If we learned one thing after two generations of Cheneys in American politics, it is that they shoot their friends.
Exasperated Republicans decided this week that potshots from one of their own atop the incoming from Democrats and their media auxiliaries necessitated a change in leadership.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy confessed to a hot mic that he had “had it” with Liz Cheney. Steve Scalise, the Republican whip, openly backed New York’s Elise Stefanik to replace their scab-picking conference chair. The backbenchers came to similar conclusions about ejecting her earlier.
Cheney fostered the idea, eagerly boosted by the media, that her vote for Donald Trump’s impeachment led to this ugly divorce. But Republicans overwhelmingly voted for her to remain conference chair after she voted for Citizen Trump’s strange (à la Cromwell’s posthumous execution) February impeachment. A convenient narrative tramples on this inconvenient truth.
Liz Cheney certainly did her best to advance that narrative and repay political benefactor Kevin McCarthy with perfidy in the process, in Wednesday’s op-ed in the Washington Post (a curious place for a conservative to gain a forum).
There, ignoring the Obama administration’s Crossfire Hurricane effort to delegitimize Donald Trump’s election that naturally sowed the seeds for his 2020 bitterness, she writes, “Trump is seeking to unravel critical elements of our constitutional structure that make democracy work — confidence in the result of elections and the rule of law. No other American president has ever done this.” Both 46 and 44 did just that in response to 45. As that kid informs his indignant dad in that don’t-do-drugs commercial, “I learned it by watching you.”
Liz Cheney erred neither in condemning the riot nor in castigating Trump’s Ahab-like obsession over his loss but in remaining stuck in January 6 as the calendar moved on for the rest of us. Cheney’s position that Joe Biden legitimately beat Donald Trump, as readers of this column and the Spectator A.M. newsletter know, found endorsement here back in November. Trump lost by 74 electoral votes, after all, not seven. But that argument took place in the media, in courts, and in Congress more than four months ago. Cheney, perhaps more so than Trump, needs to get over this as a resolved question.
Putting the worst look for the Republican Party on a loop did not sit well with colleagues looking forward to retaking Congress in 2022. Calculated but appearing as though suffering from a case of political Tourette’s, Cheney kept returning to the sore but settled subject.
In February, regarding CPAC, she contradicted McCarthy’s endorsement of Trump addressing the event by saying, “I don’t believe that he should be playing a role in the future of the party or the country.” She excluded Trump from the speakers’ list from the annual Republican retreat held in Florida last month. As Republicans seek for a commission to investigate recent political violence, Cheney sides with Democrats in pushing to investigate only the political violence in which the president’s supporters engaged. She harped on January 6 to the New York Post last week and this week tweeted, “The 2020 presidential election was not stolen. Anyone who claims it was is spreading THE BIG LIE, turning their back on the rule of law, and poisoning our democratic system.” Then she wrote the Washington Post op-ed about an awful, embarrassing event that happened four months ago.
She acts a fifth columnist within the Republican Party for a non sequitur, nonstarter return to the Team America, World Police version of the GOP that prevailed in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Though close in terms of calendar, the anachronistic Bush–Cheney Republicanism, which left the party in tatters after the needless shedding of blood and treasure in pursuit of the fool’s errand of transforming the Muhammadan inhabitants of Mesopotamia into Vermont-style town meeting members, enjoying a resurgence seems about as likely as the Fighting Bob La Follette Progressive Wing or Roscoe Conkling’s Stalwarts mounting a serious challenge for control of the party.
And this affinity for both the “lost cause” and the “wrong cause” ironically unites Trump’s destructive case of sore loseritis that handed Democrats control of the Senate and Cheney’s attempt to revitalize the muscular Wilsonianism that nearly strangled the Republican Party to death in its fealty to it during John McCain and Mitt Romney’s presidential runs (before Trump returned the party to its people by untethering it from the trade, immigration, and foreign policies of the party’s recent past and reconnecting it to the principles of the party’s distant past).
Cheney seems intelligent enough to realize a return to the salad days of Team America, World Police requires the invention of a time machine — or at least that such an unlikely de-evolution takes more than a few election cycles. So what does she really chase? Her refusal to rule out a presidential run to the New York Post last week hints at the answer. She wants to play spoiler to prevent anyone who embraces a Trumpian foreign policy of restraint from again winning the presidency. Given her family name, conservative credentials (she boasts a solid voting record in the House), and this orchestrated martyrdom, she figures to pose a more challenging roadblock to overcome than, say, Evan McMullin did. Whether Cheney–Romney or Romney–Cheney or whatever displaced dauphins or dauphinesses of dynastic politics runs, the nation-builders now seek to meddle not in Iraq or Syria or Libya but in the internal workings of the Republican Party, an entity at least as foreign to them by this point as Afghanistan.
“We’ve traced the call,” Republicans on Capitol Hill heard ever more audibly in recent weeks. “It’s coming from inside the House.”
McCarthy, Scalise, and company finally figured out that the voice on the other line asking, “Have you checked the children?” referred to Dick Cheney’s eldest daughter (and the kids of George Romney, George H. W. Bush, Irving Kristol, and Frank Murkowski). They know how that movie goes and do not care to star in it.
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