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Liz Cheney for … GOP nominee

Liz Cheney
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Goldstone’s most recent book is "On Account of Race: The Supreme Court, White Supremacy, and the Ravaging of African American Voting Rights.

In early 2020, if anyone was willing to bet that the conservative icon and anti-abortion, gun-toting zealot Liz Cheney, who sported an almost unbroken record of voting with Donald Trump and a history of calling Barack Obama “the most radical man who’s inhabited the Oval Office,” would be turned out of her own office by a former Never Trumper who had praised Cheney as a “proven, courageous, constitutional conservative,” they could have gotten very nice odds.

And lost.

Harriet Hageman succeeded in what only two years ago would have seemed laughable. But by making a single course correction — she, like many other Republicans including Rep. Elise Stefanik, changed from Trump hater to Trump groveler. Cheney, of course, sealed her doom by going in exactly the opposite direction, fueled by her determination to resurrect Republicans as an actual political party. Even more bizarre than her loss in the primary is that her approval rating among Democrats is now higher than among Republicans. While there has been no shortage of near insanity in the American political scene, Cheney’s whipsaw certainly ranks near the top.

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Forsaken by her home state and the many voters who once revered her, Cheney must now decide how to continue her crusade to purge the party of Donald Trump and what, if anything, he stands for, an aim she announced bluntly in what passed for her concession speech. There has been widespread speculation that she will mount a run for the 2024 presidential nomination ... as a Republican. Although she is aware that she is facing a climb more arduous than Gannett Peak, the highest mountain in Wyoming, Cheney’s goal would likely be more to impact the process than to actually win the nomination.

Every American should root for her to run.

There has been a good deal of talk, hardly idle, about the United States abandoning even the pretext of democracy and descending into autocracy. Fortunately, although the pressure has been immense, autocracy has not yet taken root in the nation as a whole.

But in the Republican Party, it has.

Turning a blind eye to history, morality and the Constitution, Republicans have decided that to hold on to power for its own sake — they don’t seem to have a legislative agenda worth discussing — they will forgo even the veneer of truthfulness, honor and patriotism to embrace a man for whom democracy is a foolish affectation of the weak. If Christopher Marlowe were still around, he would cast Kevin McCarthy as Faust.

Although Republicans have yet to be successful in remaking the United States in Donald Trump’s image, they also seem loath to attempt to gain power by persuading a majority of Americans of the merit of their ideas. In the first place, they no longer have any ideas, and in the second, they are doing all they can to prevent the majority from expressing itself. The irony is that during the four months of the Constitutional Convention in the summer of 1787, the delegates feared despotism more than any other calamity that might befall the new nation and created a system that they thought would discourage it. Instead, by building minority rule into both the legislative and executive, and providing insufficient checks on the judiciary, they enabled it.

To be sure, a Republican takeover of the government is hardly assured. There have been signs that, despite Trump’s unquestioned influence in the primaries, many of those he has backed, such as Senate candidates Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, Ron Johnson in Wisconsin, Herschel Walker in Georgia, Blake Masters in Arizona, and even J. D. Vance in ordinarily Republican Ohio, might face a difficult road in the general election. If all or most of them lose — a genuine possibility — Democrats will increase their control of the Senate to a Manchin- and Sinema-proof majority. Trump’s endorsement may also backfire in key gubernatorial races, such as those in Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania. In House races as well, gerrymandered though they may be, Trump might turn out to be as much unwanted baggage as first-class ticket.

Still, without a plausible Republican alternative, even if Trump himself is rejected, Trumpism may well survive in the person of smarter, smoother, more acceptable amoral pretenders, such as Ron DeSantis. The Florida governor, while certainly conservative, doesn’t seem to have real core beliefs that guide him other than his own determination to inherit Trump’s gold toilets. Trump thus may turn out to have been a perverse Daniel Boone, blazing a trail for other, less obvious, would-be dictators to follow.

This is where Liz Cheney comes in. Whatever one may think of her policies and her beliefs, at least she has some. If she runs, while she may not get many votes, she will have a chance to share the stage during the debates that will sprout like mushrooms during the primary season. (Republican leaders are already considering how to keep her from participating in debates, but if she gets enough signatures to appear on the ballot, it will be difficult for them to win the inevitable court challenge.) Once on stage, she will forcefully air all the hypocrisies that the other candidates will desperately attempt to ignore.

All of this theater might not garner her all that much support — although perhaps there are a greater number of principled Republicans than many pollsters think — but exposing the duplicity and venal self-interest of the other candidates could well impact that share of the electorate that is still truly independent.

Another lesson Republicans have learned from Trump is that there is nothing worse than losing — not cheating, not lying, not stealing, not prostituting one’s values. If independents appear as if they will reject Republicans’ power grab and vote for Democrats, the prospect of defeat may nudge Republicans toward the center. Or, if they persist regardless, push them out the door.

Either way, the nation will be better off.

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