Liz Cheney’s Stand Had Nothing to Do With Principle. Ask Her Sister.

Don’t expect much sincerity from the same Wyoming representative who once threw her sibling overboard for political gain.

Representative Liz Cheney, a Republican from Wyoming, arrives to speak to members of the media following a House GOP meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, May 12, 2021. House Republicans removed Representative Liz Cheney from her leadership post today as her vocal and persistent criticism of former President Donald Trump widened the rift in the party over its future direction. Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Rep. Liz Cheney, a Republican from Wyoming, arrives at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on May 12, 2021.

Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

There can be no question of whether Rep. Liz Cheney is correct in her particulars. “The Electoral College has voted,” she said from the floor of the House on Tuesday evening, interrupting a Republican gabfest devoted to the topic of “cancel culture” to speak of her own cancellation, scheduled for the next morning. “More than 60 state and federal courts, including multiple judges the former president appointed, have rejected his claims. The Trump Department of Justice investigated the former president’s claims of widespread fraud and found no evidence to support them. The election is over.”

No fair-minded review of the 2020 election could come to any other conclusion. President Donald Trump lost, and he and a large faction of the Republican Party have spent every day since casting doubt on that reality while rewriting voting rules to assure that it doesn’t happen next time.

“Liz Cheney is a leader of great courage, patriotism, and integrity,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said with a straight face on Wednesday after Republicans dismissed Cheney from her post by a voice vote. As Democrats and the cable networks that revolve around them think through the meaning of Cheney’s excommunication from House leadership, little could be more important than being relentlessly reminded that, as The Dude might say, while Cheney may not be wrong, she’s just an asshole. Indeed, her asshole-ness is central to any political analysis of the moment, and it’s an analysis of exceeding import, because getting it wrong will lead to a very, very dark place. Ask the Iraqis.

In the run-up to Cheney’s ouster, MSNBC pundit Nicolle Wallace slammed the GOP for coming after Cheney “for her refusal to go along with the Big Lie and the assault on democracy it has ushered in.” Wallace, of course, a dedicated salesperson of the Iraq War, having served as the Bush administration’s communications director, knows as much about the Big Lie as Cheney.

The question of Cheney’s sincerity is as simply answered as the question of whether Trump won the election. He did not; she is not. The most cursory review of her public life leaves no other conclusion.

This is a person who launched a campaign to represent Wyoming in Congress with a Facebook post geotagged McLean, Virginia, her real home. On the trail, a reporter noticed that her hands had turned blue, stained from rubbing them against the brand new blue jeans she’d bought to play the part of cowboy.

Cheney knows lies both big and small. She, with Wallace, was a leading booster of her father’s war. She has shown no remorse or reflection over the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Quite the contrary, it was Trump’s attack on the decision to go to war in Iraq, and later his insistence on exiting Afghanistan, that triggered her most deeply and drove her to work publicly with Democrats to keep the occupation going.

Cheney’s celebration of America’s commitment to democracy abroad is as brazen as Trump’s own fuckery.

Cheney’s celebration of America’s commitment to democracy abroad, as exampled by her floor speech on Tuesday, is as brazen as Trump’s own fuckery. The Cheney wing of the Republican Party has betrayed nothing but contempt for democracy around the globe in the period since World War II, reveling in the overthrow of democratically elected leaders, only approving of elections if they are won by the candidate preferred in Washington — or if the promise of them can be used to justify an invasion. Liz Cheney’s father, Dick Cheney, served as deputy chief of staff and chief of staff to President Gerald Ford as his administration welcomed the rule of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Spare us the paeons to democracy.

Liz Cheney’s affection for U.S. interventionism may mark the origin of her hostility to the Trump wing of the party, but the question of whether her stand today is truly one of principle could best be answered by her sister, Mary Cheney.

For years, the Cheney family stood apart from the Republican Party’s culture war against the GOP, even as the Bush-Cheney administration cynically deployed opposition to marriage equality as a tool to drive out the evangelical vote for the party. “Lynne and I have a gay daughter, so it’s an issue that our family is very familiar with,” Dick Cheney said that year. “With respect to the question of relationships, my general view is that freedom means freedom for everybody.”

For the Cheneys, power comes before everything.

Running for Senate in 2013, Liz Cheney threw her sister overboard. “I love Mary very much, I love her family very much. This is just an issue on which we disagree,” she told viewers of Fox News.

“Liz — this isn’t just an issue on which we disagree, you’re just wrong — and on the wrong side of history,” Mary, a Republican operative herself, shot back on Facebook. “Liz has been a guest in our home, has spent time and shared holidays with our children,” Mary’s wife Heather Poe wrote. “To have her now say she doesn’t support our right to marry is offensive to say the least.”

Dick Cheney sided with Liz, because for the Cheneys, power comes before everything.

Liz Cheney’s own political predicament is a function of her own political miscalculations. Cheney, like many in both parties, sensed that Trump would lose in 2020, House Republicans would lose seats, and a reckoning would give an opportunity for her wing of the party to rise again. She spent 2020 positioning herself against Trump. After she publicly defended Trump nemesis Dr. Anthony Fauci, Rep. Matt Gaetz pushed to have her removed from leadership. She held on, and drew the battle lines sharper over the next year.

Her calculation that Trump would lose panned out, but Trump managed to draw out millions of new voters, and House Republicans picked up seats instead of losing them. Trump’s hold on the party was secure, even as he incited a mob to ransack the Capitol.

Cheney wasn’t wrong to condemn the incitement and the assault on the Capitol, but doing so was the only option left to her. None of this is about principle.

This is about power. The Trump wing of the party has it, and Cheney wants it. (Her team admitted as much on Wednesday.) If Democrats think she would be any less dangerous with it in her hands, that the world would be any safer, they’re wrong.

Democrats might enjoy the spectacle of GOP infighting, if the suppression of such a minor force as Liz Cheney even fits the definition. But they can’t count on her to save democracy, not here and certainly not abroad. There’s already a bill to do just that. It passed the House as H.R. 1 and cleared a Senate committee on Tuesday. If Democrats are serious about restoring faith in democracy, they can pass it tomorrow. Or they can simply wait to be frogmarched to the same fate as Liz Cheney.

Join The Conversation