As a liberal, I spend part of every day ridiculing or deploring Republicans. How can one not ridicule and deplore a party that twice nominated Donald Trump as its standard-bearer? (In his case, the term should be “No-Standards-bearer.”) One could (just barely) excuse the first time they nominated him as a crazy “maybe he’ll surprise us” roll of the dice. But twice? It’s like going on a second date with Jack the Ripper.
And yet, at this perilous moment in our history, all my hopes rest on a Republican.
There are endless reasons to hate Trump, but the most recent is that he has made me love Liz Cheney. Not so long ago, you could lump her in with Ted Cruz or Ann Coulter, who are so depraved that on social media they get friend requests from Satan and the shark from Jaws.
The daughter of Dick Cheney (formerly the go-to symbol of Republican Evil, since demoted), Liz Cheney is a law-school-educated congresswoman from Wyoming who has tirelessly towed the right-wing line: she was all in for Iraq and Afghanistan, co-sponsored legislation to defund Planned Parenthood, opposed the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, and was so supportive of waterboarding that she objected to its characterization as “torture.”
During the Obama presidency, she was in the If-Obama-Wants-It-I’m-Against-It-Even-if-I-Used-to-Be-for-It group, also known as the Republican Party. Her public manner is serious—she doesn’t make campaign videos where she wields a nunchuck or asks for your vote in front of a dumpster fire that she promises to extinguish when she gets to Washington. She is blunt, and she cannot hide her contempt for the other side.
Until January 6, 2021, the other side was my people, the liberals. But the almost-impossible-to-believe news is that today her enemies are on her side of the aisle: most of all, Donald Trump, with whom she had previously been in ideological goose step. (She has also turned her righteous rage on, among others, the moral neuters, Kevin McCarthy, Rudy Giuliani, and Josh Hawley.)
And at this moment, she is the vice-chair of the January 6 select committee, whose hearings this summer have been a high point in American patriotism. She and Bennie Thompson have run the hearings with a flawless mix of human drama and mounting legal danger that only David E. Kelley could match. The seven Democrats and two Republicans who make up the committee have been articulate and passionate, but in hearing after hearing, it is Cheney whom we wait for, and listen to most closely.
There are endless reasons to hate Trump, but the most recent is that he has made me love Liz Cheney.
She commands our attention, indeed our admiration, every time she speaks because she is waging this battle at a personal cost that no one else on the panel is asked to bear. Certainly the Democrats risk nothing by attacking Trump. It’s good for their fundraising. Not even Cheney’s sole fellow Republican on the committee, Adam Kinzinger, has anything to risk—he is retiring and doesn’t have to face the voters.
Liz Cheney does. On August 16, she will face a primary challenge from four opponents, one of whom, Harriet Hageman, is outpolling her by 22 points. In über-conservative Wyoming, the Republican primaries are the election—the only Democrats in Wyoming are wildlife. Wyoming was the state that gave Trump his biggest margin in 2020: 43 points. Wyoming Republicans have not only censured Cheney for voting to impeach Trump, but they no longer recognize her as a Republican. Liz Cheney!
The Republican National Committee also censured her. And she was removed from her position as the House Republican Conference chair and replaced by the craven careerist Elise Stefanik, a move orchestrated by Kevin McCarthy, patron saint of craven careerists.
The committee’s work has kept her in Washington, forcing her to miss campaign opportunities back home. But for Cheney the choice is a no-brainer: “The single most important thing is protecting the nation from Donald Trump,” she told ABC News.
She has attacked Trump and his G.O.P. quislings in the press, in primary debates, and in her instantly immortal words at the first hearing: “I say this to my Republican colleagues…. There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.” (How deft to use “colleagues” instead of the warmer, and false, “friends.”)
If the primary goes against her—her campaign is so desperate for votes, they are e-mailing Democrats about how to vote in a Republican primary—she will be out of a job next January. I have a suggestion for what she should do next.
We do not know for sure what Merrick Garland is doing behind the scenes at Justice, only that he is doing it very slowly. But this is a patriotic emergency. The election in 2024 is hurtling toward us like a flaming asteroid. If a Republican wins the presidency, all hopes of justice are gone. Merrick Garland is an honorable and scrupulous man. So was Robert Mueller—look where that got us. They are like Jane Austen characters in a Quentin Tarantino movie—their quiet rectitude is useless. To beat Trump, we need the most ruthless kind of person this country produces—a Republican. Republicans do anything to get what they want. That’s why there are six Republican-appointed justices on the Supreme Court now. That’s why it’s about to become very hard to get an abortion.
Biden should send Garland back to his knitting circle and appoint Liz Cheney as attorney general. It would be bad news for Hunter Biden, and for people who don’t think mentally ill teenagers should own machine guns, and for poor women in almost half the country who need an abortion. But imagine the amount of ketchup on the walls of Mar-a-Lago when Trump hears that Liz Cheney has the power not only to persecute but to prosecute. In 10 minutes, he’d be on a helicopter heading home to Russia.
Douglas McGrath is a filmmaker and playwright. He wrote the book for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical