Discover more from Robert Reich
Liz Cheney and the future of the Republican Party
“Two years ago, I won this primary with 73% of the vote,” Liz Cheney said last night. “I could easily have done the same again. The path was clear. But it would've required that I go along with President Trump's lie about the 2020 election. It would've required that I enable his ongoing efforts to unravel our democratic system and attack the foundations of our republic. That was a path I could not and would not take.”
Cheney lost yesterday’s primary to Trump-endorsed Harriet Hageman, who received 65.8 percent of the vote to Cheney’s 29.5 percent.
The Trump Republican Party continues its purge of honest Republican lawmakers who refuse to go along with Trump’s Big Lie — the most dangerous lie in American history in terms of its consequences for Americans’ confidence in democracy.
After January, Liz Cheney will no longer be in Congress. But her role in American politics is not over. She is now the de facto leader of the Trump opposition — in the Republican Party and also, in a larger sense, in American politics.
Democratic leaders and candidates in the upcoming midterms are not focusing especially on Trump. They want to make the midterms (and I expect will want to make the 2024 election) about what Americans need in the future rather than on the threat to democracy posed by Trump. I understand and sympathize with this. But who is going to lead a pro-democracy movement without focusing on Trump?
Most other Republican lawmakers are too scared to take on Trump. They have given up the last shards of their integrity in exchange for gaining or holding power. Among the very few who have objected to him publicly, none has established nearly the prominence of Liz Cheney.
I expect that Cheney will run for the Republican nomination for president in 2024. If Trump is still alive and coherent, and most Republican voters are still deluded by him, she will lose. I hope she then runs as a third-party candidate for a new Republican Party that represents the best values of the old GOP — one that I recall from when Dwight Eisenhower was president.
My father was a Republican. So was my grandfather. The first administration I joined in Washington was Gerald Ford’s. One of my dearest friends is Alan Simpson, former senator from Wyoming.
But since Ronald Reagan became president, I’ve watched the Republican Party turn from a governing institution into a crazed cult. It is not just bent on returning America to what it was before the New Deal. It is now intent on turning America into an authoritarian nation. It represents a clear and present danger to the future of the United States and the world.
I have disagreed with Liz Cheney on almost all the substantive issues she has voted on while in Congress. But on the transcendent issue of democracy — the foundation on which all other issues depends — I salute her leadership, her dedication, and her commitment. And I grieve for the Republican Party that has lost her and lost what’s left of its moral authority.
For those of you who may be interested, here’s what Cheney had to say last night in full:
Thank you so much, it’s wonderful to see so many friends, family, and especially wonderful to be here on the beautiful Mead Ranch, and thank you so much, Brad and Kate, for that wonderful introduction. We really are in God’s Country and it’s wonderful to welcome so many here.
I want to say, first of all, a special thanks to every member of Team Cheney who is here in the audience, and to tell you our work is far from over. Among the many, many blessings that we have as Americans and as individuals and as human beings, the blessing of family is surely the most important, and so I want to thank all of my family and pay a special tribute to those who are here with us tonight. My mom and dad, Dick and Lynne Cheney. And my husband, Phil. And four of our five kids are here: Katie and Gracie and Phillip and Richard are all here tonight. And Elizabeth is starting law school today, so we'll have another generation carrying on dedication to the Constitution and to our freedom.
A little over a year ago, I received a note from a Gold Star father. He said to me, “standing up for truth honors all who gave all.” And I have thought of his words every single day since then. I’ve thought of them because they are a reminder of how we must all conduct ourselves. We must conduct ourselves in a way that is worthy of the men and women who wear the uniform of this nation, and, in particular, of those who have given the ultimate sacrifice. This is not a game. Every one of us must be committed to the internal defense of this miraculous experiment called America. And at the heart of our democratic process are elections. They are the foundational principle of our Constitution.
Two years ago, I won this primary with 73% of the vote. I could easily have done the same again. The path was clear. But it would've required that I go along with President Trump's lie about the 2020 election. It would've required that I enable his ongoing efforts to unravel our democratic system and attack the foundations of our republic. That was a path I could not and would not take.
No House seat, no office in this land is more important than the principles that we are all sworn to protect. And I well understood the potential political consequences of abiding by my duty. Our Republic relies upon the goodwill of all candidates for office. To accept, honorably, the outcome of elections. And tonight, Harriet Hageman has received the most votes in this primary. She won. I called her to concede the race. This primary election is over. But now the real work begins.
The great and original champion of our party, Abraham Lincoln, was defeated in elections for the Senate and the House before he won the most important election of all. Lincoln ultimately prevailed, he saved our union, and he defined our obligation as Americans for all of history. Speaking at Gettysburg of The Great Task remaining before us, Lincoln said, “that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain. That this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from this earth.” As we meet here tonight, that remains our greatest and most important task.
Most of world history is a story of violent conflict. Of servitude and suffering. Most people in most places have not lived in freedom. Our American freedom is a providential departure from history. We are the exception. We have been giving the gift of freedom by God and our Founding Fathers. It has been said that the long arc of history bends towards justice and freedom. That’s true, but only if we make it bend. Today, our highest duty is to bend the arc of history to preserve our nation and its blessings. To ensure that freedom will not perish. To protect the very foundations of this Constitutional Republic.
Never in our nation's 246 years have we seen what we saw on January 6th. Like so many Americans, I assumed that the violence and the chaos of that day would have prompted a united response. A recognition that this was a line that must never be crossed. A tragic chapter in our nation's history to be studied by historians to ensure that it can never happen again. But instead, major elements of my party still vehemently defend those who caused it. At the heart of the attack on January 6th is a willingness to embrace dangerous conspiracies that attack the very core premise of our nation. That lawful elections, reviewed by the courts when necessary and certified by the states and electoral college, determine who serves as president. If we do not condemn the conspiracies and the lies, if we do not hold those responsible to account, we will be excusing this conduct and it will become a feature of all elections. America will never be the same.
Today, as we meet here, there are Republican candidates for Governor who deny the outcome of the 2020 election and who may refuse to certify future elections if they oppose the results. We have candidates for Secretary of State who may refuse to report the actual results of the popular vote in future elections. And we have candidates for Congress, including here in Wyoming, who refuse to acknowledge that Joe Biden won the 2020 election and suggest that states decertify their results. Our nation is barreling, once again towards crisis, lawlessness, and violence. No American should support election deniers for any position of genuine responsibility where their refusal to follow the rule of law will corrupt our future.
Our nation is young in the history of mankind. And yet, we are the oldest democracy in the world. Our survival is not guaranteed. History has shown us, over and over again, how poisonous lies destroy free nations. Over the last several months in the January 6th hearings, the American people have watched dozens of Republicans, including the most senior officials. working for President Trump in the White House, the Justice Department, and on his campaign – people who served President Trump loyally – testify that they all told him the election was not stolen or rigged and there was no massive fraud.
That’s why President Trump and others invent excuses, pretexts, for people not to watch the hearings at all. But no citizen of this Republic is a bystander. All of us have an obligation to understand what actually happened. We cannot abandon the truth and remain a free nation. To believe Donald Trump's election lies, you must believe that dozens of federal and state courts who ruled against him – including many judges he appointed – were all corrupted and biased. That all manner of crazy conspiracy theories stole our election from us and that Donald Trump actually remains president today. As of last week, you must also believe that 30 career FBI agents, who have spent their lives working to serve our country, abandoned their honor and their oaths and went to Mar-A-Lago, not to perform a lawful search or address a national security threat, but instead, with a secret plan to plant fake incrementing documents and the boxes they seized. This is yet another insidious lie.
Donald Trump knows that voicing these conspiracies will provoke violence and threats of violence. This happened on January 6th and it’s now happening again. It is entirely foreseeable that the violence will escalate further. Yet he and others continue, purposely, to feed the danger. Today, our federal law enforcement is being threatened. A federal judge is being threatened. Fresh threats of violence are rising everywhere. And despite knowing all of this, Donald Trump recently released the names of the FBI agents involved in the search. That was purposeful and malicious. No patriotic American should excuse these threats or be intimidated by them. Our great nation must not be ruled by a mob provoked over social media.
Our duty as citizens of this Republic is not only to defend the freedom that has been handed down to us. We also have an obligation to learn from the actions of those who came before. To know the stories of grit and perseverance. Of the brave men and women who built and saved this Union. In the lives of these great Americans we find inspiration and purpose. In May of 1864, after years of war and a string of reluctant Union generals, Ulysses S. Grant met General Lee’s forces at the Battle of the Wilderness. In two days of heavy fighting, the Union suffered over 17,000 casualties. At the end of that battle General Grant faced a choice. Most assumed he would do what previous Union generals had done and retreat. On the evening of May 7th, Grant began to move. As the fires of the battle still smoldered, Grant rode to the head of the column, he rode to the intersection of Brock Road and Orange Plank Road, and there, as the men of his army watched and waited, instead of turning north back towards Washington and safety, Grant turned his horse south towards Richmond and the heart of Lee’s army. Refusing to retreat, he pressed on to victory.
Lincoln and Grant and all who fought in our nation's tragic civil war, including my own great-great-grandfathers, saved our union. Their courage saved freedom. And if we listen closely, they are speaking to us down the generations. We must not idly squander what so many have fought and died for. America has meant so much to so many because we are the best hope of freedom on earth. Last week in Laramie, a gentleman came up to me with tears in his eyes. “I am not an American,” he said, “but my children are. I grew up in Brazil. I know how fragile freedom is and we must not lose it here.” A few days ago, here in Jackson, a woman told me that her grandparents had survived Auschwitz. They found refuge in America. She said she was afraid that she had nowhere to go if freedom died here. Ladies and gentlemen, freedom must not, cannot, and will not die here.
We must be very clear eyed about the threat we face and about what is required to defeat it. I have said since January 6th that I will do whatever it takes to ensure Donald Trump is never again anywhere near the Oval Office, and I mean it.
This is a fight for all of us together. I’m a conservative Republican. I believe deeply in the principles and the ideals on which my party was founded. I love its history and I love what our party has stood for. But I love my country more.
So, I ask you tonight to join me. As we leave here, let us resolve that we will stand together - Republicans, Democrats, and Independents - against those who would destroy our Republic. They are angry and they are determined, but they have not seen anything like the power of Americans united in defense of our Constitution and committed to the cause of freedom. There is no greater power on this Earth and with God's help, we will prevail.
Thank you all. God bless you. God bless Wyoming. God bless the United States of America.