By standing up for democracies and denouncing lies and violent insurrection, Cheney has shown that the vast majority of her Republican colleagues are delusional, dangerous and devoid of courage. She was willing to elevate sanity and democracy at the expense of her own career and her party’s short-term prospects with the hope that she can drag the GOP back to reality.
Her stirring words on the House floor on Tuesday evening were a rebuke to a party of lackeys and liars:
“Our freedom only survives if we protect it. … We must speak the truth. The election was not stolen. America has not failed,” she declared. Cheney insisted, “Those who refuse to accept the rulings of our courts are at war with the Constitution. Our duty is clear. Every one of us who has sworn the oath must act to prevent the unraveling of our democracy. This is not about policy. This is not about partisanship. This is about our duty as Americans.” And, in words surely intended to sting, she argued, “Remaining silent and ignoring the lie emboldens the liar. I will not participate in that.”
But others surely will. Among the many pusillanimous Republicans are those who fancy themselves as “conservative.” Take Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), a hawkish third-term Republican who announced his lack of nerve in dumping Cheney in favor of Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), a turnaround from his prior defense of Cheney:
Ousting Cheney, of course, does nothing to unify the party; it just sharpens the distinction between pro-democracy Republicans with spine and those who lack both an affinity for democracy and moral courage. Indeed, one could almost hear the faint rumblings of a presidential run when she declared she would do whatever it takes to prevent the disgraced former president from reclaiming the Oval Office in 2024.
Rock-ribbed conservative Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.), for his part, issued a lengthy memo to his colleagues condemning the “high drama of swamp politics.” Now, mind you, he did not defend Cheney; indeed, he falsely suggested that Republicans are not booting her for her views on the Jan. 6 attack. But he did explain that the choice of Stefanik as her replacement is hypocritical, arguing that Stefanik’s “voting record embodies much of what led to the 2018 ass-kicking we received by Democrats” and then listed a slew of her not-very-right-wing votes. He thinks Republicans should pick someone else or leave the spot open.
Roy has shown why the effort to replace Cheney is flawed. As New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait cogently puts it: “The very point of [Cheney’s] dissent is that support for democracy ought to be separated from policy outcomes. Republicans should not succumb to the temptation of siding with a would-be authoritarian merely because he promises to advance their policy goals.” Moreover, the GOP has no discernible policy goals.
Roy’s letter lets on that for most Republicans, the only unity that matters is unified subservience to the MAGA leader and a willingness to lie. By choosing Stefanik, the conference is making clear that loyalty to the MAGA cult is more important than any ideas or policies Stefanik might embrace. The most obvious reason they are choosing her, to be blunt, is because the party — though it supposedly abhors identity politics — needs a skirt to hide behind as it jettisons a strong, independent-minded female colleague. It is not ideology or policy that matter, but loyalty and gender.
Cheney has given fuel to Never Trumpers who have argued that no mainstream party can succeed if its foundation is based on authoritarian lies. The group Republican Accountability Project puts her front and center in the goal of de-Trumpifying the GOP:
Republicans should be compelled to choose: lies or truth; the sanctity of elections or violence; serious politics or the juvenile performance art that emphasizes “cancel culture” (which is, ironically, the perfect way to describe exiling Cheney).
Republicans on Wednesday after voting to oust Cheney go to the White House to negotiate with President Biden on his American Jobs Plan. Someone might suggest that the schedule does not help their effort to paint Biden as the barrier to bipartisan deal-making.