The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion That Cheney ad speaks volumes about the GOP’s rot

A campaign sign for Rep. Liz Cheney outside a home in Cheyenne, Wyo., last month. (AP Photo/Thomas Peipert)

It is not often that you see Democrats tear up over a message from former vice president Dick Cheney. However, his campaign ad for his eldest daughter, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) — part swan song, part defiance, part nostalgia — tells us more about the decrepit state of the GOP than any Democrat’s ad has this cycle:

“In our nation’s 246-year history, there has never been an individual who is a greater threat to our republic than Donald Trump,” he declares. Coming from a former vice president and defense secretary responsible for defending America against hostile nations and foreign terrorists, that’s quite a statement.

Cheney focuses solely on Trump’s danger to democracy. “He tried to steal the last election using lies and violence to keep himself in power after the voters had rejected him. He is a coward,” Cheney says. “A real man wouldn’t lie to his supporters. He lost his election, and he lost big. I know it, he knows it, and deep down, I think most Republicans know it.” For a party obsessed with masculine strength, there is no harsher accusation.

By contrast, Cheney says, his daughter Liz “is fearless.” And in a rebuke to the cringing careerists and Trump toadies, he declares, “There is nothing more important she will ever do than lead the effort to make sure Donald Trump is never again near the Oval Office, and she will succeed.”

Follow Jennifer Rubin's opinionsFollow

Long after the multiple-term Republicans who could never reject the “big lie” have left public life, Liz Cheney will be revered. It’s what you do — and the importance of the things you do — that matters, not your years of seniority.

Republicans’ contortions to appease Trump hardly seem worth it. There is nothing particularly important or noteworthy about staying in a safe congressional seat for decades. One is reminded of Sir Thomas More’s jab, in “A Man for All Seasons,” at his power-hungry accuser: “It profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world … but for Wales?” It’s an admonition applicable to virtually the entire Trump-supporting GOP.

Dick Cheney’s ad is extraordinary not only for the pride and emotion he conveys but also because it is exclusively about one topic: the preservation of democracy. No mention of Democrats. No mention of inflation or energy or Russia or any other issue — and for good reason. Without the defense of democracy and its survival, no worthwhile policy objective is attainable.

Liz Cheney’s chances in the Aug. 16 Wyoming primary deep in Trump country aren’t high. But even if Cheney loses, she will still have plenty to do. She’ll need to finish up the remarkable work of the House Jan. 6 committee. She then could hit the road to denounce Republican candidates who deny the 2020 results and remain a menace to democracy. On that front, Arizona alone could occupy plenty of her time: GOP nominees for Senate (Blake Masters), governor (Kari Lake) and secretary of state (Mark Finchem) make up a rogues’ gallery of “big lie” zealots and conspiracymongers.

Then Cheney and term-limited Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan could take on two of the nation’s more despicable GOP gubernatorial nominees: in Pennsylvania, Doug Mastriano (who went to Washington for the Jan. 6 Stop the Steal rally, stokes the “big lie” and had to distance himself from a top adviser after his blatantly antisemitic remarks were revealed), and in Maryland, Dan Cox, another 2020 election denier.

None of these GOP candidates — in Arizona, Pennsylvania, Maryland and beyond — can be trusted to accept the 2024 election results. These mini-Trumps pose a “clear, present danger,” as former judge Michael Luttig described them before the Jan. 6 committee.

After her work on the committee is done, Cheney must not fail in her efforts to prevent Trump from ever becoming president — even if that task entails her running for the nomination of a party that has rejected her fidelity to the Constitution and to the truth. For that, she’ll need every ounce of that fearlessness her father admires.