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Six takeaways from Liz Cheney’s book assailing Trump and his ‘enablers’

Former representative Liz Cheney.Al Drago/Bloomberg/file

WASHINGTON — It was inevitable that Liz Cheney’s new memoir would cause a splash. An outspoken Republican critic of former President Donald Trump in a party that he otherwise dominates, she has shown over the past three years that she is willing to say out loud what most other Republicans say only in private, if at all.

The memoir, “Oath and Honor,” arrives on bookshelves just as Trump is poised to reclaim the Republican presidential nomination in primaries beginning in a few weeks. It is meant as a five-alarm warning that returning him to power would endanger American democracy and a damning indictment of his “enablers” and “collaborators” in her own party.

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But beyond its top-line arguments, the book offers a rare peek inside the Republican cloakroom at what Cheney, a former representative from Wyoming, heard from her colleagues about “the Orange Jesus,” as one wryly called Trump. Here are a half-dozen stories she tells in the book, a copy of which The New York Times obtained before its publication Tuesday by Little, Brown and Co.

Trump Republicans took Cheney’s stand personally

After Cheney spoke out against Trump and voted to impeach him, she faced a backlash from fellow Republicans accusing her of disloyalty. At a meeting called to decide whether to vote no confidence in her as head of the Republican Conference, the third-highest spot in the party’s House leadership, a host of male members assailed her.

The men, she wrote, did not like her “tone” and thought she was not “contrite enough” for breaking with the party — and effectively embarrassing them and putting them on the spot for questions about why they still supported a former president who had tried to overturn an election and hold onto power.

“You’ve just got such a defiant attitude,” Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina told her. Rep. John Rutherford of Florida said she was too recalcitrant and not “riding for the brand.”

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“John,” she recalled replying, “our ‘brand’ is the U.S. Constitution.”

Rep. Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania made a memorable analogy in describing how betrayed he felt. “It’s like you’re playing in the biggest game of your life and you look up and you see your girlfriend sitting on the opponent’s side!” he complained.

Several astonished women in the conference started yelling, “She’s not your girlfriend!”

Cheney agreed. “Yeah,” she said. “I’m not your girlfriend.”

The Cheney family lost friends over Trump

Cheney hails from a storied political family, one that personified American conservatism, at least until Trump came along and redefined it in his own image. But her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, and mother, Lynne Cheney, a former chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities under President Ronald Reagan, have fully supported her break with the party they all devoted decades to.

Dick Cheney was the first to call his daughter on Jan. 6, 2021, to warn that Trump was singling her out by name at his rally on the Ellipse. “You are in danger,” he told her.

When Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Cheney to ask her to join the House committee investigating the events of Jan. 6, she happened to be with her father. After she told him she had said yes, he replied, “I’m proud of you.” As Cheney writes, “My dad was disgusted and deeply troubled by the conduct of our fellow Republicans.”

The former vice president accompanied her to the House floor for the first anniversary of Jan. 6 and was shocked to see they were the only Republicans there. “It’s one thing to hear about what’s happening,” he said before trailing off. Pelosi hugged him even though they had fought ferociously over the Iraq war and other issues in the past.

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The family got a sense of how far Trump had influenced even Republicans they respected when Lynne Cheney texted one of her best friends, someone she had known since the 1950s, on Jan. 6 about the attack. “I heard that as with BLM demonstrations, ANTIFA has moved in,” the friend replied. Lynne Cheney pushed back, saying the rioters were not from the far-left anti-fascist movement, but her friend refused to believe her. “She threw away a friendship of over 60 years with my mother and my family for nothing,” Liz Cheney writes.

Cheney forged a strange-bedfellows alliance with Pelosi

Cheney ended up forging an unlikely alliance with Pelosi, one that would have seemed unthinkable when her father was in the White House. “We stood at opposite ends of the political spectrum, with very sharp policy differences,” Cheney writes.

But the Democratic speaker brushed that aside to support Cheney by naming her to the Jan. 6 panel. She said she later discovered that Pelosi’s staff had pulled together a list of the 10 worst things Cheney had ever said about the speaker. Pelosi, she learned, just handed it back. “Why are you wasting my time with things that don’t matter?” the speaker said.

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By the end of the investigation, Cheney noticed Pelosi’s chief of staff one night wearing a “Team Cheney” hoodie. “We may have disagreed on pretty much everything else,” Cheney wrote, “but Nancy Pelosi and I saw eye to eye on one thing that mattered more than any other: the defense of our Constitution and the preservation of our republic.”

A Fox News host tried to broker a reconciliation with Trump

Cheney reveals a peculiar effort to broker a reconciliation between her and Trump after he left office — by none other than Fox News.

In March 2021, she received a call from Brian Kilmeade, a Fox host, with what she considered “an odd request” asking if she would consider sitting down with the former president.

“No thanks,” she replied. “Not interested.”

Kilmeade pressed the issue, saying she needed to bury the hatchet with Trump.

“Trump tried to overturn an election,” she said. “He went to war with the rule of law. He violated his oath to the Constitution.”

Kilmeade did not deny that. “I know,” she recalled him saying. “But what if he is our only hope to beat Kamala?”

Cheney knew her stance would probably unseat her.

Cheney recognized that she was putting her political career in jeopardy by speaking out so aggressively against Trump. After all, she represented Wyoming, which Trump won in 2020 by 43 percentage points, his strongest state.

While she had racked up strong votes herself over the years, she considered not running for reelection in 2022. She sought out an old friend she does not name in the book who had spent his career promoting democracy around the world.

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“Does withdrawing from your race make you stronger or weaker in confronting the threat Trump poses?” the friend asked.

Cheney thought for a moment. “It weakens my hand,” she decided.

“Then you’ve got your answer.”

Cheney went on to lose the Republican primary to Harriet Hageman, a Trump-endorsed candidate, two to one. But she did what Trump did not — she conceded defeat.

The Oath Keepers rallied around Ronny Jackson

The Jan. 6 investigation turned up curious episodes that remain unexplained. The day of the attack, members of the Oath Keepers seemed particularly focused on one Republican congressman, Ronny Jackson of Texas, the former White House physician for Trump.

During the day, members of the Oath Keepers texted one another about Jackson. “Jackson (TX) office inside Capitol — he needs OK help,” one wrote, using initials for the Oath Keepers. “Anyone inside?”

Another wrote that Jackson was “on the move. Needs protection. If anyone inside, cover him. He has critical data to protect.” Stewart Rhodes, the Oath Keepers leader later convicted of seditious conspiracy, told a colleague, referring to Jackson, “Give him my cell.”

In their examination of the message traffic that day, the Jan. 6 investigators found no other individual congressman generating similar discussion. And the committee never did determine what “critical data” Jackson supposedly had “to protect.” Jackson has said he had no idea how the Oath Keepers knew about him or why they were interested.

“If anyone can get to the bottom of those questions,” Cheney wrote, “it will be Special Counsel Jack Smith.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.