Rep. Liz Cheney is no closet Democrat or even a political moderate. The 54-year-old Wyoming Republican, the elder daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, is an arch conservative who has in the past accused environmental groups like the Sierra Club of supporting U.S. adversaries and defended the birther movement that wrongly insisted Barack Obama was born in Kenya. Her views would seem well suited for the 21st century GOP except for one thing: She could not stomach Donald Trump’s claim that the 2020 election was rigged and that he was the rightful winner or, as it’s is commonly known, the “Big Lie.” And for this unforgivable sin, the congresswoman is poised to lose her place in party leadership Wednesday as House Republican Conference chair, the third highest position in the caucus.
Let’s be clear: Representative Cheney is not getting the heave-ho for anything else. It’s not because she isn’t sufficiently loyal to former President Trump, as much as she’s obviously not a big fan having voted for impeachment. And it’s surely not because she is a “warmongering fool” as Mr. Trump last month claimed. No, it’s specifically about her reluctance to embrace — or even stay silent, while others repeat — the pure fiction that the last election was stolen. And so let’s be doubly clear: That’s unhinged. It’s as if Republicans have decided that everyone must accept the orthodoxy of the Big Lie or be expelled from the party’s good graces. Major religions are more flexible on dogma than the GOP is on this detail. Never mind that it’s been disproven. Never mind that the claim has been laughed out of the courts. Never mind that polls show a majority of Americans aren’t buying the stolen election line. Liz Cheney is about to be branded a heretic.
What’s happened is that the Republican Party has painted itself into a corner and rather than admit the mistake or backtrack or even allow an internal dispute, they have decided to go all-in on the lies. The “why” is easy to figure out. It’s not just what Mr. Trump wants (although that’s a big part of it), it’s where their core supporters reside. The same polls that show Democrats and independents know this particular emperor is naked, reveal about two-thirds of rank-and-file Republicans either firmly believe or at least suspect Joe Biden’s victory was somehow illegitimate. To admit to reality now would be, shall we say, a bit uncomfortable for Republican leaders who have happily ventured down this rabbit hole to its nuttiest corners. That includes the ongoing Arizona “audit,” where people are being paid to search for ballots in Maricopa County that might have traces of bamboo fiber suggesting they were fakes flown in from South Korea. This is being done, of course, by by a company with no experience in such matters that is owned by someone who traffics in election conspiracy claims. And did we mention without safeguards to make sure ballots aren’t being tampered with now?
Under different circumstances, we might find this bizarre turn amusing. It might even be seen as helpful to President Biden to the extent that it’s turned the opposition into a bickering stage production of “Harvey” with the entire cast claiming to see the 6-foot 3-inch white rabbit. But the country actually needs a sane opposition party. The Democrats hold no lock on wisdom. The increasingly liberal party’s New Deal approach of multitrillion-dollar recovery spending merits rational debate. As much as we generally support Mr. Biden’s policies, we also believe in the legislative process. Unfortunately, one side is now missing from action in that regard. How can there be rational debate in Congress when the most basic reality, how the last election was decided, can’t be mutually agreed upon? Meanwhile, the Big Lie continues to spill out into Republican-held state legislatures which keep approving restrictions on voting that could prove ruinous, not just for minorities, but for the future of American democracy itself.
It’s telling that Ms. Cheney’s replacement is likely to be Rep. Elise Stefanik, an ideologically flexible New Yorker formerly associated with the party’s centrists (having worked for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign and voted against the 2017 tax cuts) who has recast herself as a Trump loyalist. And in recent interviews, she has signaled that whatever the “message” of Republicans in the House, that will be her message, too. That may be how one gets ahead in that increasingly dysfunctional political party but it’s not in the interests of a nation in desperate need of integrity and reason from that side of the aisle.
The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels and writer Peter Jensen — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.