On the night before she was excommunicated from the House Republican leadership, Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming recalled witnessing Kenyans gathered outside a schoolhouse-turned-polling-place in 1993.
“Soldiers had chased away people who were lined up to vote,” she said. “A few hours later they came streaming back in, risking further attack, undaunted in their determination to exercise their right to vote.” Her reminiscence was part of a larger point Cheney was making about standing up for democracy and the sanctity of voting.
Cheney was removed Wednesday from her position as Republican conference chair for repudiating former president Trump’s Big Lie about the 2020 presidential election and blaming him for inciting the deadly Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6. Defiant to the end, the longtime congresswoman said she “could not sit back and watch in silence while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former president’s crusade to undermine our democracy.”
If Cheney really cares about democracy, she should fight against the GOP’s aggressive voter suppression tactics.
She can start with her home state. Governor Mark Gordon of Wyoming last month signed a new voter ID law requiring “acceptable identification” for in-person voting. State Representative Chuck Gray, the bill’s sponsor, called it a “necessary function . . . to provide our citizens with confidence that our elections are secure, fair, and valid.”
There isn’t a lick of evidence that the last election was anything other than secure, fair, and valid. Of course, that’s not stopping the passage of so-called “election integrity” laws to make it harder to vote, especially in Black and brown communities. This year, new restrictive voting measures have passed in 11 states, and there are dozens more that GOP officials hope will ultimately wind up with a governor’s signature.
Based on Trump’s mendacious claim that the 2020 election was riddled with voter fraud, the Big Lie has gone viral in Republican-led legislatures, with lawmakers pushing extreme solutions to nonexistent problems. Buoyed by the GOP’s cultish devotion to a one-term, twice-impeached former president, these measures threaten to disenfranchise democracy.
After this nation suffered through a presidency built on deception, racism, grifting, and dictatorial aspirations, the bar is so low that Cheney is garnering praise for stating the obvious — that President Biden won the election.
Don’t measure Cheney for that halo yet. This is the same woman who said that the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election “sounds an awful lot like a coup and it could well be treason,” echoing one of the former president’s favorite talking points.
For four years, Cheney’s House votes sided with Trump’s position nearly 93 percent of the time. She voted against his first impeachment. She voted against police reform legislation. She voted against supplemental disaster relief for Puerto Rico. She supported Trump’s ban on transgender people serving openly in the military.
One cannot stand for democracy and against protecting voting rights. Last month, Cheney did not support the For the People Act, a sweeping Democrat-sponsored bill that could expand voter registration and access. Throughout her political career, Cheney has been no more of a champion of democracy than the man whose thrall she is finally resisting.
She may reject Trumpism — but not the cynical strategies of race-baiting and fomenting white fears that animated Trump’s campaign and, as president, his assaults on democracy.
Now expelled from her leadership role, Cheney said during a “Today” show interview Thursday, “I won’t let a former president or anybody else unravel the democracy.” If she means it, she needs to do more than just rebuke Republican lies of voter fraud in the 2020 election.
Recalling her visit to Kenya nearly 30 years ago, Cheney claimed she found communion with voters willing to risk their lives for democracy. Let’s see if she’ll find that same fellowship with Americans whose most sacred right is being attacked by her own party.