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Tuesday night, in a speech that claimed every piece of the Republican landscape since 1980, Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney launched a broadside against the Republican leaders who have shackled the party to the former president.
“Today we face a threat America has never seen before,” Cheney said.
A former president who provoked a violent attack on this Capitol in an effort to steal the election has resumed his aggressive effort to convince Americans that the election was stolen from him. He risks inciting further violence. Millions of Americans have been misled by the former president. They have heard only his words, but not the truth, as he continues to undermine our democratic process, sowing seeds of doubt about whether democracy really works at all.
Cheney recalled the determination of those in Kenya, Russia, and Poland to risk their lives to vote for freedom, and talked of how the dream of American democracy had inspired them. She touched on religion, assuring listeners that God has favored America. She invoked Reagan, claiming that his Republican Party won the Cold War and saying that America is now on the cusp of another cold war with communist China.
This impending struggle highlighted the importance of today’s domestic struggle: “Attacks against our democratic process and the rule of law empower our adversaries and feed communist propaganda that American democracy is a failure,” Cheney argued. “We must speak the truth. Our election was not stolen, and America has not failed.”
Cheney went on to claim that she stood on conservative principles Republicans like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has abandoned. The fundamental conservative principle is the rule of law, she reminded listeners, and those backing Trump’s Big Lie are denying that rule and undermining our democracy. The election is over, she said, and “Those who refuse to accept the rulings of our courts are at war with the Constitution.” It is imperative, she said, to act to prevent “the unraveling of our democracy.”
“This is not about policy,” Cheney emphasized. “This is not about partisanship. This is about our duty as Americans. Remaining silent and ignoring the lie emboldens the liar.”
Wednesday, House Republicans voted to remove Cheney from the number three spot in the party in the House. Subsequently, Trump’s own former deputy attorney general, Jeffrey A. Rosen, will told the House Oversight Committee that after the election, the Justice Department “had been presented with no evidence of widespread voter fraud at a scale sufficient to change the outcome of the 2020 election.”
On Thursday, over 100 former Republican leaders will drop a letter saying that if party leadership does not separate itself from former President Trump, they will start a third party. They are calling themselves the “rationals”. as opposed to the “radicals,” and they include former governors and representatives, as well as Republican officeholders.
This revolt against the Trump loyalists in the Republican Party signals that, no matter what leadership is saying, many Republicans—including Republican lawmakers—are not, in fact, united behind the former president. After all, he never broke 50% approval when he was president, and he lost the White House and Congress for the party. And, now that he is locked out of Twitter and Facebook, it appears he can no longer command the audience he used to. In the week since he launched a new blog, it has attracted a little over 212,000 likes, shares, and comments. The top post got just 16,000 engagements.
Meanwhile, 63% of Americans approve of the job President Joe Biden is doing.
What’s at stake in the fight over Cheney’s position in the Republican Party—admit it, did you ever think you would care about who was the third most important House Republican?—is not some obscure struggle for political seniority. It’s a fight over whether the Republican Party will wed itself to the Big Lie that a Democratic president is illegitimate, despite all evidence to the contrary.
Cheney is not a Democrat by a long shot, and she is correctly calling out the danger of the Big Lie for what it is: a dagger pointed at the heart of our democracy.
Heather Cox Richardson is a Professor of History at Boston College. This post originally appeared at her Substack, Letters from an American.