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Opinion Liz Cheney’s harsh takedown of Trump’s 2022 candidates draws blood

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Every now and then, Republicans will publicly acknowledge dark truths about the inclinations of the GOP base with useful candor. For instance, when Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) came under fire for anti-Muslim bigotry not long ago, she defended herself by blithely suggesting that in this regard, she speaks for “the base of the party.”

Something similar just happened with two of Donald Trump’s favorite 2022 gubernatorial candidates: Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania and Kari Lake in Arizona. At a critical moment in the battle to save U.S. democracy, they’ve essentially declared: Yes, it’s true we’re full-blown election conspiracists who will enthusiastically subvert future elections. So what? In this we speak for the GOP base!

All this was prompted by a harsh broadside from Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) over the weekend in which she declared that Mastriano and Lake have no business anywhere near power. This is drawing blood: It sparked a response that dramatizes the threat they pose to U.S. democracy, in a way that has direct relevance to the debate in Congress over how to safeguard against a future coup attempt.

Cheney singled out Mastriano and Lake at a Texas gathering on Saturday. She warned voters to “do your part to make sure that people who believe in what the election deniers are saying, the people who would tear the republic down, don’t get power.”

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Cheney also ripped into Lake as “dangerous” and denounced Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin for his plans to campaign for Lake. Cheney said: “That’s the kind of thing we cannot see in our party.”

And Cheney declared that to protect the sanctity of elections in Pennsylvania, “we have to make sure Mastriano doesn’t win.” She said selecting people who won’t certify the results would amount to “putting the republic at risk.”

We need this threat dramatized right now. On Tuesday, a Senate committee will advance a bill to revise the Electoral Count Act of 1887, fixing flaws that Trump exploited in 2020, leading to the worst outbreak of U.S. political violence in modern times.

You couldn’t invent a more alarming reminder of the need for these reforms than the Terrible Trumpist Two of Mastriano and Lake. Either as governor would be well positioned to execute precisely the election-theft scheme that reform would guard against.

To execute that plot, a corrupt GOP governor of a swing state set to decide the outcome could certify electors for Trump or an imitator in defiance of the state’s popular vote. A GOP-controlled House could count those fake electors.

Mastriano and Lake have made it crystal clear that they’d likely attempt such a scheme if the occasion arose. A GOP House populated by an expanded MAGA caucus would surely do its part. Electoral Count Act reforms advancing in the Senate and House would make that much harder, which is why reform is critical.

But an added guarantee would be to keep Lake and Mastriano out of power forever so that they can’t even attempt any election theft at all. And helpfully enough, the Lake and Mastriano camps have stepped forth to confirm the point.

Lake, for instance, claimed that Cheney’s opposition was akin to a favor, suggesting it would galvanize GOP voters behind Lake’s cause. Lake sneered of Cheney: “Turns out she really is a Democrat after all.”

Similarly, Mastriano responded by approvingly sharing a social media post encouraging Cheney to become a Democrat and campaign against him. What’s more, Mastriano recently reiterated that as governor, he’d have the power to appoint the secretary of state, giving him “direct control” over elections.

Can anyone doubt that in describing Cheney as a Democrat, Lake and Mastriano are saying something about today’s GOP that they actually mean? Demanding an unequivocal commitment to respecting future election outcomes reveals Cheney as fundamentally opposed to the GOP cause as they understand it.

For Lake and Mastriano, apparently, the Trumpified GOP’s identity really does rest on a tacit promise to treat future losses as subject to nullification. It’s hard to imagine what could make a clearer case for revising the Electoral Count Act against their future schemes than this.

All this goes to the core of Cheney’s big argument with her party.

Many Republicans lie somewhere between Cheney on one hand and Lake and Mastriano on the other. Youngkin, for instance, humored Trump’s lies about 2020 — but without going full insurrectionist — to keep the Trump base energized. This continues today: As the New York Times’s Jamelle Bouie points out, Youngkin campaigns for the likes of Lake precisely because speaking to the base’s election denialism is essential to any future presidential hopes.

Cheney’s case, by contrast, is that all Republicans tempted to play Youngkin’s sordid game must unequivocally renounce the insurrectionist spirit within the party, no matter the cost among Trump voters. Republicans must admit that humoring Trump in any sense is inseparable from lending aid and comfort to that insurrectionism. All this must be purged — decisively and irreversibly — for the GOP to remain an actor in a democracy.

Alas, Republicans apparently have little interest in affirming any such commitment. Which means it falls to pro-democracy majorities to rouse themselves to defeat Lake and Mastriano. The Terrible Trumpist Two have themselves displayed the urgency of this imperative as clearly as anyone could ask for.