MAGA crowd defending Trump during his first impeachment, and Rep. Mike Johnson (La.), a former RSC chairman who now serves as vice conference chair. Other names floated to replace Cheney include Reps. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) and Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.).
All of the potential candidates voted to challenge certification of Biden’s victory in some states.
Banks, however, has earned high marks from McCarthy, and some Republicans think the GOP leader has been grooming Banks for the post. The two have grown extremely close as they’ve criss-crossed the country fundraising together, including in Banks’ hometown. And McCarthy, who stopped showing up to weekly press conferences with Cheney after they awkwardly clashed over Trump on Feb. 25, appeared with Banks on a panel at the Conservative Political Action Conference.