In the wake of the deadly January 6 raid on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of Donald Trump, some Republicans have broken away to support impeachment or otherwise criticize the president for catalyzing the mob. Leading the charge, according to some dewy-eyed commentators, are former Vice President Dick Cheney and his scion, Congresswoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming.
There are indeed signs of fracture in the GOP, and it may well expand into a real fissure—perhaps, a militant Trumpist faction versus a pro-corporate, neocon wing. But a resurgence of the latter is hardly cause for celebration. It would herald merely another form of right-wing violence—literal and figurative—against Americans and foreigners alike.
Zombie Cheney has stalked back into Washington’s imagination thanks to a letter he reportedly organized, featuring the signatures of every living former defense secretary, that took the radical position of opposing a military coup. “Efforts to involve the U.S. armed forces in resolving election disputes would take us into dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional territory,” the January 3 letter reads. “Civilian and military officials who direct or carry out such measures would be accountable, including potentially facing criminal penalties, for the grave consequences of their actions on our republic.”
The letter won Cheney some praise. “Bravo,” tweeted The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin, a sop to any anti-Trump Republican. “Dick Cheney, people. Dick Cheney.” Never mind that he’s a war criminal who helped make torture, black sites, and other illegal acts a routine part of American foreign policy.
But it’s Cheney’s 54-year-old daughter, Liz, the third-highest-ranking Republican in the House, who has captured the hearts of Never Trumpers with her statement, on Tuesday, condemning the president and supporting his removal from office. “There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution,” said the daughter of a man who facilitated the illegal invasion of Iraq and the shredding of Americans’ civil liberties.
The announcement attracted even more acclaim from gullible political commentators than her father’s epistolary flourish had. Rubin wrote that Cheney “may have redeemed herself and a segment of the Republican Party,” adding, “In bold terms, she and other Republicans … implicitly chastise members of their party who egged on the mob.” There is, of course, nothing “bold” about implicitly chastising colleagues: Cheney never names names in her statement; it’s tantamount to a subtweet.
Other members of this chorus included Chris Cillizza, who called Cheney “the conscience” of the Republicans. And The Bulwark—the Never Trump publication founded by Bill Kristol, who could be described as an accessory to the disasters of the Bush years—said it was “Liz Cheney’s finest hour,” claiming she put the country’s interests over her own political ambitions.
Cheney, a former State Department official who has served in the House since 2019, has clashed with Trump before. Along with members of both parties, she criticized Trump’s proposed military withdrawal from various theaters. She supported mask-wearing and quarantines designed to keep the virus in check. She opposed Republican efforts to overturn the election results. And there’s little doubt that Trump made Cheney a target for potentially violent attack. “We got to get rid of the weak congresspeople, the ones that aren’t any good, the Liz Cheneys of the world,” said Trump during the rally that preceded the Capitol riot. But Cheney and Trump sometimes see eye to eye—notably, on the matter of resuming torture of military detainees.
In her column praising Liz Cheney, Jennifer Rubin wrote that if the GOP doesn’t kick out seditionist members, “the party will continue to shed support, donors and, most of all, legitimacy.” But the Republican Party has already ceased to be legitimate, and lonely, compromised voices of supposed conscience are powerless to change the party’s course. The bulk of Republicans in Congress support overturning the election result and even outright sedition—and those are just their most recent offenses. The twenty-first-century legacy of the GOP also includes voter suppression, gerrymandering, racist incitement, rejection of democratic electoral processes, a fondness for forever wars, and total disregard for the devastation wreaked by the pandemic.
As for Cheney herself, she has called Democrats “the party of anti-Semitism, the party of infanticide, the party of socialism”—hardly the stuff of a good-faith oppositionist with whom Democrats can cooperate on matters of larger concern to the country. The Cheneys’ interests may partly align with Democrats’ at the moment, but the family has, in its decades in the halls of American power, contributed little to the common good and done tremendous damage to human rights (to say nothing of humans themselves). The Trump era has been hell. But so would Cheneyism redux be.