Let me start by saying that Liz Cheney is not my favorite person. Heir to Dick Cheney, one of the foulest public figures of the last century, she was born on the wrong side of every issue.
Only rarely has she strayed from the toxic values of her father. She voted with Trump 93 percent of the time. Including the $2 trillion tax boondoggle of 2017, which no doubt added a few million to her own estate, and several multiples of that to her daddy’s.
That said, one can’t help but begrudgingly look on, with some tiny bit of admiration, at the limb she has intentionally — and with eyes wide open —slithered out on.
Unlike the Democrats on the Jan 6 committee — who are only trying to save democracy — Cheney has arguably a more difficult job. She seems to have taken it upon herself to be the one to take down Donald Trump. Or barring that, to exorcise him from the Republican party.
Both are tall orders, and to make them happen, she has to work closely with Democrats, whom she despises. And which, of course, makes her radioactive to Republicans. Which leaves her in a position where it would seem her only victories will be pyrrhic.
Maybe so, but ever since being named vice chair of that committee — a brilliant move on the part of the Democratic chair, Bennie Thompson — she has not been at all shy about her intentions. Far from standing in the shadows, she has arguably become the face of the committee, a snarling attack dog sicced on the whole Trump cabal — including his enablers at FOX — but especially on Trump himself.
When she snarls at Trump — into the Congressional record, mind you — she quotes from the statutes that Trump has allegedly violated, and they’re all doozies. She has the goods on him, and she’s waving them in his face. There are reports that Trump himself is seriously rattled, though I’m not sure how you’d tell.
Why is she doing this? What’s driving her behavior? A cynic might say she’s angling for a run at the presidency, but that would appear quixotic, at least for now.
But it’s almost as if she’s taken on the job of smacking Republicans upside the head, trying — against all odds — to get them to wake up and see what they’ve gotten themselves into.
Her open contempt for Jim Jordan is a beautiful thing. She has surely seen incriminating evidence against him — not to mention against Gosar, Gohmert, Meadows, Cawthorn, Brooks, and that whole seditionist clown car. They can only guess what she has on them — or what she’s going to do with it — and she’s content to keep them guessing. The committee is smartly ladling out the chum a few texts at a time, and that gives her enormous psychological power over the clowns, power that Democrats don’t have. A lot of them are facing prison time, and while they’re scared of the Democrats, they’re terrified of her.
This vendetta, if that’s what it is, carries no small risk on her part. She has made herself a pariah in her own party, and while she’s hoping that party can be turned in her direction — and away from Trump — she has to know how unlikely that is.
But while she has much to lose, I’m not sure it’s anything she cares about. She knows she’ll be primaried for her House seat in medieval Wyoming, where the Trumpies will be gunning for her, maybe even literally. But she doesn’t need the seat — she doesn’t even live there — and she won’t be needing wingnut welfare from the Kochs and Mercers either. She’s rich enough already.
But regardless of what she might lose, it’s not at all clear what she has to gain. I do believe she was deeply offended by the insurrection, as were most Republicans for about a week. They all changed their minds with embarrassing speed, but she didn’t. She was truly pissed, and she wasn’t afraid to let her own caucus know it.
But beyond that, and beyond an improbable run for president, where is she going with this?
I’m guessing there are a significant number of Republicans in both houses of Congress who are secretly — and very quietly — rooting for her. That would probably include Mitch McConnell, as well as all the old-line, so-called “moderate” Republicans — Collins, Murkowski, Romney, et. al. — none of whom were ever even slightly moderate. Let’s call them the “corporatist” wing of the party. The wing that keeps the billionaire donors happy.
This wing is characterized mostly by what they’re not, which is batshit crazy Trumpies. They’re the white-shoe country club crowd. They’ve always stood for tax cuts, deregulation, and anything they can lie about to make those happen. They have as much contempt for the Trump base as Trump himself has. They have long seethed in silence, even as they’ve kissed Trump’s ring. They’re infuriated at being forced to perpetuate his lies, as opposed to their own.
These are people who, vile as they are, are nonetheless capable of understanding the consequences of the country’s current descent into chaos, even if they’re too craven and corrupt to acknowledge it out loud.
They do, for example, understand that screwing around with the debt ceiling amounts to fiscal suicide. More than that, they understand that their billionaire donors are heavily dependent on a fiscally sound US government to enable their continued looting of the country. Cheney might be their last hope before the crazies take over the party, and maybe even the country, completely. When that happens, nobody is safe, including them. The crazies would probably execute McConnell and Cheney, even before Pelosi.
Cheney gets this. She has a realistic view of what’s at stake in a violent insurrection, and she gets that the next one will be bigger and bloodier. Not that she has a problem with violence per se — her daddy was as bloodthirsty a warmonger as they come — but she gets that it makes no sense to burn down the system that makes her family and friends so rich and powerful.
Seen through this lens, McConnell’s bizarre half-nods to the committee last week make a certain sense. When he says things like "I think the fact-finding is interesting” — which is what passes for a ringing endorsement from Mitch — we could see this as a sign, however oblique, of solidarity with Cheney.
And why not? Mitch loathes the House Freedom Caucus, and he’d love nothing more than to see its founder, Mark Meadows, led off in handcuffs. Actually, there is something he would love even more: seeing Trump himself in the same paddy wagon. They’ve been giving Mitch fits for years, and it’s not hard to imagine him giving Cheney a thumbs-up under the table.
Even so, she’s put a target on her own back, both figuratively and literally. Yes, she has subpoena power, which makes the Jan 6 plotters tremble. But she has no visible allies and a bunch of new and dangerous enemies.
So unless she wants to become a Democrat — and she’d rather drink Lysol — she’s gambling that she can bring down the whole Trumpian house of cards and make the world safe for daddy’s cronies again.
It’s hard to imagine her pulling that off, but it puts her, perversely, on my side. I don’t trust her for a minute, but I’m wishing her well in her current endeavor.