I just watched the finale of “Better Call Saul” — the “Breaking Bad” prequel that some critics rate even higher than the original. Many “Breaking Bad” fans consider this blasphemy, I know, but consider whether you’d rather spend time with Slippin’ Jimmy or Walter White.
The ending to “Better Call Saul” — I promise not to give too much away — is about redemption, which felt like an easy way out for America’s favorite con man, but was also a perfect ending to contrast with that of “Breaking Bad.”
I bring this up not as a TV critic, although I might give it a try if it were half as interesting as American politics, but as someone who has long studied the Cheneys, sequel and prequel.
The original, Dick Cheney, recently said this of Trump in a campaign ad: “In our nation’s 246-year history, there has never been an individual who is a greater threat to our republic than Donald Trump. He is a coward. A real man wouldn’t lie to his supporters.”
That’s quite a statement and one I would certainly endorse, particularly if it were said by someone else — almost anyone else. Among other issues, Cheney is speaking of the Big Lie, of Trump’s claim that the 2020 election was somehow rigged — by Democrats, by Italian satellites, by Chinese temperature gauges, take your choice. It is the lie that, remarkably, continues to grow no matter how often or how thoroughly it is debunked. It is a lie, according to the polls, that a significant majority of Republicans claim to believe.
That fact that the elder Cheney has turned so furiously against Trump would be an interesting historical footnote, except for at least two things:
One, he does so in support of his daughter, Rep. Liz Cheney, who has become perhaps Trump’s greatest enemy (no easy feat to be anywhere near the top that list, by the way), and who is expected to lose badly in a primary race Tuesday night against one of the Trump-supported true believers.
And two, Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank has written a book — The Deconstructionists: The Twenty-Five-Year Crack-Up of the Republican Party — about how past Republicans paved the way for Trump to become the leader of the GOP, in which Milbank puts much of the blame on the likes of such people as Newt Gingrich and, yes, you guessed it, Dick Cheney.
Liz Cheney is a hero, and not just because so many Republicans call her a traitor. We use the H-word too easily these days — and maybe we always did. But Cheney has sacrificed her standing in the Republican Party, which has basically exiled her, as well as her GOP leadership post, and now her seat in Congress in order to express what so many others in the party are too afraid to say, and which her father put as well as anyone in that ad.
That Trump is a danger to this country and should be, as Liz Cheney often says, nowhere near the Oval Office ever again.
Anyone with even the slightest working knowledge of American politics in the 21st Century understands the irony here.
Liz Cheney sits as one of only two Republicans on the House Select Committee on the riot at the Capitol on January 6 — a riot egged on by Trump, a riot meant to stop the otherwise routine counting of votes in the Electoral College, a riot in which the lives of members and Congress and of one-time Trump sycophant, Mike Pence, were under threat, a riot that would lead eventually the FBI to serve an unprecedented search warrant on a former president’s residence, a riot that has led to unprecedented threats against the FBI for following a court-ordered rule of law.
Liz Cheney is the driving force of the committee. In the hearings, as one of two Republicans on the committee, she often gives both the opening and closing statements, which generally pound one or two more nails into what Cheney hopes is Trump’s political coffin.
Like her father, Liz Cheney is a diehard conservative. Unlike her father, Liz Cheney was not the man behind the man who took us to war in Iraq, and she wasn’t the vice president who said that those who opposed the war, especially in the early years, endangered America. You remember: We have to fight them there or fight them here.
Milbank reminds us of the elder Cheney’s own strained relationship with the truth. He claimed (falsely) that it was “pretty well confirmed” that the 9/11 mastermind met with Iraqi intelligence. He claimed (falsely) that Saddam Hussein was intimately involved with al-Qaeda. He claimed (falsely) that Saddam had those fabled weapons of mass destruction and was on the verge of going nuclear. And in the one Cheney statement that will live forever, he promised us that Iraqis would greet the American military as, yes, liberators.
There’s a lot more, but you get the idea. Cheney demonized enemies/Democrats and, in doing so, often contradicted reports and predictions from the American intelligence committees, who definitely did not predict the liberator scenario.
And it wasn’t the intel committees who once worked for Halliburton. Or who had the nickname “Vice.”
It’s nice that her father has supported Liz against Trump, but that doesn’t exactly add up to a redemption story for Dick.
Here’s what most people expect of the younger Cheney. Assuming she lost Tuesday, or even if she didn’t, while running for reelection in Wyoming, the state where the Cheneys have been a political dynasty, most people expect her to run in the 2024 GOP presidential primary against Trump. That’s assuming Trump will run, which is a near certainty unless he’s in jail at the time.
Cheney wouldn’t be running to win. There’s no chance of that. She’d be running so that there is someone in the race who would constantly call out Trump and the Big Lie and the danger to democracy Trump represents. And even if Trump doesn’t run, she’d be there to remind us of those other Republicans in the race who cowardly enabled the entire litany of Trump lies.
Cheney was a one-time Trump supporter herself. But truth eventually won out in her mind, and she has made it her mission to remind the public of the danger a Trump return to power would represent to the American democratic project.
That’s close enough to redemption for me.
Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow