Liz Cheney, the daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney, is about as Republican as it gets: pro-gun, pro-coal, anti-tax, and skeptical of regulations. Wyoming’s only representative in the House, she’s a reliable vote for the GOP’s policy priorities and had been seen as an up-and-comer in the party, maybe even a future speaker. But, in a soap opera currently transfixing Washington, Cheney is in danger of losing her senior position in the party’s congressional leadership for the worst of reasons — her unwillingness to lie about the results of the 2020 election.
Of course, who leads the House Republicans is up to them. But the elected officials who control her fate ought to think twice about the message they would send by deposing Cheney on such absurd grounds. Whatever her faults, Cheney now serves an emissary between the Republican Party leadership and objective reality. Severing that link will not help the party regain the trust of the voters they lost after four years of enabling President Donald Trump.
After Trump lost the 2020 election to Joe Biden, his supporters concocted a series of false allegations and conspiracy theories asserting it had actually been stolen from him. This disgraceful behavior culminated in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, when rioters, acting at the president’s behest, stormed the Capitol in an effort to derail the lawful transfer of power. Cheney, to her credit, not only broke with the former president over his election lies but then also voted to impeach him for his role in instigating the violent insurrection.
Not only that, but she has also continued to speak out against Trump’s efforts to cast doubt on the election outcome. “The 2020 presidential election was not stolen. Anyone who claims it was is spreading THE BIG LIE, turning their back on the rule of law, and poisoning our democratic system,” she said on Twitter Monday. Statements like that are why she’s now in hot water with other Republicans, who feel obligated to parrot the former president’s unfounded, dangerous allegations. By refusing to play along, Cheney now stands accused of being a bad team player. The party’s leader in the House, Kevin McCarthy, wants her out of her number three position in the GOP leadership.
Cheney, though, retains some high-profile support, including from Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell and an array of GOP donors. Like it or not, the swirling drama over Cheney is also a proxy battle over the party’s future. That includes here in Massachusetts, where a challenge is being mounted from the pro-Trump GOP state leadership against the more moderate Governor Charlie Baker. Anyone who cares about prying the party free from Trump’s grip shouldn’t stay on the sidelines of the House leadership fight now.
To be clear, there are valid criticisms of Cheney and her record; Senator Rand Paul, for instance, has been a longtime adversary because of the hawkish foreign policy views Cheney inherited from her father. But this showdown is quite obviously not about policy: it’s about whether the Republican Party can handle even a little bit of the truth, or whether a willingness to nod along to Trump’s lies is a new litmus test for senior leaders.
Off the record, in private, Republicans bemoan Trump’s takeover of their party. Cheney’s real sin seems to be that she actually has expressed her misgivings in public and taken steps to do something about it. Representing a deeply conservative state, that’s a real political risk for Cheney, who will face primary challenges from Trump supporters next year. But taking risks for what they think is right is what good leaders do. And if Cheney’s willingness simply to acknowledge the truth embarrasses other Republicans by exposing their cowardly inaction, the solution isn’t to evict Cheney from leadership. It’s to follow her lead and finally put Donald Trump in the rearview mirror. Americans should demand no less.
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