The terror of losing

Why so many Republicans pretend to respect Trump

Liz Cheney.
(Image credit: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Veteran journalist Mark Leibovich asked Sen. Lindsey Graham a few years ago why he went from calling candidate Donald Trump "a complete idiot" and a "race-baiting xenophobic bigot" to fawning over the newly elected president on frequent dates on the golf course. "If you know anything about me, it'd be odd not to do this," Graham responded without a trace of shame. It was his nature, the senator explained, "to try to be relevant." This affliction — the need to be relevant, important, on the inside — explains why so many Republicans have feigned admiration for Trump no matter what he says or does. Going to work in the august chambers of Congress has always been heady stuff; the prestige, status, and deference from others that comes with the gig is so intoxicating that many elected officials will do anything to keep their seats — even kneel before an amoral, would-be autocrat. To lose an election over principle, as Liz Cheney did this week, becomes a form of death. Any indignity is preferable to becoming ordinary again. (See Main Stories, p.5.)

By standing up for democracy and her own conscience, Cheney has won far more than she lost. A conservative Republican who'd voted with Trump 93 percent of the time, she denounced him when he tried to overturn an election he decisively lost. After Trump "lit the flame" of the Jan. 6 insurrection, as she put it, Graham and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy briefly joined Cheney in public expressions of disgust. "Count me out," Graham said. "Enough is enough." McCarthy said Trump "bears responsibility." But then Graham and McCarthy saw that Fox News and Trump's base were sticking with him, and they crawled back to smooch his derriere. "Defending the indefensible," is how Cheney described her craven colleagues. When Trump is long gone, she warned them, "your dishonor will remain." Cheney has lost her seat, but not her integrity or her soul.

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