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Liz Cheney’s House Career Is Dead. Long Live Liz Cheney.
As widely expected, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), who once was the third-ranking member of the GOP caucus in the House of Representatives, lost her seat in her state’s primary. By any measure it was a walloping, with her Trump-backed opponent beating her by some 30 points. Far more important than her loss, however, was her much-anticipated concession speech, which signaled that Cheney’s efforts to hold the former president accountable for the Big Lie and for the insurrection on January 6, 2021 are not over but rather have only just begun.
It was a dramatic shift from just two years ago, when she won her primary with 73 percent of the vote. “I could easily have done the same again,” Cheney 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.”
“No House seat, no office in this land, is more important than the principles that we are all sworn to protect,” she continued. “And I well understood the potential political consequences of abiding by my duty.”
During the final days of her campaign, Cheney took on the Big Lie about a stolen election, something she views as the rot at the the core of the Republican Party. In her closing ad, she warned, “Like many candidates across this country, my opponents in Wyoming have said that the 2020 election was rigged and stolen. No one who understands our nation’s laws—no one with an honest, honorable, genuine commitment to our Constitution— would say that. It is a cancer that threatens our great Republic.” She declared, “If we do not condemn these lies, if we do not hold those responsible to account, we will be excusing this conduct and it will become a feature of all elections. America will never be the same.”
In her concession speech, Cheney also warned about the slate of Trump-backed candidates bent on creating chaos and spreading falsehoods around upcoming elections. “Today, as we meet here, there are Republican candidates for governor who do deny the outcome of the 2020 election and who may refuse to certify future elections if they oppose the results,” she said. “We have candidates for secretary of state who may refuse to report the actual results of the popular vote in future elections. And we have candidates for Congress, including here in Wyoming, who refuse to acknowledge that Joe Biden won the 2020 election and suggest that states decertify the result. No American should support election deniers for any position of genuine responsibility where their refusal to follow the rule of law will corrupt our future.”
Cheney was one of 10 Republicans to vote to impeach Donald Trump for inciting insurrection on January 6, 2021. The GOP has been busy punishing those members. In the poisonous climate that now engulfs the party, four of those representatives declined to seek another term, and of the six who did, four have now lost their primaries. Only two have advanced to the general election. It is a stark reminder that the party remains under the near-total control of the former president, even as his legal perils mount.
Trump predictably crowed about her loss. He posted on Truth Social that Cheney’s loss was a rebuke to the “Unselect Committee” and that she ought to be “ashamed of herself” and her “spiteful, sanctimonious words and actions toward others.” He also taunted the January 6th Committee suggesting it would now begin the process of dissolution, and he stated that Cheney could now “disappear into the depth of political oblivion.”
None of this is going to happen, of course. The January 6 Committee will reconvene with further hearings in September, and Cheney will still be its vice-chair. The Committee intends to complete its work and issue its findings and report this fall. And as for Cheney disappearing into political oblivion, she suggested the opposite in her concession speech.
“Now the real work begins,” Cheney said. “We must be very clear-eyed about the threat we face and about what is required to defeat it. I have said since Jan. 6, that I will do whatever it takes to ensure Donald Trump is never again anywhere near the Oval Office, and I mean it.” She even teased the possibility of a run for higher office, observing that “Lincoln was defeated in elections for the Senate and House before he ultimately won the most important election of all.” She continued, “Lincoln ultimately prevailed, he saved our union, and he defined our obligation as Americans for all of history.”
Should Cheney run against Trump in the Republican primary, there is no realistic chance she actually would defeat him. Rather, she would gain a platform to remind the American public of Trump’s crimes and the danger he poses to our democracy. No other candidate on stage with the former president would likely be willing to raise such challenges. And should Cheney decide to run as an independent, she is far more likely to siphon off never-Trumper Republican voters, cutting into the former president’s possible support by a few critical percentage points.
Liberals are right to point out that Cheney is no friend to their causes or to their agenda. Cheney voted with the Trump party line more than 90 percent of the time. Democratic voters should be under no illusions about where she stands on other critical issues, such as abortion rights, gun control, and tax policies. She is far to the right of even Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema on these issues and would be a disaster on those fronts if she ever held power.
But others warn that this is not a moment in our history where we ought to apply political litmus and issue tests to our one time opponents to see if they are now our friends. We should accept that a healthy democracy requires a reasonable and law-abiding opposition that happens to disagree with Democrats on nearly every policy matter. The baseline for that opposition, however, is that it must be steeped in our shared democratic traditions, where elections are accepted as determinative and the losing party cedes power peacefully. The question is not whether liberals will sometimes lose elections to conservatives, which they have before and will continue to from time to time. The question is whether our nation will still have fair elections or even a democracy any more should the current Republican party, now bent on achieving authoritarian rule, gain control of our government.
Cheney demonstrated something that is in very short supply these days in the GOP: integrity. Once she determined that Trump posed a threat to the entire American system by spreading the Big Lie and refusing to cede power peacefully, Cheney would not support him no matter what her other political priorities or career ambitions were. In short, she took a principled stance and chose “country over party.” For that, Cheney will be remembered and honored in history far more than any of her cowardly fellow party officials. As Cheney famously stated during the January 6 hearings, “There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.”
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