Liz Cheney still plans to make a difference in the election

By David Ignatius, The Daily Sun, March 26,2024.

Liz Cheney doesn’t mince words about Donald Trump. She calls the former president a “liar,” a “con man” and a potential “tyrant” who, if elected again, would “torch the Constitution” and its guarantees of free speech and rule of law.

Cheney landed these rhetorical roundhouse punches in a talk last week at the Connecticut Forum in Hartford. The words were all the more powerful from a deposed chair of the House Republican Conference. Listening to the repeated roars of approval from the nearly 3,000 people in the audience, I couldn’t help thinking that Cheney might be an underappreciated X-factor in the 2024 race.

“I will do everything I can to make sure [Trump] is never anywhere near the Oval Office again,” vowed Cheney. Defeating Trump means reelecting President Biden and rejecting third-party candidates, she said forthrightly. Though she disagrees with Biden on many policy issues, she said his victory in November is necessary to save the country from potential dictatorship.

If Trump wins, Cheney explained, “we’ll be living in a nation that’s unrecognizable, and the danger is so grave that, for the first time in my life, I will be working with every fiber of my body against the Republican nominee for president.” I sometimes find warnings about Trump’s dictatorial ambitions overblown. But, in Cheney’s deeply personal voice, they ring true.

What difference will Cheney’s passionate opposition make? It’s hard to say, given the way Trump has turned traditional political alignments upside down. But maybe she’s a voice for the many Republicans (not to mention independents) who are resisting the Trump cult. She’s an antiabortion, pro-gun, antitax conservative. But she thinks those policy differences are less important in November than defending the Constitution — which means stopping Trump.

Cheney said she hasn’t decided yet whether it makes sense to formally endorse Biden. But she has pledged to work until Election Day to “educate” Americans about how dangerous Trump is. At a time when some Democrats are trying to push Biden to the left, Cheney is a reminder that this election, like most, will be won in the middle, where polls show Trump is vulnerable.

I was moderating the conversation in Connecticut, and I asked Cheney how she thought Biden had done in his State of the Union address. She answered that although she has many policy disagreements with Biden, he “did a good job” of speaking to the country. Her only advice to the Biden campaign was to avoid “really radical things” that might limit his ability to win a majority of the electoral college.

Cheney heaped scorn on Republicans who are so frightened of Trump and his base of fervent supporters that they become his “collaborators,” “enablers” and “accomplices.” Among congressional Republicans, “the number of people who believe his lies is very small,” she insisted. “They are enabling this danger, and they know it’s a danger.”

Cheney has paid a steep price for telling the truth. After bucking Trump, she was ousted from the House leadership and defeated in a reelection bid by MAGA voters in Wyoming. Trump last Sunday ranted on Truth Social that “She should go to Jail” for co-leading the House Select Committee investigation of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. Yet Cheney persists, despite threats to herself and her family.

What Cheney could do in this campaign, above all, is animate the public’s memory of what happened on Jan. 6. In her new book, “Oath and Honor,” and onstage in Hartford, she offered a visceral, minute-by-minute account of the day when Trump attempted a “coup” to prevent certification of his election defeat. She describes how members of Congress in the besieged chamber fumbled with their gas masks, sought shelter behind the bulletproof chairs of their desks and finally raced to get beyond the reach of the pursuing mob.

America needs to recollect this horror before Election Day. The most powerful evidence has already been given in secret to a grand jury by Republicans who know the most about Trump’s actions: former vice president Mike Pence and former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.

That’s why it’s so important that the Supreme Court promptly reject Trump’s immunity claim and allow the Jan. 6 trial to begin before the election — so that the nation can hear testimony from Pence and others in open court. I can’t imagine Trump surviving that public rebuke.

Cheney stays focused on what’s at stake in this election. America is “sleepwalking toward dictatorship,” she warned. Trump makes clear in nearly every speech that he will defy Congress, resist the courts and work to break the “checks and balances” that distribute power and safeguard democracy in our system. I hope her use of the word “dictatorship” overstates things, but I am certain we’ll be living in a different country if Trump wins. That’s a message Biden has to drive home, and Cheney can be a powerful, full-throated ally.

Watching Cheney is a reminder that courage matters in politics. She described fellow Republicans who told her they wanted to vote for Trump’s impeachment but feared for themselves and their families. Cowardice is common in politics. Bravery is rare. Cheney sounds like someone who isn’t afraid of anything except failing to fulfill her duty to the Constitution.

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