Another Cheney Loses Another War
Liz Cheney has lost her war against former President Donald Trump, but refuses to admit it. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
It’s fall on Notre Dame’s campus. The sugar maples are deep hues of red and orange, with some golden standouts. Dappled others cling onto their green, not yet accepting that the weather has turned toward winter. Every other year since 2016, this has been the season when Congresswoman Liz Cheney is on the trail back in her home state in Wyoming, preparing to sail through another election for the state’s lone seat in the House.
But Cheney isn’t in Wyoming. On August 16, she lost her primary to Harriet Hageman, a lawyer who earned the decisive endorsement of President Donald Trump. It wasn’t close, either. Cheney managed to secure just under 29 percent, amounting to 49,000 votes. Hageman took more than 66 percent of the vote with just over 113,000. So Cheney is here, in South Bend, Indiana, refusing to admit she has lost her war on the former president. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
Cheney's October 14 lecture to students and faculty, "Saving Democracy by Revering the Constitution,” offered very little about what American democracy actually is, and even less on how revering the Constitution will save it. Rather, her address was mostly an anti-Trump tirade, focused on January 6 and what she has done with her colleagues on the January 6 Select Committee.
“One of the most important things that we all have to do is commit—individually, ourselves—to educate ourselves, to know what information we're consuming, and to face the truth and to face facts. There are some crucially important facts that I want to talk about today. And that is the threat posed by Donald Trump,” Cheney said, launching into her broadside against the former president. "It is an ongoing and real threat.”
To Cheney, getting rid of Trump is a panacea to all our nation’s current ills, and preventing him from holding political power (even if the people will it) is vital to saving democracy and the constitution. How that is democratic or constitutional, Cheney refused to elaborate. Instead, she pleaded with the audience who have not watched the Hollywood-produced January 6 hearings to “download them and watch them,” and denied that the committee and its proceedings were partisan in any way.
Trump, Cheney said, based on the committee’s findings, “had a premeditated plan. A premeditated plan to declare victory, no matter the outcome of the election, no matter the results, a premeditated plan to do so.”
Despite the counsel of some of his advisors, Cheney claimed that Trump
made the conscious decision to claim fraudulently that the election was stolen. He made the decision to pressure state officials to change results. He made the decision to manufacture, to work, to pressure state officials and Republican Party officials in a number of states to manufacture fake electoral slates, to attempt to corrupt the Department of Justice, and to summon tens of thousands of people to Washington, D.C. And then when they got to Washington, D.C., on the morning of January 6, he knew they were angry. And he knew they were armed. And he sent them to march to the Capitol.
Later, Professor Phillip Muñoz, the founding director of Notre Dame’s Center for Citizenship & Constitutional Government, which hosted the Cheney lecture, asked Cheney point blank: “Do you think Donald Trump broke the law on or around January 6? If so, what laws? And so should he be criminally prosecuted?”
In her response, Cheney hinted yes, but could offer no real answer. She said, “I think there's no question about the answer,” but “the committee has a responsibility to make decisions about criminal referrals. And I, of course, have my own views about that.” Nevertheless, Cheney said, “I don't want to get ahead of the committee's discussions on it.”
Of course, the January 6 Committee will try to go forward with some sort of criminal referral for Trump. But Cheney couldn’t offer a single law that the committee is mulling. In all of the various attempts to toss Trump behind bars, from Russiagate to his first impeachment to supposed violations of the emoluments clause, Trump’s enemies—even though they didn’t have the goods—have never shied away from making claims that Trump broke the law. What does that suggest about the committee’s findings?
Furthermore, despite all her talk about the evils of "election denialism" and insurrection, Cheney neglected to mention Democrats who denied the results of the presidential election in 2000 or 2004 (elections you’d think a Cheney would remember quite well), or 2016, as well as other contentious statewide elections. The 2018 Georgia gubernatorial race comes to mind. She also didn't mention the Black Lives Matter and Antifa riots in nearly every major U.S. metro area throughout the summer of 2020, which besieged government buildings and took the lives of dozens.
Her description of Statuary Hall in the immediate aftermath of January 6 is telling:
As I walked in that evening, sitting against every statue, and around all the walls, were men and women in SWAT gear, in tactical gear, who had just fought for hours for our democracy, for our Capitol, for the lives of those of us who were there. There were water bottles spread across the floor—water they were drinking, water they've been using to wash away the tear gas, the other irritants. And I walked around and I tried to say thank you, I tried to thank them. And, of course, my words felt inadequate.
January 6 participants and Capitol police had moved some furniture throughout the complex. Yes, some windows were broken. But notice that the statues of our national heroes weren’t vandalized, defaced, or decapitated. Their brass bodies weren’t toppled, cracking the marble floors beneath them. One is left to wonder how many would be left if the election hadn’t gone Democrats' way.
Cheney's descriptions veered even further into melodrama: “The battle [on January 6] was medieval, was hand to hand combat. I talked to one police officer that night who told me he served in Iraq, and he had never seen anything like the combat that he saw that day.”
Liz Cheney swears that she, too, was in a war zone for a few hours on January 6, 2021. A war zone even worse than America's decades-long wars in the Middle East, started by her father and George W. Bush, which took the lives of more than 7,000 American troops. Over 1,500 more came home with one or more limbs blown off. The number of U.S. service members and veterans of the war on terror who have committed suicide has eclipsed 30,000 and continues to climb every day.
It soon came time for the question-and-answer portion of the lecture. In typical form for these kinds of events, many of the questions weren’t questions at all, but long comments on politics that ended with a "yes or no" that the student had already answered for himself.
Others took the mic to offer Cheney their admiration—not “normie” Republicans or squishy conservatives, but progressive Democrats. (How far the campus left has fallen, to wash the feet of a Cheney, openly and unapologetically.)
Two students asked particularly good questions, however. Nico Schmitz, a junior from Pasadena, California, said, “you spoke about the truth and standing for your beliefs,” but then cited Cheney’s recent voting record on pro-life issues, namely her decision to not vote on the Women's Health Protection Act and her vote in favor of the Right to Contraception Act. “I was wondering if your position on abortion and your pro-life stance has changed over the last few months, maybe since breaking with the party establishment,” Schmitz asked.
“My views on the matter have not changed. I'm pro-life. And I'm proudly and strongly pro-life,” Cheney replied, before pivoting to the fact that she believes in exceptions, citing the recent incident involving a ten-year-old rape victim from Ohio who received an abortion in Indiana. (Cheney made no mention of the fact that the perpetrator of this heinous crime was an illegal alien.) The congresswoman said the debate that surrounded the Indiana incident was “shameful,” and broader debates surrounding the issue of abortion are often filled with “vitriol.”
Shri Thakur, a freshman, asked Cheney the following:
You initially ran your first campaign on preserving traditional marriage, and specifically protections for religious institutions, such as Catholic churches that object to same sex marriage. In light of that, can you explain your vote for the Respect for Marriage Act, which redefined marriage, or codified the redefinition of marriage, and eliminated those conscience objections?
“I believe strongly in religious freedom,” Cheney replied. “I also believe that freedom has to be freedom for everybody,” Cheney said to a raucous applause.
I caught up with Thakur after the lecture concluded to see what he thought of Cheney’s response. Cheney thinks freedom means freedom for everybody, but “clearly not for January 6 defendants or Iraqi kids,” Thakur shot back.
“But I'll say this,” Thakur went on to say. “[Cheney’s answer] doesn't make any sense, because what is the freedom for? The freedom to marry. But that begs the question: what is marriage in the first place? And it's a question she doesn't have an answer to.”
After the lecture was over, the audience gave Cheney a long, standing ovation. Except for a group of students sitting behind me, Schmitz among them. Once outside, I asked them why they did not feel moved by Cheney’s speech.
Luke Thompson, a junior, said her speech “really demonstrated why people are so attached to Trump.”
“She is a member of our political elite class and she clearly flip-flopped on every major issue when it was politically convenient,” Thompson added. “So, she unintentionally demonstrated why people are so attached to Trump, because he is somebody that actually stood up for their beliefs, what they wanted, their policy preferences, rather than just kind of giving lip service to them. It’s the opposite of what she did in Congress.”
John Soza, a sophomore, said, “I think it was just interesting how she wouldn't address anything with regard to the Russia investigation and how that related to accepting election results. If we're going to be consistent, she should be just as upset that the liberals didn't accept the results of the election in 2016.”
Junior Elizabeth Hale’s answer to my question was succinct: “I just can't applaud pro-lifers who don't vote against abortion.”
I asked Muñoz the center’s reasoning for bringing Cheney to campus. “The Center for Citizenship and Constitutional Government regularly hosts these kinds of events to give students and the Notre Dame community access to some of the most prominent political figures and minds in the country,” Muñoz said. “As important as hosting Liz Cheney’s lecture for the center’s purposes is that our Tocqueville fellows had a lunch seminar with the Congresswoman that was more casual and more interpersonal.”
“Agree or disagree with Liz Cheney,” Muñoz continued, “you cannot deny that Congresswoman Cheney and the Cheney family have been prominent fixtures of Washington for the last half century. She knows how Washington works, and that knowledge can help shape the next diplomat, justice, senator, or possibly even president that gets their degree from Notre Dame.”
Professor Matthew Hall, the director of the Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy, which co-hosted the event with the Center for Citizenship and Constitutional Government, told TAC via email that “her message echoed the core values that we try to instill in our students—faith, patriotism, and the willingness to stand up for truth and democracy, even when it requires personal sacrifice.”
Personally, Hall found Cheney’s speech ”extremely persuasive.”
“I believe the true threat to American democracy is not Donald Trump himself,” Hall said, deviating a bit from Cheney’s focus on Trump the man, “but the collection of ideas he represents and amplifies: support for conspiracy thinking over objective facts, for hatred over equal respect, and for a cult of authoritarian personality over the democratic process.”
Muñoz made a good host for the event. He interacted politely with Cheney, but wasn’t afraid to challenge her from the right. Before the question-and-answer portion was opened to students, Muñoz asked, “What would you say to those conservatives who might say something like the following: 'Yes, I know Trump lacks the character to be president. I don't really like him much. But at least he stood up to the woke mob and the cultural elite. And he defends folks like us who are traditionally religious. At least he fought for us and gave voice to us that establishment Republicans never have and never seem to do.'”
In my email correspondence with Hall, he said Muñoz’s question:
highlights a key reality driving the current political climate: Things are worse for a large segment of the American population than they were 20 or 40 years ago. Wages are not growing with the GDP. Life expectancy is actually getting shorter. There is good reason for many Americans to feel skeptical that their children will be better off than they were. Trump was able to tap into that sentiment in powerful ways, but he did so by using the oldest trick in the political playbook: blame people who look different.
“Well, I’d have a lot to say to those people,” Cheney shot back in response to Muñoz’s question, condescendingly cocking her head to the left and folding her hands. The audience let out a laugh and jeered at these hypothetical Trump supporters. “There's nothing Christian or faithful in any religion about someone who sits by and allows violence that he sparked to occur and refuses to take action to stop it,” Cheney said. (I, too, pray for her father’s soul.)
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“The response to wokeism cannot be that conservatives torch the Constitution," she continued. "And we have to be able to maintain our fidelity to the Constitution, because the Constitution is our shield. And if we abandon it, because following it doesn't lead to the outcome that we prefer, then we will not have it as a shield when we are faced with threats to our First Amendment rights or Second Amendment rights or any of the rights that are protected by the Constitution."
The Constitution’s greatest product, Cheney seems to think, is our current regime, defined by a revolving door of the party establishments’ chosen political dynasties. Every four years, they feign disgust for one another, fighting on stage for a rubber stamp from the American people, though not much separate them in terms of policy. Then it ends, and everyone goes back to being friends. There is enough power, money, and influence to go around.
Actual reverence for the Constitution requires the death of the neoliberal political dynasties that have trampled on it. While some (including Donald Trump) might give Ted Cruz’s father some credit for the downfall of the Kennedys, the most prolific slayer of America’s dirty dynasties has been none other than Donald Trump—first the Bushes, then the Clintons, now the Cheneys.