Don’t cry for Liz Cheney

The anti-Trump congresswoman lost her primary. But taking a stand against election theft never equated to taking a stand against Trumpism.

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 7: Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) gets a thumbs up from former Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-C...
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On Tuesday evening, Wyoming’s sole congressperson, Rep. Liz Cheney, became the latest Republican casualty in Donald Trump’s scorched Earth campaign to purge the GOP of anyone and everyone he’s deemed an enemy. Despite having won her 2020 congressional primary with a resounding 73% of the vote, Cheney was beaten by a 2-1 margin by Harriet Hageman, the Trump-backed proxy in the former president’s war on the members of his own party who voted to impeach him following the Jan. 6 insurrection — a defeat made all the more significant given Cheney’s conservative bona fides and one-time position in the uppermost echelon of Republican politics. Cheney’s pending exit from Congress is a particularly venomous feather in Trump’s red MAGA cap.

In an emotional concession speech Tuesday night, Cheney invoked Abraham Lincoln and embraced a “country over party” message, reflecting at one point that she could have easily won re-election but to do so “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.”

It’s an understandable sentiment, particularly in light of Cheney’s not-so-secret musings about a potential presidential run, which she made explicit to Today’s Savannah Guthrie on Wednesday morning, saying she’d “make a decision in the coming months.” And certainly Cheney, whose role as one of the two Republican members of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol has earned her an undeniable measure of goodwill among some liberals (particularly in the chattering #Reistance circles on Twitter), understands the cachet that could afford her for a potential second act as a centrist moderate.

Commendable stance against Trump aside, however, the garment-rending over Cheney’s loss rings embarrassingly hollow given who she actually is. Because while she may be reveling in the laudations that come with rejecting the former president himself, being anti-Trump has in no way tempered her pro-Trumpism.

As a congresswoman, Cheney voted for the Trump political agenda 93% of the time, and as a member of the Republican leadership team (before being ignominiously ousted for deigning to point out that, actually, Trump is no longer president of the United States), she was instrumental in actively advancing those priorities. While Trump may have been an imperfect vehicle for her conservative worldview, she still is the sort of person who opposes voting and civil rights legislation, supports arms deals to Saudi Arabia, thinks the minimum wage should remain below $15, and opted to abandon further aid for Puerto Rico as it continued to struggle post-Hurricane Maria.

Indeed, Cheney’s long standing role in GOP politics — not only as a lawmaker, but also as a member of the second Bush administration in which her father served as vice president, and later in the nebulous world of conservative media and special interest groups — makes her particularly culpable for seeding the fertile Republican ground from which Trump eventually sprung. To the extent that she has committed herself to the quixotic challenge of expunging the Trumpian stain from her beloved conservatism, what she is really doing is advocating for a return to the very conditions that enabled Trump in the first pace.

For now, however, Cheney is content to bask in the credulous glow of the single-issue anti-Trump crowd, from whom she will presumably be asking for inevitable donations to fund her newly announced political group dedicated to “[educating] the American people about the ongoing threat to our republic, and to mobilize a unified effort to oppose any Donald Trump campaign for president” — on top of the unspent millions she raked in from her record-breaking congressional fundraising haul.

So, yes, Liz Cheney is on her way out from the hallowed halls of Congress. And while it may be a loss in the monomaniacal “Trump bad” sense, let’s hold off on shedding tears on her behalf. She hasn’t earned them yet.