The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Liz Cheney offered a defense of democracy. Jim Jordan dismissed it as ‘Democrat talking points.’

There’s a difference between a ‘democratic’ and a ‘Democratic’ talking point

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said during a speech on the House floor on May 11 that "remaining silent and ignoring the lie emboldens the liar." (Video: The Washington Post)

There’s no real debate over the reason that the House Republican caucus ousted Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) from its leadership team. Cheney has not only refused to accept former president Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was tainted by fraud. She has also been vocal in her refusal.

This principled obstinance has been presented as unhelpfully divisive and a failure of leadership as part of the effort to remove her from her position as chair of the Republican conference. The reality, of course, is that the failures of leadership lie elsewhere.

On Tuesday evening, Cheney spoke from the House floor, again articulating why she felt this issue was worthy of her focus. She spoke about her years of work on behalf of the U.S. government, experience she described as having cemented the importance of free and fair elections as a democratic and American value.

“Today, we face a threat America has never seen before,” she said. “A former president who provoked a violent attack on this Capitol in an effort to steal the election has resumed his aggressive effort to convince Americans that the election was stolen from him. He risks inciting further violence. Millions of Americans have been misled by the former president. They have heard only his words but not the truth, as he continues to undermine our democratic process, sowing seeds of doubt about whether democracy really works at all.”

She later explained why she felt it was important to not only object to Trump’s efforts, but to speak about against them.

“Remaining silent and ignoring the lie emboldens the liar. I will not participate in that,” she said. “I will not sit back and watch in silence while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former president’s crusade to undermine our democracy.”

“I am a conservative Republican,” Cheney said at another point, “and the most conservative of conservative principles is reverence for the rule of law.”

It’s important to note that Cheney’s description of Trump’s response to losing the election is incontrovertibly true. He did provoke the attack, by fomenting the falsehood that the election was stolen, by encouraging people to come to Washington on Jan. 6 and by then telling attendees at a rally to march to the Capitol.

Millions have been misled by Trump and by a conservative media universe — social and professional — that abets his dishonesty. Trump’s ongoing claims are clearly centered on some form of psychological soothing, but the effect is, as Cheney pointed out, to undermine democracy itself without a shred of credible evidence to support it.

For the most part, members of the right-wing ecosystem hoping to sell themselves to his supporters, politicians and TV networks alike, have either embraced Trump’s false claims, neutered them or tried not to talk about them. We can see that reflected in Fox News, which has not embraced Trump’s assertions as eagerly as further-right networks such as Newsmax. CNN and MSNBC have covered Cheney’s travails far more than Fox, since they can directly point out the fact that Trump is spreading nonsense without alienating their viewership.

On Tuesday night, though, after Cheney spoke, the subject did come up on the network. Host Laura Ingraham interviewed Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a stalwart Trump ally, asking him for his opinion of Cheney’s speech.

“You can’t have the Republican conference chair reciting Democrat talking points,” Jordan began. He later added that “you want our party spokesperson to be in tune with more than a single-digit percentage of the party. Ninety-seven percent of the party disagree with Congresswoman Cheney.”

It’s not clear what data point Jordan is citing there, but it is at least true that most Republicans think that Biden didn’t win the election legitimately, despite the utter lack of credible evidence — much less any rationale — for thinking that’s the case.

But it’s that first response from Jordan that’s remarkable. Cheney’s insistences that Republican leaders need to confront Trump’s lies aimed at undermining the election results are dismissed as “Democrat talking points,” a lazy rebuttal that’s functionally equivalent to calling Cheney a “never Trumper” — which is surely imminent, if it hasn’t already emerged. Cheney’s argument was centered in her conservatism — a conservatism, incidentally, that’s more clearly demonstrated than much of her caucus. Yet because the true mark of loyalty in the party at this point is fealty to Trump, her assertions are dismissed as being nothing more than left-wing patter.

Ingraham offered a bit of evidence to prove how detached from the party Cheney had become.

“How is anything she’s saying different from any garden-variety left-wing pundit on MSNBC?” Ingraham replied. “I mean, they’re literally citing her every morning on MSNBC and talking about her plight and how courageous she is. If Republicans are getting praised by that crowd, isn’t that kind of an obvious that’s not the person you want leading the party?”

Say what you will about MSNBC, but casting a rejection of objectively false claims about the election and the dangers that follow such claims as nothing more than left-wing punditry is bizarre. But this is a great example of how the right-wing universe folds in on itself: Cheney is praised by MSNBC and therefore she must be wrong. The embrace by opponents is itself offered as evidence that she’s wrong. It’s why Jordan described her speech as “Democrat talking points” in the first place.

Before the caucus voted to remove Cheney from her leadership position on Wednesday morning, she addressed her colleagues briefly.

“If you want leaders who will enable and spread his destructive lies, I’m not your person. You have plenty of others to choose from,” she reportedly said. “That will be their legacy.”

One might obviously include Jordan among the targets of that line. Cheney is making a point about leadership, that it is the job of elected leaders to help guide their electorates, not simply to respond to them. The latter is easier, especially with Trump huffing away somewhere out in the shadows. So that’s the path that many Republican officials have chosen.

Fox News addressed the Cheney ouster on Wednesday morning, too. The hosts of “Fox & Friends” asked one of the network’s newest paid contributors to opine on the situation.

“Look, there are 75 million Americans out there that voted for President Donald Trump that still have a lot of questions about this election,” she said. “We can’t just let it go. We can’t just sweep it under the rug.”

She offered her endorsement of Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), the likely successor to Cheney as conference chair.

“I know they’re going to vote on it,” the Fox contributor said, “but I think Elise Stefanik would be incredible. She’s been a great supporter of Republican and conservative values, a great supporter of my father-in-law.”

Yes, father-in-law. The person Fox News asked to weigh in on the ouster of Liz Cheney for confronting the party’s toxic embrace of Trump’s election falsehoods was his daughter-in-law, Lara Trump.