The one thing they cannot be, however, is honest about who won the 2020 presidential election. Hence, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) has a fundamental problem with her party.
The disgraced former president released a statement Monday morning declaring that “the Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2020 will be, from this day forth, known as THE BIG LIE!’” (It will be hard to rebrand “the Big Lie,” but that won’t stop Republicans from trying.) Cheney — who voted to impeach the former president, demanded a credible inquiry into the white-supremacist insurrection on Jan. 6 and beat back one attempt to oust her from Republican House leadership — tweeted a response:
CNN also reports that at a conservative think tank gathering in Georgia, Cheney declared, “We can’t embrace the notion the election is stolen. It’s a poison in the bloodstream of our democracy." She added, "We can’t whitewash what happened on January 6 or perpetuate Trump’s big lie. It is a threat to democracy. What he did on January 6 is a line that cannot be crossed.”
She is not only criticizing the ex-president, who incited the Jan. 6 insurrection, but also the right-wing media and elected Republicans who perpetuate this lie. She is also telling a majority of Republican voters who believe this claptrap that they are wrong. The cowardly whisper campaign from unidentified Republicans began: Her days in Republican leadership are numbered.
The party could well boot her out, given that its members have shown themselves to be spineless, self-deluded sycophants. Moreover, it is very likely that Cheney will face a primary challenge. It will be interesting to watch the GOP denounce a member of its own “royalty” — a daughter of a former vice president, ardent critic of President Barack Obama, and defender of carbon-based energy, a strong military, tax cuts and deregulation.
More interesting than what the GOP does, however, will be what she does. At some point, it becomes ridiculous for Cheney to remain in a party that is inextricably linked to the Big Lie she properly denounces. Cognitive dissonance of this magnitude cannot be sustained forever.
If she loses a primary in her House reelection race, she could run as a third-party candidate. She could form her own party with similarly disgusted Republicans. She could run for president in 2024 in a valiant effort to rescue her party from itself. She could form a caucus within the GOP akin to the moderates in the Democratic Leadership Council in the 1990s, who made way for a party shift to the center and the election of President Bill Clinton.
Cheney has many options because her personal and political identities do not depend on the approval of unhinged right-wing media. It seems her greatest fear is not losing her seat or being disinvited from right-wing confabs, but rather losing her political soul and empowering anti-democratic (small "d") forces.
Her rebellion against the MAGA bullies is not surprising to those who followed both her career and the careers of her parents. (Her mother, Lynne Cheney, was an intellectual heavyweight in the GOP — when intellect was not scorned.) When lawmakers are grounded in something beyond the next election (as is the case for Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah), they do not simply go along with a party that has lost its way. Doing so would repudiate the principles they developed over a lifetime. The scarcity of other Republicans with any principles beyond retaining their place in the MAGA universe tells us how far the party has sunk.
This weekend, Romney appeared at a GOP gathering in Utah. As boos rained down on him, he exclaimed, “Aren’t you embarrassed?” The problem for him, for Cheney and for the country is that they are not in the least. And that is why Cheney and the MAGA-infused GOP are heading for an ugly divorce.