For the past 11 months, Rep. Liz Cheney has been the face and the voice of the House Jan. 6 committee. Like the Greek goddess of retribution, Nemesis, she has brought down her hammer on former President Donald Trump and the Trumpified GOP, delivering blows in the form of truth. As the committee accumulated information, it was she who divulged selected segments to the public. She was the face and voice of accountability.
Last December, Cheney was the one who read out those damning text messages exchanged between Fox News hosts and Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows.
She quoted Sean Hannity: “Can he make a statement? ... Ask people to leave the Capitol?” She quoted Brian Kilmeade: “Please get him on tv. Destroying everything you guys have accomplished.” She cited texts from Laura Ingraham fretting that Trump was “destroying his legacy.” She quoted from Donald Trump Jr., too. Apparently lacking a direct channel to his father, Jr. was furiously texting Meadows, “He’s got to condemn this s--t. ASAP. The Capitol Police tweet is not enough.”
Cheney read these aloud during a committee meeting, and then intoned, “Still, President Trump did not immediately act.” There followed more frantic text exchanges with members of Congress afraid for their lives and more urgent pleas from Trump Jr. “It has gone too far and gotten out of hand.” Cheney paused again and noted, “But hours passed without the necessary action by the president.”
It was Cheney, accompanied only by her father, who showed up for the House commemoration of the one-year anniversary of Jan. 6. With the exception of the exceptional Cheneys, the entire Republican side of the House was empty that morning.
It was Cheney who, after the racist atrocity in Buffalo, New York, spoke the truth about the GOP’s coddling of the Great Replacement Theory. As recently as 2017, the Great Replacement Theory was the province of neo-Nazis and kooks. When the Charlottesville marchers chanted, “The Jews will not replace us,” most people had no idea what they were talking about. By 2022, Tucker Carlson touts the Great Replacement explicitly on his cable show, and Rep. Elise Stefanik, who replaced Cheney as the chair of the House Republican Conference last May, has run Facebook ads incorporating the idea.
Over a reflection of migrants crossing the border in President Joe Biden’s sunglasses, one ad reads: “Radical Democrats are planning their most aggressive move yet: a PERMANENT ELECTION INSURRECTION. Their plan to grant amnesty to 11 MILLION illegal immigrants will overthrow our current electorate and create a permanent liberal majority in Washington.”
Note the shameless use of the term “insurrection.” Always go on offense. Stefanik, like 99% of Republicans, has learned to love aggression, revel in trolling and despise honor.
Cheney responded with unadorned reality: “The House GOP leadership has enabled white nationalism, white supremacy and antisemitism. History has taught us that what begins with words ends in far worse.”
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It’s a nightmare from which we never seem to wake. Retiring Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who also agreed to serve on the Jan. 6 Committee over Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s objections, has been similarly honest about the GOP’s dalliance with white supremacy and racism.
Kinzinger is not seeking reelection against a Trump-backed challenger, but Cheney is soldiering on. Unseating her is a top Trump priority, and a recent poll found her lagging her challenger by 30 points. Unimaginative people ask, “What’s her endgame? She’s going to lose, so what was this all about?”
Well, for those who couldn’t see it, she has explained what this is about. It’s about her love for this “incredible jewel, this incredible blessing of a country.” It’s about the “danger of this moment.” It’s about her reverence for the Constitution that several generations of Cheneys have fought to defend. Here is how she explained it in February:
“Republicans used to advocate fidelity to the rule of law and the plain text of the Constitution. In 2020, Mr. Trump convinced many to abandon those principles. ... The Jan. 6 investigation isn’t only about the inexcusable violence of that day: It is also about fidelity to the Constitution and the rule of law, and whether elected representatives believe in those things or not.”
Those words will ring hollow to the Trumpified GOP who have lost the capacity to love their country more than their party. But for many of us, they rekindle a spark of hope that some leaders will serve as a saving remnant.
Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the “Beg to Differ” podcast. Her most recent book is “Sex Matters: How Modern Feminism Lost Touch with Science, Love, and Common Sense.”
© 2022 Creators Syndicate