The sole U.S. Representative from Colorado’s neighbor to the north has been the center of attention for political wonks over the past week. Rep. Liz Cheney’s refusal to kowtow to former President Donald Trump and his ludicrous claims of election fraud again threatens her political career.
The scion of a first family in Wyoming, and the Republican Party, Cheney is anything but a political neophyte. She knows exactly what she is doing.
Cheney is setting herself up to do one of two things: lead a post-Trump GOP back from the brink of collapse or walk away from the crumbling edifice with her dignity intact. She obviously wants nothing to do with a party so hellbent on burning itself to the ground.
Good for Cheney.
Since voting to impeach former President Donald Trump following the Jan. 6 insurrection, Cheney has been a target for Trump and his acolytes. Despite being muted on social media, Trump still manages to wander out of his Mar-a-Lago enclosure on occasion and tear into Cheney.
So Cheney doubled-down on Monday and accused his finger-puppet cronies of “spreading THE BIG LIE” and “turning their back on the rule of law, and poisoning our democratic system.”
And if that was not enough, she came back again on Wednesday with an op-ed in The Washington Post challenging her party to “choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution” over “Trump’s crusade to undermine the foundation of our democracy.”
The comments led to a swift parting among allies of the third-ranking Republican in the U.S. House and the former president. Fellow Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, R-Ohio, backed his colleague and explained, “If a prerequisite for leading our conference is continuing to lie to our voters, then Liz is not the best fit.”
At the same time, ambitious Trumplicans hoping to climb the political ladder tried to knock Cheney off her rung. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y.,who rose in party stature for her robust defense of Trump during the first round of impeachment hearings, sniped at Cheney repeatedly throughout the week.
It seems likely that Cheney will first lose her leadership position — and any chance at the Speakership down the line — before also losing a primary challenge next year. That is not just bad for Cheney and the Republican Party, it is bad for the country.
Of course, there have been many members in the liberal establishment who have simply grabbed the nearest bag of salted snack food and sat gleefully watching their Twitter feed scroll by.
New York Times columnist Charles Blow even seemed to revel in the schadenfreude, picking apart policy positions he disagreed with to demonstrate that Cheney is simply on the receiving end of karma’s bite.
Blow, and every liberal cheering on the intraparty struggle, has missed the greater point. This is not a battle of ideologies and policy positions. The Dunce State does not care about anything other than raw, naked power.
Not policy. Not democracy. Not the country.
Such single-minded ambition is the undercurrent of an illiberal river that, as Cheney alluded to in her op-ed, erodes the banks of democracy and washes it out to sea.
It is the type of movement that justifies violence against voting rights and individuals alike in pursuit of that power.
And it will not end with Cheney. In fact, if Cheney is swept away and dashed against political rocks, it is much more likely that those who cause her fall will be even more emboldened and enamored with their tactics.
Just ask Pastor Martin Niemöller how that ends.
Cheney knows exactly what she is doing. She is acting like the epitome of a classical conservative. She is protecting the very pillars of our system of self-rule. It is a cause she realizes is bigger than her, her political ambitions or even the policies she advocates most ardently.
It is the entire democratic system for which she has placed herself at the altar, and this is her last full measure of devotion.
Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq