Don’t shed tears for Liz Cheney
Just because the Republican leadership suppresses them for the wrong reasons doesn’t mean they need to be defended.
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) attends a press conference following a meeting of Republicans of the House on Capitol Hill April 14, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer / Getty Images)
The mainstream press has established a permanent revision process for Republicans. It works like this: GOP presidents are inevitably denounced as bloodthirsty extremists who at the same time lack the IQ and have the authoritarian ruse that is not on the charts. Then, 10 to 15 years after leaving office, they suddenly experience a transformation. Once there is a new Republican in the White House, they will be transformed into sober statesmen who would never dream to go as far as the current guy.
So Ronald Reagan has been unfavorably compared to the more posh Gerald Ford, only to turn into a compromising tax dodger in the face of mad George W. Bush himself reinterpreted as a brush-wielding model of courtesy alongside this fellow, Donald Trump. And so it will continue. Undoubtedly, CNN will find out in a decade that while Trump has admittedly sent out some harsh tweets, at least it has not tried to ban puberty blockers in vending machines like this President DeSantis.
It’s a stupid game. But even by his cheap and hypocritical rules, trying to rehabilitate Liz Cheney must be some kind of low point. At press time, Cheney is on the verge of being expelled from the Republican leadership of the House for denouncing Donald Trump after the Capitol Rebellion. From there, she will stand in front of an elementary school in Wyoming in 2022 full of Trumpists that she is likely to lose. Your political career is almost certainly over.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away – i.e. 12 years ago – Cheney would have been portrayed in the media as a genocidal warlord. She is an unreconstructed apology for all of the lower barbarians of the Bush era. She has defended waterboarding and the war against the “reinforced interrogation” program of terror. She opposes any serious attempt to reform FISA and curb the government’s extensive oversight powers. Her PAC ran a weirdly scary ad denouncing the Obama DOJ as a “Department of Jihad” for employing lawyers who dared to represent Guantanamo detainees. It railed against any attempt to withdraw American troops from anywhere, from Afghanistan to Syria to Germany. She has continued to defend the Iraq war, even claiming that there is a link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda.
Recently, however, she has also been angry with Trump. And because the deafening social media exodus is not stopping anyone from remembering what happened more than two days ago, Cheney has been recast as a stovepipe-hatched petty Republican moralist. Once upon a time, sighed the mainstream press, there was more decent and virtuous Conservatism, which also occasionally tortured people in dungeons. That belief is exemplified by Cheney, but now she’s on her way out, overrun by the Trump cultists.
It is true that Cheney is being ousted for criticizing Trump. It is also true that this is the wrong reason for this. The problem seems, as Eliana Johnson has reported, to be less that Cheney finds Trump uncomfortable – as do many other elected Republicans, however quiet she may be – than she insists on expressing her contempt publicly. January 6th is viewed in the GOP caucus as an embarrassment and obligation to remain rearview in favor of an attack on Joe Biden. And with some elected Republicans like Ted Cruz dropping corporate contributions in favor of smaller donations from the Trump-loving base, Cheney’s loathing threatens what matters most in Washington: money.
This is a view of Cheney at a stake surrounded by muttering MAGA cultists. I have another narrative that I would like to suggest. It works like this: The conservative movement has been in a state of upheaval since the Bush administration. It instinctively understands that something went wrong during those years, but it has struggled to come up with an alternative. Hence the flirtation with the constitutionalism of the Tea Party; hence the ensuing embrace of Trumpian populism. In foreign policy at least, however, it has largely succeeded in correcting itself. The Bush Doctrine has failed; Bush is no longer considered. Wars of regime change produced blood and misery; Conservatives have since taken a more nationalistic turn.
This is exactly what political movements are supposed to do: adapt to new circumstances, explain mistakes. It is true that this review comes with an inflexible loyalty to Trump. But what should we do then? Defending Liz for calling Biden the duly elected president in front of most on the right after decades of failure and destruction? To whitewash everything else because she won’t whitewash on January 6th? Cheney’s defense attorneys respond that the former is a mere political disagreement while the latter is a matter of bourgeois morality. However, I wonder what could be more immoral than dripping water up the prisoners’ noses and invading an impoverished country that poses no serious threat to us.
Cheney did her best Reagan imitation and recently stated in the Washington Post“I’m a Conservative Republican, and the most conservative conservative value is reverence for the rule of law.” Quite right. That is why we should hold those who destroyed the fourth, fifth and eighth amendments to account. who crushed the 9/11 AUMF to pursue pointless wars from Pakistan to Somalia; who tortured and overheard and made signatures to ignore Congress; who distorted CIA information and betrayed public confidence.
Cheney apologizes for all of this. In this case, I’m far from standing between her and the MAGA acolytes. I’m going to smoke.
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