The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Cheney and other GOP truth-tellers have a critical role in the midterms

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) speaks on June 13 outside the hearing room for the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)
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With each of her appearances on behalf of the Jan. 6 committee, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) cements her place in history and earns the gratitude of defenders of democracy. But her efforts will be for naught if election deniers on the midterm ballot assume power in posts that could facilitate “peaceful” coups.

As in the hearings themselves, Cheney displayed in her video preview of Thursday’s session moral gravitas and a fierce embrace of facts. Her methodical cadence and direct, simple language provide a life raft for those drowning in a sea of Republican lies and delusions.

Her admirable defense of reality stands in sharp contrast to the long list of election deniers who have made their way onto general-election ballots in the midterms, including those who won their primaries Tuesday night in Nevada’s Senate and secretary of state races. Meanwhile, in South Carolina’s 7th Congressional District, Rep. Tom Rice was defeated for seeking to hold former president Donald Trump accountable for his attempted coup. That raises an important question: Once the hearings are done and her own primary race is decided, what does Cheney do about these election deniers running in November?

While she has already committed to doing everything in her power to make certain the lying narcissist who nearly destroyed our 233-year experiment in constitutional democracy never reaches the Oval Office again, she has not said much about other Republicans who insist the 2020 election was stolen. She has not said what she would do about, say, Adam Laxalt, the Republican nominee for Nevada’s Senate seat, who as NPR reported, continues to believe the results were "rigged and that the legal challenges against the election, which he helped lead, were unsuccessful because they were filed too late.” Nor has she commented on secretary of state candidates such as Nevada Republican Jim Marchant, who insists Trump won and says he would not have certified his state’s 2020 results.

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Cheney could do nothing about these antidemocratic fabulists, allowing the next wave of election subverters, liars and antidemocratic operators to waltz into office. But that would be like standing silent as Trump mounted a 2024 run.

Instead, Cheney and fellow truth-telling Republicans — such as Rice, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker — can form a coalition for democracy with Democrats, independents and other patriotic Republicans. That’s right: They should work to defeat Republicans who perpetrate the “big lie” and threaten future democratic elections.

We know from experience that only when the opposition unites can authoritarians be defeated. If the opposition fractures, the antidemocratic figures win. As Freedom House’s recent report on semi-democratic regimes in Europe emphasized, “Pro-democratic opposition groups can maximize their chance to translate votes into power by forming electoral coalitions.”

In some cases, Cheney and her pro-democracy colleagues can decide to unify behind conservative challengers to Trump acolytes, such as independent conservative Evan McMullin, who is running to unseat Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah). In other cases, they can ask Republicans to write in a candidate who may have lost in the primary. And they can also, for the good of the republic and the principles they hold dear, support Democratic candidates in critical elections.

What Cheney et al. should not do if they intend to continue their defense of democracy is revert to politics as normal and either explicitly or implicitly endorse anyone running with an "R" next to his or her name.

In confronting the election deniers on the 2022 midterm ballot, Cheney and her band of pro-democracy Republicans can become a force in national politics and act as a counterweight within their party to MAGA election subverters. Who knows? They might just set the stage for a new Republican Party founded on the ideals Cheney reveres, including the rule of law, sanctity of elections and peaceful transfer of power.