Opinion

The insurrectionists are winning

Why Liz Cheney's looming ouster is so troubling

The insurrectionists who violently invaded the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 had a very specific goal: To bully Congress into affirming the falsehood that Donald Trump — and not Joe Biden — won the 2020 presidential election. Despite the chaos of the day, the House and Senate reconvened in the hours after the uprising and certified the election for Biden, who took the oath of office two weeks later. Trump left town to brood in Florida. Democracy held. The rioters appeared to have failed.

Now it looks as though they are winning — at least among Republicans.

Sometime soon, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) will likely be ousted from her role on the leadership team of the House GOP. Why? Because she refuses to countenance the discredited narrative of a stolen election — and, in fact, continues to openly criticize Trump for egging on the insurrection.

"Trump is seeking to unravel critical elements of our constitutional structure that make democracy work — confidence in the result of elections and the rule of law," Cheney wrote Wednesday in a Washington Post op-ed. "No other American president has ever done this."

She is unquestionably correct. She's also doomed.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) says he has "lost confidence" in Cheney, even though he once said Trump "bears responsibility" for the riots. (McCarthy has spent the months since binding the party more tightly to the former president.) His second-in-command, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), on Wednesday called for Cheney to be replaced on the leadership team with Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.). Cheney continues to stand her ground — with faint echoes of "nevertheless, she persisted" — but the end is coming anyway. Given a choice between the truth and the insurrectionist lie, McCarthy and the House GOP are siding with the lie.

This is no surprise.

Four months ago today it seemed as though Republican leaders might finally be forced to make a break with Trump. His refusal to concede the election, the outlandish (and since-disavowed) conspiracy theories his team concocted to reclaim the presidency, and the insurrection he inspired made it plain that you could be committed to American democracy, or you could be committed to Donald Trump, but you couldn't be both. Then-Vice President Mike Pence cast his lot with the Constitution, refusing Trump's entreaties to reject electoral votes for Biden. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) gave a stirring speech defending the right of the American people to choose their leaders. Govs. Brian Kemp (R-Ga.) and Doug Ducey (R-Ariz.) stood firm while Trump sought to reverse Biden's victory in their states. All three men ended up in Trump's political crosshairs as a result — with particularly dangerous results for Pence.

Things have changed in the months since.

Pence is laying the groundwork for a possible presidential run by emphasizing his total fealty to Trump. McConnell says he would "absolutely" support Trump if he becomes the GOP presidential nominee in 2024. In Arizona, the state is doing another recount of 2020 ballots for signs of fraud, while Georgia and a number of Republican-controlled state legislatures have passed laws tightening — one might even say "suppressing" — access to the polls in future elections. And even one Republican who voted for Trump's impeachment reportedly is angry that Cheney won't pipe down about her opposition to the former president.

None of this is likely to put Trump back in the White House before Jan. 20, 2025, even if that is his hope. (As always with the former president, one hesitates to flatly declare that an outlandish scenario won't happen.) But it does mean that within the Republican Party — in the burgeoning presidential race, within Congress, and within state legislatures across the land — insurrectionist logic rules the day. This is troubling, to say the least. What made the events of Jan. 6 so terrible, remember, is not just that the rioters were violent and dangerous and destructive, but that they were violent and dangerous and destructive in the service of a terrible, anti-democratic deception.

Liz Cheney now stands nearly alone in her party in her willingness to call out that deception, and in her refusal to keep quiet just to get along in a Trumpified GOP. I disagree with just about everything Cheney stands for, but I cannot help but admire her integrity in this matter. Neither can I help but be frightened, again, for the future of American democracy. The insurrectionists have taken over the Republican Party. The rest of us must work to ensure they don't also take over the country.

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