It was just two years ago that Rep. Liz Cheney won a primary with 73% of the vote — a point she reminded her supporters of in her concession speech Tuesday night in Wyoming.
“I could easily have done the same again,” she said. “The path was clear. But it would have required that I go along with President Trump’s lie about the 2020 election. It would have required that I enable his ongoing efforts to unravel our democratic system and attack the foundations of our republic.”
“That was a path I could not and would not take.”
The path Cheney took instead led her to be ousted as chair of the House Republican conference, the third-highest role in her party’s House leadership, and installed as the vice chair of the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
And it led her to a more than 30 percentage point loss to a Trump-endorsed Republican, Harriet Hageman, as votes were still being counted late Tuesday night.
From a stage overlooking a field in Teton County, Wyoming, with mountains as her backdrop, she said she had called Hageman to concede her loss in a free and fair election. She suggested that her job now, and that of patriotic Americans, was to stand up for the Constitution.
Much like the remarks she delivered at the Jan. 6 committee’s hearings, it was a speech that seemed directed not just at Republican voters, but at a wider national audience.
That was evident in her paraphrase of a quote popularized by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — “It has been said that the long arc of history bends toward justice and freedom. That’s true, but only if we make it bend” — and even more so a few minutes later, when she turned her attention to the Civil War.
In the spring of 1864, after the Union suffered more than 17,000 casualties in the Battle of the Wilderness, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant had a choice, Cheney said: to retreat or to keep fighting.
“As the fires of the battles still smoldered, Grant rode to the head of the column,” she said. “He rode to the intersection of Brock Road and Orange Plank Road. And there, as the men of his army watched and waited, instead of turning north, back toward Washington and safety, Grant turned his horse south toward Richmond and the heart of Lee’s army. Refusing to retreat, he pressed on to victory.”
Grant, President Abraham Lincoln “and all who fought in our nation’s tragic Civil War, including my own great-great-grandfathers, saved our union,” Cheney said. “Their courage saved freedom, and if we listen closely, they are speaking to us down through generations. We must not idly squander what so many have fought and died for.”
In a time-honored tradition of political candidates, Cheney described encounters with two voters who, in her telling, had approached her to say exactly what she wanted to say now.
One, she said, was a man from Brazil who told her, “I know how fragile freedom is, and we must not lose it here.” The other was a woman in Jackson, Wyoming, whose grandparents survived Auschwitz and who “was afraid that she had nowhere to go if freedom died here.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, freedom must not, cannot and will not die here,” Cheney said, before urging her supporters to join her in following what she had cast as Grant’s path.
“As we leave here, let us resolve that we will stand together — Republicans, Democrats and independents — against those who would destroy our republic,” she said. “They are angry and they are determined, but they have not seen anything like the power of Americans united in defense of our Constitution and committed to the cause of freedom. There is no greater power on this earth, and with God’s help, we will prevail.”