Whether they adore or abhor her overall ideology, Americans who cherish our Constitution and democratic institutions owe Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming a profound thank you.
On Wednesday, rather than backing off or backing down, rather than ducking or deflecting, rather than enabling or excusing — that is, rather than acting with the spinelessness that characterizes so much of today’s Republican Party when it comes to Donald Trump — Cheney, number three in the GOP’s House hierarchy, laid out for all the choice today’s Republicans must confront:
Will they choose Donald Trump or American democracy?
Unlike so many other Republicans, Cheney has chosen to stand up to one of the world’s biggest authoritarian bullies. In a Washington Post guest column on Wednesday, she declared her intention to fight for the kind of Republican Party she believes in.
That is, a party that chooses to acknowledge the truth rather than embrace a lie.
A party based on ideas and principles, and not a cult of personality.
A party that respects the rule of law rather than the law of a ruler.
A party that won’t cut a Faustian deal and sell its soul for the prospect of short-term electoral success.
Noting that the rule of law is a cherished conservative tenet, she explained without a wasted word the way Trump’s Big Lie conflicts with that bedrock principle.
“The Electoral College has spoken,” she wrote. “More than 60 state and federal courts, including multiple Trump-appointed judges, have rejected the former president’s arguments, and refused to overturn election results. That is the rule of law; that is our constitutional system for resolving claims of election fraud.”
The question Republicans now face, she said, “is whether we will join Trump’s crusade to delegitimize and undo the legal outcome of the 2020 election, with all the consequences that might have.”
As we have seen, those consequences can be dire. And yet, Cheney wrote, Trump continues to repeat his widely discredited claim of electoral theft, knowing it provoked violence at the US Capitol on Jan. 6 and despite credible warnings that it could do so again.
“The Republican Party is at a turning point, and Republicans must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution,” she concluded.
Far too many are running from that choice.
Republicans knew the dangers of Trumpism in the aftermath of the ransacking of the Capitol by a mob intent on stopping the peaceful transfer of power. House minority leader Kevin McCarthy put the responsibility at Trump’s feet. So did then-Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell.
But McCarthy, calculating that he needs Trump’s support to realize his dream of becoming House speaker, has since reverted to form as a Trump sycophant. McConnell, meanwhile, has signaled that he wants no part of a public battle with Trump. He did so again on Wednesday, even as Trump again denounced him as “gutless and clueless” in a statement in which he also criticized Mike Pence, his former vice president, for refusing to trample on the US Constitution by leading an unconstitutional effort to reject the state-certified Electoral College results.
In her Post piece, Cheney called for Republicans to back a bipartisan review commission, like the one we had after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, composed of prominent, politically disinterested Americans and armed with subpoena power “to seek and find facts.”
The country badly needs that. Every candidate for every federal or important state office should be asked where he or she stands on such a commission. Voters who value our democracy should rule out those who won’t commit to such an investigation.
Similarly, journalists should be asking every candidate for federal or important state office whether they believe Joe Biden is the legitimately elected president. Those who can’t give a simple yes to that query are either too muddle-headed or too craven to merit a vote from anyone who cherishes our democracy.
After the events of Jan. 6, one can’t pretend to support the US Constitution while also embracing a Republican Party controlled by Trump.
Liz Cheney is right. It’s time for Republicans to choose.