Washington — I miss torturing Liz Cheney.
But it must be said that the petite blonde from Wyoming suddenly seems like a Valkyrie amid halflings.
She is willing to sacrifice her leadership post — and risk her political career — to continue calling out Donald Trump’s Big Lie. She has decided that if the price of her job is being as unctuous to Trump as Kevin McCarthy is, it isn’t worth it, because McCarthy is totally disgracing himself.
It has been a dizzying fall for the scion of one of the most powerful political families in the land, a conservative chip off the old block who was once talked about as a comer, someone who could be the first woman president.
How naive I was to think that Republicans would be eager to change the channel after Trump cost them the Senate and the White House and unleashed a mob on them.
I thought the Donald would evaporate in a poof of orange smoke, ending a supremely screwed-up period of history. But the loudest mouth is not shutting up. And Republicans continue to listen, clinging to the idea that the dinosaur is the future. “We can’t grow without him,” Lindsey Graham said.
Denied Twitter, Trump is focusing on his other favorite blood sport: hunting down dynasties. “Whether it’s the Cheneys, the Bushes or the lesser bloodlines — such as the Romneys or the Murkowskis — Trump has been relentless in his efforts to force them to bend the knee,” David Siders wrote in Politico.
Yet an unbowed Cheney didn’t mince words when, in a Washington Post op-ed a few days ago, she implored the stooges in her caucus to “steer away from the dangerous and anti-democratic Trump cult of personality.”
That trademark Cheney bluntness made her the toast of MSNBC and CNN, where chatterers praised her as an avatar of the venerable “fact-based” Republican Party decimated by Trump.
But if Cheney wants to be in the business of speaking truth to power, she’s going to have to dig a little deeper.
Let’s acknowledge who created the template for Trump’s Big Lie.
It was her father, Dick Cheney, whose Big Lie about the Iraq War led to the worst mistake in the history of American foreign policy. Liz Cheney, who was the captain of her high school cheerleading team and titled her college thesis “The Evolution of Presidential War Powers,” cheered on her dad as he spread fear, propaganda and warped intelligence.
From her patronage perch in the State Department during the Bush-Cheney years, she bolstered her father’s trumped-up case for an invasion of Iraq. Even after no weapons of mass destruction were found, she continued to believe the invasion was the right thing to do.
“She almost thrives in an atmosphere where the overall philosophy is discredited and she is a lonely voice,” a State Department official who worked with her told Joe Hagan for a 2010 New York magazine profile of the younger Cheney on her way up.
She was a staunch defender of the torture program. “Well, it wasn’t torture, Norah, so that’s not the right way to lay out the argument,” she instructed Norah O’Donnell in 2009, looking on the bright side of waterboarding.
She backed the futile, 20-year occupation of the feudal Afghanistan. (Even Bob Gates thinks we should have left in 2002.) Last month, when President Joe Biden announced plans to pull out, Cheney — who wrote a book with her father that accused Barack Obama of abandoning Iraq and making America weaker — slapped back: “We know that this kind of pullback is reckless. It’s dangerous.”
For many years, she had no trouble swimming in Fox News bile. Given the chance to denounce the Obama birther conspiracy, she demurred, interpreting it live on air as people being “uncomfortable with having for the first time ever, I think, a president who seems so reluctant to defend the nation overseas.”
Thanks to that kind of reasoning, we ended up with a president who fomented an attack on the nation at home.
In her Post piece, Cheney wrote that her party is at a “turning point” and that Republicans “must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution.”
Sage prose from someone who was a lieutenant to her father when he assaulted checks and balances, shredding America’s Constitution even as he imposed one on Iraq.
Because of 9/11, Dick Cheney thought he could suspend the Constitution, attack nations preemptively and trample civil liberties in the name of the war on terror. (And for his own political survival.)
Keeping Americans afraid was a small price to pay for engorging executive power, which the former Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford aide thought had been watered down too much after Watergate.
By his second term, W. had come around to his parents’ opinion that Cheney had overreached, and the vice president became increasingly isolated.
Liberals responded to Trump’s derangements by bathing the Bush-Cheney crowd in a flattering nostalgic light.
So, shockingly, the Republicans who eroded America’s moral authority — selling us the Iraq War, torture, a prolonged Afghanistan occupation and Sarah Palin — became the new guardians of America’s moral authority. Complete with bloated TV and book contracts.
Trump built a movement based on lies. The Cheneys showed him how it’s done.
Maureen Dowd is a columnist for The New York Times.