I’ve spent years admiring Liz Cheney. Her ascent to Congress in 2016 was a satisfying extension of a public life that had already led many to identify her as an important voice for conservatism. Her unapologetic clarity made her a pleasure to watch in the middle of the Obama years during her frequent appearances on Fox News.
Her service as Wyoming’s lone member of Congress has been no less impressive, as she has rocketed to the top levels of Republican leadership, installed after her first re-election as Chair of the House Republican Conference, third-ranking Republican in the chamber.
With a path this promising and a future this bright, it is impossible to fathom what led her to mortgage an entire political career by joining the malicious and baseless impeachment effort against Donald Trump, a doomed exploit that attracted the confused enthusiasm of nine other Republicans.
Reaction was swift and decisive. From the ranks of congressional Republicans to no small number of Wyoming voters, her fitness for that leadership position fell into immediate question. She attracted sharp criticism from many former allies, and also attracted an instant primary opponent.
Appearing on Fox Wednesday morning, she was asked immediately about the impeachment gambit. This was an opportunity to explain to a nation of baffled supporters her reasons for joining the ranks of Trump critics who believe he is responsible for the January 6 Capitol riots.
It did not go well.
“All of us have an obligation to the Constitution, an obligation to do what we believe is right, what our oath compels us to do,” she began. “It is above politics, above partisanship.”
This was the same tired index card wielded a year ago by every Democrat lamely stretching to justify the first Trump impeachment. Refusing to explain the merits of their objections, they floated the fiction that they had no choice in the matter—that the infamous Ukrainian phone call was a matter of such objective gravity that impeachment became a moral imperative.
This was, of course, nonsense. All impeachments are a matter of choice. Those choosing that path are obligated to explain why the removal of a president is called for. The first impeachment collapsed under the weight of its partisan mischief; the current one is even more flimsy.
This makes it wholly inexplicable how ten Republicans joined Democrats in the incitement frenzy that argued with straight faces that Trump had directed the riots by delivering that morning the same objections he had voiced for two months.
Nine of them can take it up with their respective voters. But Liz Cheney is a consequential GOP leader at a time when her party needs all hands on deck to battle a Democrat president emboldened by a collaborative House and Senate. The Republican party can always be expected to offer a broad spectrum of conservatism, from broad to intermittent, just as it showed a wide range of Trump opinions, from enthusiasm to frequent distaste. But the willingness to insult millions of their own voters by buying into the incitement fantasy is a bridge too far. She has shown herself wholly unworthy of a party leadership post at this critical time.
On Fox, she telegraphed exactly what she will attempt with voters in her state: a rapid change of topic. Pivoting to a wish for party unity against the Biden agenda, she ticked off talking points designed to distract from the stunning oddity of her impeachment wish. Dana Perino wasn’t having it, guiding her from boilerplate Biden critiques back to the still-raging brushfire: “How do you plan to win if there is a vote about you as conference chair?”
“I think we’re going to have these discussions inside the conference,” she replied. “I anticipate in confidence that we will be united as a conference going forward.” One struggles to imagine a path to such solidarity with more than half the House GOP calling for her leadership head on a stick.
She is not merely a Republican distancing from the Trump legacy. She joins other tormentors in accusing him of committing a crime. A finishing flourish from a woman who wants conservatives to trust her discernment: “The survival of our Republic depends on making decisions that have to with things like the attack that we saw.… I think it’s important that what happened on January 6th never happen again.”
Obviously. But the cognitive disorder of this moment has ensnared a lot of previously coherent people, plunging them into a belief that the only way to register sufficient revulsion against the riots is to make Trump an accomplice.
No state, no congressional district, no local precinct finds a notable strain of Republican thought that agrees with this. The primaries, just over a year away, will determine the fates of the GOP members of congress who have cast their fates to the wind of this folly. They will surely spend 2021 casting many correct votes and saying many satisfying things designed to tie off this bleeding wound.
In Liz Cheney’s case, we don’t have that kind of time. It is fair to ask what other jarring lapses in judgment may lie ahead. The Republican Party in the era of Biden does not have room to gamble. She has done many praiseworthy things. She will have many critics who may balk at prodding her from a prestigious position.
But there is no defense for this lapse, and no excusing it. Wyoming voters can weigh in a year from now about her continued service in Congress. The time is now for her colleagues to recognize that a Trump impeachment fixation is a disqualifier in a party leader.