Liz Cheney won big in Wyoming this week.
No, not in her primary race, the result of which had long since become a foregone conclusion, but in the race to find public servants who are true patriots, who put country ahead of party when the stakes really are the survival of our American constitutional democracy.
Wyoming, with a total population well under the size of an average congressional district, commanded the attention of the entire nation on primary day, as voters in this heavily Republican state turned their backs on one of the nation’s most proven, courageous, and conservative Republicans, Liz Cheney, to demonstrate their solidarity and fidelity to Donald Trump. Interestingly, I’m not the only person in America who would describe Liz Cheney as a proven, courageous conservative. The other admirer who showered Cheney with this ringing endorsement one election cycle ago was Harriet Hageman. Hageman apparently, knows an opportunity when she sees one. Once again, Hageman had the opportunity to stand up for Cheney or cozy up to Trump. Cozy won.
Nearly everyone today is talking about Liz Cheney and her remarkable decision to put the country ahead of party. Cheney’s remarks following her loss in Wyoming were historic. She said what everyone knew; that all she had to do to win once again, with about 70% of the vote, as she did in her prior election, was simply to stay silent regarding the Trump betrayal of our constitutional democracy. Throughout most of the country, Cheney is seen as a courageous constitutionalist. She lost a place in congress while securing a place in history.
Harriet Hageman will, almost certainly, be remembered as the person who played an ironic bit part in Cheney’s rise in the nation’s consciousness. She’ll be remembered as a minor player in the supporting cast of the Trump drama. Ironically, Harriet Hageman will also be remembered as the candidate who, a presidential cycle ago, condemned Trump as a bigoted candidate. She warned that the Republican Party would be saddled with “somebody who is racist and xenophobic.” Rather prescient, that new Wyoming Congressperson-elect.
Now, in the cause of full disclosure, I hasten to acknowledge that we have hosted Liz Cheney in our home in support of her candidacy. She had no illusions about the course on which she had embarked. She told us pretty much what she told the country, “if the cost of standing up for the Constitution is losing the House seat, then that’s a price I’m willing to pay.” A handful of other Republicans who have had the temerity to stand up to Trump have also been turned out in Republican primaries. Of ten Republican Congresspersons who dared to vote against Trump during the impeachment proceedings, four have lost their elections, four have retired, and two remain standing.
So, what is going on here? While Trump delighted in calling Liz Cheney a RINO (Republican in Name Only), her entire legislative history is about as conservative and Republican as conservative and Republican gets. So, let us all recognize that RINO now has a new meaning in Trump world; (Rebelliously Independent and Never Obedient). A RINO has simply become any Republican who is an independent thinker and one who is prepared to question Trump orthodoxy. In other words, admit that Trump lost the 2020 election. Cross or question Trump, and any Republican will be consigned to the newly defined RINOLAND.
Let’s not mince words. This is serious stuff. There have been other periods of history when deviating from the teachings (demands) of a perceived glorious (think megalomaniacal) leader was tantamount to exile into the nether reaches of respectability and acceptance. That is precisely the level to which today’s Republican party is rapidly descending.
Liz Cheney was, and is, guilty of speaking truth to power. She knows, as does every thinking Republican that Donald Trump lost the last election and lost decisively. Donald Trump seems incapable of admitting or accepting that fact and will not tolerate anyone who does. His animus toward Liz Cheney and any other Republican who will not embrace the big lie has many historical corollaries. In the long term, it never works out well for sycophants who walk in lock step with those who corrupt truth in the quest for power.
Liz Cheney witnessed, along with many others, an outrageous attempt to wrest, through a well-planned insurrection, control of the country by a defeated candidate for President. In the moment, other congressional leaders of her party acknowledged that reality. Liz Cheney stood firm in her contempt for the well-orchestrated attempt to stop the peaceful transfer of power in America. The resolve of others in her party quickly faded. They are forever diminished. She stands tall.
Liz Cheney stands today as the embodiment of John F. Kennedy’s definition of a profile in courage: “In whatever arena of life one may meet the challenge of courage, whatever may be the sacrifices he faces if he follows his conscience — the loss of his friends, his fortune, his contentment, even the esteem of his fellow men — each man must decide for himself the course he will follow.”
Liz Cheney has chosen courage over power. Whether her star or that of others like her is in ascendance or descendance may well determine the ascendance or descendance of the American experiment. This is the very moment about which Benjamin Franklin expressed concern on September 18, 1787, regarding the durability of the American experiment; you have a republic if you can keep it. We shall see.