OPINION — Congresswoman Liz Cheney has surprised a lot of people on both sides of the political fence by emerging as a proponent of convicting former Donald Trump.
Cheney was one of 10 Republicans in the House who voted to impeach Trump during his second impeachment, and said it was a vote she stands by despite a rush of criticism from members of her party.
“The oath that I took to the Constitution compelled me to vote for impeachment and it doesn’t bend to partisanship, it doesn’t bend to political pressure,” she told “Fox News Sunday” on Feb. 7. “It’s the most important oath that we take.”
Not every member of Congress seems to take their oath as seriously. Sens. John Thune and Mike Rounds were two of the 44 Republicans who voted against holding Trump’s trial and voted against convicting him on Saturday, citing questions about the authority of Congress to impeach a former president.
They skipped past the facts that Trump was president when he was impeached, and Senate Republicans delayed the trial until after he left office.
Cheney has taken unpopular positions before. She is not the kind who walks away from a fight when she thinks she is right.
I interviewed her a few times in 2013 as she tried to win a U.S. Senate seat representing Wyoming. That campaign went down in flames, but she has been resilient. Now, she finds herself at the center of a political storm.
Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, was just elected to a second term representing Wyoming in the U.S. House of Representatives. It is a seat her father held from 1979-89 during his long service to the country and the Republican Party.
That is one of the keys to Liz Cheney’s willingness to stand up against Trump and attempt to redirect the party. Her family has deep roots in the GOP, and she didn’t see Trump as a true leader of the party.
Dick Cheney, a Nebraska native who grew up in Casper, Wyo., started working in politics as a congressional intern in 1969. He quickly moved to the White House and rose through the ranks. By 1975, he was President Gerald Ford’s chief of staff.
Then, after a decade in Congress, where he became a member of the Republican leadership, he was tapped by President George H.W. Bush to serve as secretary of defense from 1989-93, where he played a key role in the successful Gulf War.
After considering a run for president in 1996, he concentrated on serving as president and chief executive officer of Halliburton, where he made a fortune. In 2000, the next George Bush — W., this time — asked Cheney to help select a running mate, and he picked himself.
After eight stormy years as VP, where it was often assumed he had more power than the president, Dick Cheney has retreated from the spotlight. His own health issues, as he received an artificial heart, were part of it, as was his widespread unpopularity.
Liz Cheney emerged on the political scene in 2013, when she announced her intention to seize the 2014 Republican nomination from Sen. Mike Enzi, a popular figure in the Cowboy State.
Cheney’s campaign was a mess from the start, with accusations that she was a carpetbagger with few real ties to Wyoming. She had lived in Virginia for several years.
A report that she had illegally obtained a fishing license available only to Wyoming residents was embarrassing, reminiscent of George McGovern being denied a hunting license in the midst of the 1980 Senate race because he didn’t have a South Dakota driver’s license.
Small things like that make a big point with voters.
Cheney trailed Enzi, a longtime figure on the state’s political scene as mayor of Gillette, a state senator and U.S. senator. I interviewed Enzi numerous times, had dinner with him once and swapped stories about selling shoes, a job both of us had earlier in our lives.
Enzi had a commanding lead on Cheney when she dropped out in early 2014, citing family health issues. Her campaign was certainly nearly comatose.
But she stuck around the state and when Rep. Cynthia Lummis dropped out of the 2018 race after the death of her husband, Cheney ran for Congress and was elected.
She quickly rose to the No. 3 position in the GOP leadership and when Enzi said he would not seek a fifth term, Cheney decided to stay put in the House. Lummis emerged from a brief retirement to move up to the Senate.
Cheney appears set to try to build a career in the House. There are reports she aspires to be the second female speaker of the House, after Nancy Pelosi, and the first Republican woman to hold that post.
Some of her colleagues were upset about her anti-Trump position, but when the House Republicans voted — in secret — the count was 145 to 61 to allow her to retain the position. Makes you wonder what a vote to convict Trump would be if it was held in private.
She said Republicans — like Gov. Kristi Noem — need to stop spreading the noxious lie that there was something wrong with the 2020 election.
“The notion that the election had been stolen or that the election was rigged was a lie, and people need to understand that,” Cheney said on ‘Fox News Sunday.’ “We need to make sure that we as Republicans are the party of truth and that we are being honest about what really did happen in 2020 so we actually have a chance to win in 2022 and win the White House back in 2024.”
My friend and former boss Dave Bonner, a former Republican legislator who has been publisher of The Powell Tribune for nearly six decades, said Cheney’s stance has been deeply unpopular in Park County, Wyo. It supported Trump with 74% of the vote in 2020.
Cheney’s anti-Trump position caused an “immediate negative reaction,” Dave told me on Tuesday. He said it was a “vote of conscience” but one that was met with anger and calls for her resignation.
Both the Park County and Wyoming Republican parties censured Cheney and state Sen. Anthony Bouchard of Cheyenne was the first candidate to announce plans to challenge her in the 2022 primary. In bright red Wyoming, the Republican primary is the only election that matters.
Dave said Bouchard, the founder of Wyoming Gun Owners, is best known as a gun lobbyist and a hard-right conservative. The longtime newsman said he expects a “heavyweight” challenger to emerge, and doubts Bouchard can knock her off, even with the anger in the air right now.
“It’s a long way to election next year,” he said.
Dave said he has to admit Cheney stood by her convictions.
“Gotta recognize she was being courageous,” he said. “It just didn’t fit with Wyoming. I was really surprised.”
Liz Cheney wants the GOP to return to its historical roots. Her mother Lynne Cheney is an author who wrote a well-received biography of President James Madison. I interviewed Lynne Cheney for a story on that book, and she offered a kind note on social media.
I never got a chance to interview the former VP, nor did I go pheasant hunting with him. He can be a dangerous hunting partner, although his hunting trips to South Dakota have, as far as we know, gone well.
Liz Cheney, 54, took a stand for principle. That deserves admiration, if she does nothing else you agree with during her career.
“I think this vote and conference made very clear, we are the party of Lincoln, we are not the party of QAnon or anti-Semitism or Holocaust deniers, or white supremacy or conspiracy theories,” she told “Fox News Sunday.” “That’s not who we are.”
I hope not. The Republican Party must recapture its roots and restore its sanity. Cheney recognizes that reality.
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