The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Liz Cheney is the Obi-Wan to Trump’s Darth Vader

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) at the Jan. 6 committee hearing on July 21. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

Star Wars fans, remember that scene in “Episode IV: A New Hope” when Jedi master Obi-Wan Kenobi and Sith lord Darth Vader are light-sabering it out on the Death Star? Kenobi and Vader are monologuing over the crackle of their clashing weapons when Kenobi declares, “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” Then, in an act of self-sacrifice he hopes will hasten the destruction of the evil Empire, Kenobi allows Vader to do just that.

A version of this battle is playing out in real life with Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) as Kenobi and former president Donald Trump as Vader. Now, I realize that Cheney’s father, former vice president Dick Cheney, has traditionally been known as Darth Vader, what with the Iraq War and “enhanced interrogation” techniques and all that. But work with me, people.

Ever since Trump summoned a mob to the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in a failed effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election, Liz Cheney has made it her mission to destroy him. Well, by “destroy,” I mean hold him accountable for his violation of the Constitution and his oath to protect it — and ensure he never holds the high office ever again.

As the vice chair of the Jan. 6 committee, Cheney has been merciless in that endeavor. Her remarks at the beginning and the end of each of the eight public hearings were a warning to the nation and a clarion call to her fellow Republicans about the danger to the republic that Trump remains.

Follow Jonathan Capehart's opinionsFollow

And like any power-mad wannabe despot, Trump has targeted Cheney for political elimination. Not satisfied by her removal from Republican House leadership, Trump endorsed her GOP primary challenger, who leads her by a whopping 22 points. There you have Trump’s Vader-like striking down; that the official vanquishing won’t occur until Wyoming’s Aug. 16 primary doesn’t much matter.

But follow the analogy a little further: Cheney’s presumptive defeat won’t be the end of the story. As with Obi-Wan, it will make her more powerful than Trump and his enablers can possibly imagine. Thanks to her fearlessness against Trump in defense of the Constitution, the congresswoman from Wyoming’s lone district now has a national stature independent of her famous last name. And that has led to the inevitable and growing chatter that Cheney should run for president, which will only intensify once she is in all likelihood politically martyred.

When asked during a CNN interview this past week about the desire to run for president, Cheney insisted that her focus is on her primary. But, when asked about the possibility of Trump capturing the Republican nomination again, Cheney sounded like someone lacing up for the next fight. “He cannot be our nominee, and he certainly cannot ever be elected president again,” Cheney said. “I intend to be a big part of making sure that we protect the nation from the threat that he poses.”

After Obi-Wan died, he didn’t come back to beat Vader himself. Cheney, should she run, wouldn’t stand much of a chance of beating Trump. But the old Jedi rejoined the mystical Force, and it’s his energy that helped turn the tide of the war ravaging the galaxy. As a Force ghost, he also guided other opponents of the Empire in their resistance. Could Cheney do the same?

Right now, I can’t think of another Republican with the guts and ferocity to do a better job of challenging Trump (or the dime-store substitutes putting a smiley face on Trumpism). You hear names such as Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan or former New Jersey governor Chris Christie as possible entrants, but the former pales in comparison to Cheney and the latter is compromised by his work for Trump.

I never thought I’d say this, but I long for the days of the Republican Party that Cheney represents. The old-school GOP that championed limited government, fiscal restraint, and the defense of the ideals of democracy at home and abroad was far from perfect; the party’s social conservatism excluded millions of Americans who didn’t fit its cramped views of society. But even though the Cheney Republicans flirted with the fringe, they kept it at bay. Trump ushered the fringe into the mainstream.

Many of the former president’s acolytes have won primary races for various offices across the country that put them one election away from gaining real power to undermine the rule of law and fully destroy American democracy. These victories highlight Cheney’s immediate political peril, but they also reveal the urgency of her overall mission to stop Trump.

“If defending the Constitution against the threat that he poses means losing a House seat,” Cheney said in that CNN interview, “then that’s a sacrifice that I’m willing to make.”

The Force is strong with this one.

Follow Jonathan Capehart on Twitter: @Capehartj. Subscribe to “Capehart, his weekly podcast.