Column: Read Liz Cheney’s book and weep. America’s democracy hangs on the details
You don’t read a book like former Wyoming U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney’s tell-all looking for literary pearls.
You read it to find out what was going on behind the scenes in Congress after the 2020 election, as Donald Trump’s Republican sycophants and enablers schemed with him to overturn the results of a legitimate U.S. election. You read it to remember just how feckless Trump was when he was in power, and to remind yourself exactly what he is capable of should the nightmare of a second Trump term come to pass.
Oh, and of course you read it because who could ever tire of revelations about former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s spinelessness and treachery? God, what a snake. No, strike that. Snakes actually have spines.
After forcefully blaming Trump for Jan. 6, McCarthy went to Mar-a-Lago to suck up to the former president, Cheney writes in “Oath and Honor,” because he needed money. Nearly every major corporate donor had threatened to withdraw support from Republicans who voted to object to the electoral college votes. Because McCarthy’s only real political skill was fundraising, she says, he was desperate for access to Trump’s extensive lists of small-dollar donors. “In order to use those lists,” she writes, “Kevin would have to help Donald Trump cover up the stain of his assault on our democracy.”
Like many who lean left politically, I have no enduring affection for the Cheney family. They oppose almost everything I support: reproductive rights, renewable energy, the Affordable Care Act, immigration reform, you name it. I was appalled by then-Vice President Dick Cheney’s warmongering and manipulation of then-President George W. Bush. And I’ve never forgotten, either, that Liz Cheney boycotted the 2012 wedding of her gay sister, Mary. She later said she was wrong, but her absence was downright cruel.
In ‘Oath and Honor,’ Rep. Liz Cheney exposes the actions of Kevin McCarthy and other Jan. 6 enablers of Donald Trump, but fails to compel readers.
Imagine my surprise, then, when a tear actually sprang to my eye for a moment after reading about a particularly charged moment between Liz and her father on New Year’s Day 2021.
On Dec. 26, 2020, the Washington Post’s David Ignatius had written a column with a dire warning about Trump’s postelection plotting. Shortly after he lost, Trump had fired senior Defense Department officials and installed loyalists in their place, an unprecedented move by a lame-duck president. Was he stacking the military deck in order to invoke the Insurrection Act and stay in office?
A delegation of senior Republicans, wrote Ignatius, should pay a visit to Trump and tell him in no uncertain terms that he’d lost. There were two problems, however, as Cheney writes. First, not enough senior Republican officials would be willing to risk Trump’s wrath, and second, it was clear that privately urging Trump to do anything against his self-interest would be futile.
Believe Donald Trump when he tells us what he’d do with another White House term: eliminate civil service job protections, jail his political enemies and spit on the Constitution.
Father and daughter came up with a plan: Dick Cheney was a former Defense secretary, so together they would reach out to the nine other living former secretaries of Defense and ask them to sign a public letter urging a peaceful transition of power.
“Efforts to involve the U.S. armed forces in solving election disputes,” wrote the 10 secretaries, “would take us into dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional territory.”
As Liz Cheney prepared to return to Washington from Wyoming in January 2021, her father gave her a hug, and then, she wrote, “He looked at me and with steel in his voice, said, ‘Defend the republic, daughter.’ ”
“I will, Dad,” she replied. “Always.”
Unlike many of Cheney’s critics, I see nothing self-important or self-serving here.
Liz Cheney is one of the few heroic, high-profile Republicans who were willing to do the right thing after the 2020 election, even if it meant sacrificing her job and her political prospects.
A red state governor and a blue state governor, only one of whom is running for president, met in a Fox News publicity stunt.
Surprisingly, her book is not all grim.
Early in Cheney’s first House term, she writes, the loathsome Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio asked her to become a member of his ultra-right-wing Freedom Caucus. His pitch? “We don’t have any women and we need one.”
“Tempting as this offer was,” she dryly notes, “I took a pass.”
Her recollection of the debate among her colleagues about whether to kick her out of her leadership position for voting to impeach Trump is priceless.
Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York wanted Cheney’s head because Stefanik’s constituents were writing letters to their local papers asking why their representative had not taken the same “principled” stand against Trump that Cheney had. (“Many of us who had known Elise since before she abandoned all principle were curious about how she had lost her sense of right and wrong,” Cheney writes.)
A number of her House male colleagues simply did not appreciate Cheney’s tone. “Ralph Normal of South Carolina kept repeating that his problem with me was my attitude: ‘You’ve just got such a defiant attitude!’ ” (So unladylike!)
It’s hard to be happy about the presidential hopes of Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis, Chris Christie, Vivek Ramaswamy — or Joe Biden.
Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania was hurt by Cheney’s early statement in favor of Trump’s impeachment. “It’s like playing in the biggest game of your life,” he whined, “and you see your girlfriend sitting on the opponent’s side.”
Female members loudly objected.
“Yeah,” Cheney said. “I’m not your girlfriend.”
On Jan. 6, 2022, one year after the attack by deeply misguided Trump supporters — so many of whom face long prison terms for their crimes that day — there was a small ceremony and a moment of silence on the House floor. Only two Republicans showed up: Liz Cheney and her father.
The following month, Cheney and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, the two Republicans who served on the House Jan. 6 committee, were censured by the Republican National Committee for “participating in a Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse.”
Cheney, as always, was unbowed. “I do not recognize those in my party who have abandoned the Constitution to embrace Donald Trump,” she responded at the time. “History will be their judge.”
In her book, she reflects on the moment: “The resolution reflected a political party that had lost its principles and, frankly, seemed to be led by morons.”
Sadly, it still is.