It may feel like cheering for a movie villain, but the Wyoming lawmaker has stood up for the peaceful transfer of power
To the progressive part of America, the very idea feels like cheering for Hannibal Lecter during a Silence of the Lambs franchise watch-a-thon.
The record of the Republican Party’s ousted conference chair (the number three position in the House of Representatives) is almost comically horrible.
You can imagine a meeting of screenwriters picking over a biopic script and saying: “Yeah, it’s interesting but you’ve got to give people something to relate to. This one doesn’t even have any villainous charm.”
Liz Cheney has backed wars and defended “enhanced interrogation”. Need I spell out what that means? Until relatively recently she spat culture war bile on Fox News with the best, sorry worst, of them. She boasts a 93 per cent pro-Donald Trump voting record and has appeared cheering alongside him.
There are those who’ve argued that the Cheney family played a key role in opening the door to the Trumpist takeover of the Republican Party and helped drive its transformation from a party of the centre-right into one that today looks much more like one of the European extreme right.
That may be over-egging it a bit. Another dissident GOP-per, Stuart Stevens, made a compelling case that the rot was evident long before the family’s rise to prominence in his recent book It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump. But the Cheneys were enablers at the very least.
If all that’s not enough, Liz Cheney once even threw her sister Mary, who is gay, under a bus for political purposes, declaring that while she loved her “very much” marriage equality was “an issue on which we disagree”. No prizes for guessing which news network she said that on.
However, while all that may be true, here’s what her critics need to remember: The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
Liz Cheney acknowledging electoral reality over malevolent myth, and her belated decision to stare down the dangerous demagogue holding her party in his thrall, matters.
Look at what her fellow GOP congressman Jim Jordan said in response to her defence of the latter. “Democrat talking points,” he opined.
Except that the “Democrat” talking points he referred to weren’t anything like that. They were the simple and unvarnished truth. The problem with today’s Republican Party is that it has become so unmoored that it now finds it impossible to acknowledge the latter. And it has taken a substantial chunk of the electorate in the world’s most powerful democracy with it.
There are people in its coalition, waverers perhaps, who won’t listen to President Biden or any other Democrat leader, and who are disdainful of MSNBC, CNN, The New York Times, but who might listen to Liz Cheney and the members of the “reality caucus” she has become the de facto leader of.
This isn’t just an issue for the US either. It also matters if you consider the way the Trumpists’ playbook is being exported. Where do you think Boris Johnson’s cynical enthusiasm for voter ID laws, despite almost no evidence of electoral fraud in a poll that delivered him an 80 seat majority, came from?
And it isn’t just Johnson and his cronies who’ve been watching as Republicans in Arizona searched for bamboo fibres in an attempt to justify entirely bogus claims that China was responsible for the ballots that delivered the state for Biden.
America hasn’t always been the doughtiest defender of democracy overseas, in part thanks to the sort of policies advocated by the Cheney wing of the Republican Party.
But just imagine if it were to slide into the sort of authoritarianism that Poland or Hungary or Turkey or Brazil have embraced. Imagine if that were to become something worse.
The latter is a very real danger if, when, a Republican Party led or inspired by Trump comes back to power. There is a very real danger that the next US election could be its last, at least in terms of legitimacy.
Fundamental to democracy is the peaceful transfer of power and the acceptance of another side with which you disagree and that you’re sometimes going to lose to.
There are some who would argue that Cheney’s public acceptance of the latter is motivated more by power than principle, a last doomed attempt by old school Republicans to hold on to it. There may be an element of that. On the other hand, maybe Cheney just re-read the US constitution and remembered her oath to it.
Her motivations for standing up matter less than the fact that she is standing up because if someone doesn’t, the future of the US, and indeed of liberal democracy, may be grim indeed.