Liz Cheney knows that her career as a relevant member of Congress is pretty much over, and she is absolutely milking these final days for all of their worth.
House Republicans voted Wednesday, with no debate, to remove Cheney from her post as chair of the House Republican Conference—the third-highest-ranking position in the party caucus. She is all but certain to be replaced by New York Rep. Elise Stefanik.
Cheney is losing her job for two reasons. One is that she’s taken a position contrary to most of the caucus, in that she believes that the presidency was not stolen from Donald Trump in a massive conspiracy involving voting machines and the reanimated corpse of Hugo Chavez. Secondly, she won’t shut up about it.
Last week, Cheney wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post in which she attempted to lay out her vision for a new Republican Party to an intended audience that has no influence on whether that vision could be implemented:
The question before us now is whether we will join Trump’s crusade to delegitimize and undo the legal outcome of the 2020 election, with all the consequences that might have. I have worked overseas in nations where changes in leadership come only with violence, where democracy takes hold only until the next violent upheaval. America is exceptional because our constitutional system guards against that. At the heart of our republic is a commitment to the peaceful transfer of power among political rivals in accordance with law. President Ronald Reagan described this as our American “miracle.”
Reagan famously loved the peaceful transfer of power. No, stop, why are you laughing?
On Tuesday, Cheney gave a speech on the House floor that, in her headcanon, is being reprinted in full in the updated and revised Special Democracy edition of Profiles in Courage.
Because of all this, Cheney has been rapidly turned into the Joan of Arc of American democracy, burned at the stake for the heresy of believing in our beloved institutions. Whether it’s some reporters and columnists at the New York Times or the handful of colleagues willing to defend her, a hagiography about her noble sacrifice is quickly taking shape.
But it’s not just those usual suspects lining up to mythologize Cheney. Bernie Sanders, one of the most forceful critics of the sort of neoconservative warmonger tradition Cheney was born into and has lived for her entire adult life, tweeted last week that the impending vote to drop Cheney from the House Republican leadership is proof that the GOP “is no longer a ‘conservative’ party.”
Let’s just take a couple of steps back here. Whatever Sanders says, the Republican Party is generally still as conservative as it has ever been. Despite winning Trump’s endorsement, Stefanik is being attacked on the right for not being conservative enough. Cheney has been one of the loudest hawks in Congress, trying desperately to paddle the GOP upstream away from a more paleoconservative approach on foreign policy.
Cheney should also spend some time looking in the mirror when it comes to the degradation of the republic. To date, she’s given no indication that she similarly disavows her own father’s vice presidency, so the idea that she’s against perversions of democracy on principle alone doesn’t hold much weight. Nor does she disavow the lies her father’s administration told about Iraq, the torture regime she and her father both championed, the architecture of state surveillance she has thoroughly supported, and everything else that has done so much to damage the public’s faith in their political leaders and that led directly to the rise of Donald Trump. That is on her conscience just as much as anyone else’s.
The portrayal of Cheney’s removal, as a sacrifice on the altar of democracy, is also inaccurate. This is, ironically, intraparty democracy working as intended; Cheney is being removed from the Republican leadership because she represents a view that’s diametrically opposed to the party’s political project. It just so happens that the project in question is turning a 74-year-old perpetual litigant who thinks it’s very sad what they’re doing to Martha’s Vineyard into a God Emperor. But if the party’s leaders don’t reflect what party members believe, why should they continue to lead the party? And let’s not forget this was also more of a straw breaking the camel’s back situation. Despite her best efforts at times, anyone who believes this strongly in permanent U.S. hegemony and the perpetual war and violence that comes with that was always going to have a tough time moving up in a post-Trump Republican Party turning inward.
This is not someone who’s above selling out to get ahead in politics, but unlike her father, Liz Cheney appears to understand exit strategies.
Moreover, it would be a mistake to think Cheney isn’t getting anything out of this. When she and her father came out in favor of certifying Joe Biden’s win before January 6, someone close to the Cheneys told Axios that the duo was “reestablishing the traditional Republican channel so that in the post-Trump era, people will be comfortable running at that segment of the party, rather than just the populist channel that Trump exploited.” That, obviously, did not work. This can be seen as something of a Plan B.
There’s an endless number of media opportunities available for Good Republicans, and if Cheney chooses to retire from Congress rather than risk a humiliating primary defeat, her multiple terms in Congress, family connections, and long career as a State Department nepotism case are guaranteed to land her virtually any lobbying job she desires.
Liz Cheney torpedoing her own future in Congress is the first useful thing she’s ever done in her adult life, and she will come out the other end of this fine and potentially richer than she is now. There’s no need to make her a martyr on top of that.