The most dangerous game in Washington is the one that starts with an assumption that “the enemy of my enemy in my friend.”
That’s the rationale a lot of otherwise reasonable people are employing as they discuss their newfound affection for Liz Cheney.
But Cheney is no friend of Democrats, no friend of fairness and decency in American politics, and no friend of the truth.
She’s a rigidly right-wing Republican who got on the wrong side of a power struggle with her fellow rigidly right-wing Republicans.
The House Republican Conference chair is tussling with former president Donald Trump, and that is now all but certain to get her tossed from the number three position in the party’s clown show of a caucus. The explanation for her perilous circumstance is simple enough: What was once a party where the name “Cheney” had a lot of sway is now a party where the only name that has any sway is “Trump.”
The fact the Cheney’s not getting along with Trump and House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy has some liberals thinking rather too generously about the representative from Wyoming.
All of a sudden, commentators are giving Cheney props. Headlines tell us, “Liz Cheney chooses truth over power—a lonely path in Trump’s GOP,” and “The effort to dump Liz Cheney is the consequence of a party that lost its way.” President Biden fist-bumped with her on the night of his address to Congress. House Democrats are choking out compliments for Cheney.
Hold up, people!
Liz Cheney is not some moderate maverick Republican who is breaking with her party on policy. She is a right-wing warmonger whose crude attacks on people of color, immigrants, Muslims, and progressives carry the same venom as those of the most extreme members of her caucus—and of the 45th president, whose election in 2016 and reelection in 2020 she enthusiastically supported.
Cheney’s January vote to impeach Trump was appropriate and necessary. It was widely seen as courageous in the context of the contemporary Republican Party. But if you pop your head up from the fever swamp that is today’s GOP, casting that vote shouldn’t have been a close call. Trump was guilty of inciting deadly insurrection on January 6; he merited impeachment and removal from office. The House Republicans who embraced Trump’s lies about the 2020 election formed a sedition caucus that should be understood as such. The House Republicans who refused to impeach Trump for weaponizing his lies made themselves every bit as guilty as their boss.
Cheney chose not to shame herself in this particular circumstance. Good on her for that. But don’t think for a second that she’s standing above the political fray on the high ground of morality. She’s a hyper-partisan, hyper-ideological political strategist who is playing the long game, just as her father did over the course of a political career that began in the Nixon White House during the Vietnam War (in which he avoided serving by collecting multiple draft deferments), extended through the George H.W. Bush White House during the Persian Gulf War (which he mismanaged as a bumbling secretary of defense whose service to the military-industrial complex was so subservient that he ended up as the bumbling CEO of Halliburton), and that ended in the George W. Bush White House during the Iraq War (into which he steered the United States with outrageous lies and a promise that American troops would be “greeted as liberators”).
Liz Cheney holds the Wyoming US House seat Dick Cheney occupied in the 1970s and ’80s when he was also House Republican Conference chair. Back in those Reagan years, the GOP was quite cultish in its obsession with the 40th president, but the party remained something of a big tent. Dick Cheney positioned himself on the extreme right side of that tent, voting against pressuring the apartheid government of South Africa to release Nelson Mandela from prison, opposing a holiday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and generally standing on the wrong side of history.
The Republican Party is even more cultish now, and it has folded the big tent. But there’s still a Cheney positioned on the extreme right. The notion that Liz Cheney is the voice of reason and responsibility is not supported by her record. She’s a fierce militarist, busily proposing new sanctions on Iran, and condemning President Biden’s plans to end the forever war in Afghanistan as “reckless.” She’s sold out to the defense contractors; in March, she ripped House Democrats for making the “grave mistake” of proposing even modest cuts in the bloated Pentagon budget. And she’s every bit as prone to cast jaw-droppingly extreme votes as her colleagues: vigorously opposing the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, attacking even the mildest responses to gun violence as “an assault…on the freedom of the people in Wyoming,” and dismissing the popular American Rescue Plan as a “dangerous” package of “far-left priorities” that “will allow taxpayer money to fund abortion” and “provide stimulus checks for illegal immigrants, criminals, and even terrorists.”
That’s actually mild language from Liz Cheney.
In the run-up to the 2020 presidential campaign, when she was campaigning for Trump, Cheney decried the Democrats as “the party of anti-Semitism, the party of infanticide, the party of socialism” during a March 2019 appearance on Meet the Press, where she also claimed Democrats had “passed legislation that’s violated the First Amendment, the Second Amendment.”
After the 2020 Democratic National Convention, she announced that socialists had “a chokehold on the Democratic platform, on Joe Biden’s policies going forward.”
Around the same time, Cheney claimed on Fox News that former secretary of state John Kerry had “traveled around the world acting as the head of the Chamber of Commerce for the mullahs in Iran.” Because he had worked with global leaders to organize the UN’s 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action for nonproliferation, Cheney identified Kerry—who spent years trying to prevent the Iranians from obtaining nuclear weapons—as “the architect” of a deal that “gave the Iranians a pathway towards a nuclear weapon.”
Two days before the 2020 presidential election, Cheney said Vice President Kamala Harris “sounds like Karl Marx.” Why? The Democrat had dared to suggest that equitable treatment of disadvantaged Americans might involve “giving people the resources and the support they need” to compete on an equal footing with wealthier Americans.
Cheney also accused Harris of supporting infanticide—announcing on national television after Biden had selected the California senator as his running mate that Harris backed “abortion up until the ninth month and beyond.” Cheney then proceeded to dismiss Harris’s qualifications—as a former elected prosecutor, state attorney general, and US senator—by claiming that “Joe Biden clearly decided that he was going to make a choice based on somebody’s gender, based on their race and based on his need to placate the very-far socialist left of his party.”
Cheney has reserved her most venomous language for the first two Muslim women to serve in the US House of Representatives. Her targeting of Representatives Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) borders on “obsession,” according to Jim Zogby, the founder and president of the Arab American Institute, who tweeted to Cheney that she goes to such extremes that her rhetoric “smacks either of a deep-seated anti-Arab/Muslim bigotry or crass politics designed to prey on the bigotry of your ‘base.’ In either case it’s disgraceful. Your party’s been playing this game for a decade. Shame.”
To be clear, Donald Trump is also shameful. But two wrongs don’t make a right. They make a pair of right-wingers who aren’t getting along just now but who have, over many years of co-conspiracy, fouled our politics with the same brand of vitriol.