Liz Cheney Has Warned Us. Will We Listen?
Her new book is a compelling insider’s account of political cowardice and a lack of any moral compass within the GOP
Advance copies of Liz Cheney’s new book, Oath and Honor, as reported on and summarized by The New York Times, CNN and The Guardian, have the GOP denial machine in full gear. In its pages, Cheney recounts precisely how cowardly, unprincipled and cynical the GOP has become, particularly around January 6 and Trump’s illegal quest to remain in office.
Now, before folks say, “Why did she wait for her book to come out to say all this?” let’s assume, because she is principled, that Cheney already told whatever she knew to investigators on the January 6 Committee and to federal prosecutors. The cases have in no way been prejudiced by her withholding this information from the public. And in any event, much of what she conveys has been discussed in other contexts, just not all together in one damning volume.
With that said, here are some highlights which still present as new information:
Cheney tears into former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), blasting him for kissing Trump’s ring at Mar-a-Lago after January 6 because he was worried the former president was “depressed” and “not eating.”
She takes aim at the current Speaker, Mike Johnson (R-LA), who coerced House GOP members to sign onto a legal brief, warning that Trump would later review whose names were on it.
She rakes Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) for arguing that, despite the lack of any evidence the election was stolen, “The only thing that matters is winning.” And she singles out Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) for abandoning his duty for the sake of personal ambition.
According to early accounts of the book, Cheney collectively and unflinchingly labels the GOP “enablers and collaborators” for “the most dangerous man ever to inhabit the Oval Office.” While mocking him as “Orange Jesus” behind his back, Congressmembers dutifully did his bidding in public.
Cheney may also now become a witness for Jack Smith. She found herself accidentally included in a White House surrogates call where Trump allies detailed plans to overturn the election using Mike Pence to obstruct or delay the vote count. Those on the call are probably wondering what specifically Cheney has told prosecutors.
Let’s take a deeper dive into Cheney’s revelations and why they are so damning.
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Kevin McCarthy, Tool of the Era
She thought it must have been a fake photo. There was no way that Kevin McCarthy would travel to Mar-a-Lago, she believed, to stand side-by-side with the guy who just tried to overthrow the government. So she confronted McCarthy about it.
“Mar-a-Lago?” she asked, dumbfounded. “What the hell?”
McCarthy’s excuse was so lame it almost defies belief. “Trump’s not eating,” McCarthy said to her, “so they asked me to come see him.”
“You went to Mar-a-Lago because Trump’s not eating?” she asked.
“Yeah, he’s really depressed,” McCarthy answered.
Sanity check. The notion that Trump wasn’t eating is itself a bit hard to believe. The notion that McCarthy went to cheer him up about it is even harder. We all know McCarthy was quite worried about gaining back the House majority, and that this wasn’t going to be possible without Trump’s help, or so he thought.
The book mentions something else that should be of no small interest to prosecutors. Two days after the 2020 election, McCarthy told Cheney that he had spoken to Trump. “He knows it’s over,” he told her. “He needs to go through all the stages of grief.”
Those stages, Cheney noted, apparently included tweeting out in ALL CAPS. And later, denial, but this time of an entire election.
When McCarthy went on Fox that same day and claimed that “President Trump won this election,” Cheney writes, “McCarthy knew that what he was saying was not true.”
Mister Johnson’s naughty list
Now that Mike Johnson is the head honcho in the House, his role in January 6 is coming under added scrutiny. Cheney’s account adds significant fuel to that.
Johnson had worked to gain support among House GOP members for an amicus brief to be filed with the Supreme Court. He emailed his conference that he’d spoken with Trump who would be “anxiously awaiting the final list to review.”
Cheney read that as a threat, and no doubt others did as well. What would happen to those who didn’t sign on? Would they become targets of his tweets and his angry MAGA base?
Of Johnson, Cheney was unsparing. “He appeared especially susceptible to flattery from Trump and aspired to be anywhere in Trump’s orbit,” she wrote. “When I confronted him with the flaws in his legal argument, Johnson would often concede, or say something to the effect of, ‘We just need to do this one last thing for Trump.’”
He was also highly dishonest. “He was playing bait and switch,” Cheney writes, “assuring members that the brief made no claims about specific allegations of [electoral] fraud when, in fact, it was full of such claims.” Cheney also says Johnson told House colleagues he was a “constitutional law expert,” which was untrue, and that he wrote the brief, which was also untrue. In fact, pro-Trump lawyers actually wrote the document, Cheney notes.
Johnson sent poll numbers to Cheney showing how 68 percent of Republicans believed the election had been stolen. “These numbers are big,” Johnson said, “and something we have to contend with as we thread the needle on messaging.” Cheney observed that the reason so many believed this was because people like Johnson were echoing Trump’s lies.
Jim Jordan enables an assault, again
Cheney singled out Jim Jordan as one of the worst of the Trump acolytes and loyalists. On top of saying the quiet part out loud by claiming, despite no evidence of election fraud, “The only thing that matters is winning,” Jordan was also “dismissive” of the legal process for challenging the election results and “didn’t seem to think the rules mattered,” according to Cheney.
On the day of the attack at the Capitol, the Sergeant at Arms warned members to be ready to hide under chairs if necessary. “Jim Jordan approached me,” Cheney writes, and said, “We need to get the ladies off the aisle.” He extended a hand to Cheney to help her, but she swatted it away.
“Get away from me. You f—ing did this,” Cheney responded.
Ted Cruz’s blind ambition
Among the GOP senators, the most dangerously ambitious is Ted Cruz, according to Cheney. Cruz was the primary mover behind a plan to set aside the Electoral College vote count on January 6, arguing for a commission to investigate election results that had already been recounted and recertified. Cruz called publicly for a delay of 10 days—by no small coincidence, the same amount of time others named within the conspiracy to overturn the election had pressed for.
Cruz is a highly educated, highly intelligent lawyer. That makes what he was urging even more cynical because he knew it was wrong and that it at least skirted right up to the very edge of legality.
“It was one of the worst cases of abandonment of duty for personal ambition I’ve ever seen in Washington,” Cheney writes.
Fear and loathing in the GOP
Cheney recounts several instances where House members appeared to privately express disdain and opposition to Trump but then publicly did the opposite. The hypocrisy and lack of backbone was galling to her, especially as she paid the full political price of standing by her principles by being removed from House leadership.
One colleague told her he stayed publicly loyal to Trump because he was afraid for the safety of his wife and baby if he spoke out, a claim now buttressed after credible death threats went out to opponents of Jim Jordan’s speakership candidacy as well as to their families and staff.
Another Congressman, Mark Green (R-TN), signed on to Johnson’s amicus brief but remarked, aloud and to no one specifically, “The things we do for the Orange Jesus.”
When McCarthy visited Mar-a-Lago, many GOP members expressed private disgust and anger. “Some mocked him, circulating the Trump/McCarthy photo along with the clip from the movie Jerry McGuire” where Tom Cruise claims, “You…complete…me.”
Privately joking and mocking, when it came to voting lockstep with Trump, they readily obeyed while publicly praising and defending him. “So strong is the lure of power that men and women who had once seemed reasonable and responsible were suddenly willing to violate their oath to the Constitution out of political expediency and loyalty to Donald Trump,” Cheney writes.
An unlikely ally
When former Speaker Nancy Pelosi offered Cheney a position on the January 6 Committee, some of Pelosi’s staff were horrified at the prospect. Some pulled together a list of the 10 worst things Cheney has ever said about Pelosi. But this didn’t sway the former House leader. “Why are you wasting my time with things that don’t matter?” Pelosi asked them.
In her book, Cheney praises Pelosi for always backing her and for her stalwart leadership. “We may have disagreed on pretty much everything else, but Nancy Pelosi and I saw eye to eye on the one thing that mattered more than any other: the defense of our Constitution and the preservation of our republic.”
A memoir and a warning
The subtitle of Cheney’s book reminds readers that her account is not only a recollection but also a warning to us all. Her words are worth repeating here in full.
“Trump has told us that he thinks the Constitution can and should be suspended when necessary, that what happened on Jan. 6 was justified, that in a second Trump presidency he would seek retribution,” Cheney writes. “The assumption that our institutions will protect themselves is purely wishful thinking by people who prefer to look the other way.”
“We have also now learned that most Republicans currently in Congress will do what Donald Trump asks, no matter what it is.” Cheney adds, “I am very sad to say that America can no longer count on a body of elected Republicans to protect our republic.”
“Every one of us – Republican, Democrat, Independent – must work and vote together to ensure that Donald Trump and those who have appeased, enabled, and collaborated with him are defeated.”
“This is the cause of our time.”