U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney should take a bow. Former President Donald Trump’s latest attempt to insult her shows just how desperate he’s become, and how deeply she’s gouged into his Napoleonic ego.
During the 18 months Cheney served as vice chair of the U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot, she was its pit bull. When it came time at last week’s final hearing to explain why the panel was referring four criminal charges against the former president to the Department of Justice, Cheney did the honors.
In one of her final acts in office, Cheney recounted Trump’s devastating decision to incite a mob over his “rigged” election lies, and then refuse to intervene for more than three hours as it lay siege to the Capitol, attacked and overwhelmed law enforcement and hunted elected officials, including his own vice president.
“This was an utter moral failure — and a clear dereliction of duty,” Cheney charged. “No man who would behave that way at that moment in time can ever serve in any position of authority in our nation again. He is unfit for any office.”
That he’d react negatively on social media was a given, but how unhinged would he get this time? Would it be row after row after row of his standard ALL-CAPS CRAZINESS?!
Nope. His immediate reaction wasn’t to rant about his innocence. He didn’t even lie about a stolen election or criticize the man who took his job. Instead Trump shared a nine-word response to the entire hearing on his own Truth Social platform: “But Liz Chaney (sic) lost by a record 40 points!”
Yes, that’s all he wrote. Trump’s world is caving in all around him — he’s staring down repercussions for the Jan. 6 insurrection, multiple federal and state criminal probes and the public release of his precious tax records — but what he felt he most needed to convey to the world at precisely that moment is that he helped oust a single congresswoman from her representation of the least-populated state in the union.
I think Cheney is already long over her GOP primary loss to Congresswoman-elect Harriet Hageman, though Trump clearly never will be, and he’ll take credit for it no matter how much his own world continues to spiral out of control.
That’s a lot of emotional power Cheney now exercises over Trump. He styles himself as a shrewd, hard-nosed real-estate magnate and yet Cheney’s living rent-free in his head. Can anyone who was once the leader of the free world actually be this clueless?
Trump should be paying close attention to what could await him if Special Counsel Jack Smith takes up any of the four referrals the Jan. 6 committee made to his office: obstruction of an official proceeding of Congress, conspiracy to defraud the U.S., conspiracy to make a false statement to the federal government and inciting or assisting insurrection.
If Trump is convicted of violating the Insurrection Act, he would get exactly the punishment Cheney said he deserves: never being able to hold any federal office again. Ditto if he’s convicted of Espionage Act violations for the classified documents he allegedly took to Florida when he lost.
Cheney has said she has no regrets about losing her congressional seat, because keeping it would have required her to lie that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump. Recognizing the inevitability of political defeat, she turned her attention, instead, to a more important mission: keeping Trump from ever returning to the White House again.
Many Wyoming voters will never forgive Cheney for her impeachment vote or her role on the Jan. 6 panel, but I think many others will be kinder to her over time as they gain more perspective on how much damage Trump has done to the country. Believe it or not, some will even apologize.
One of the favorable factors for Cheney is that she never blamed Americans for falling victim to Trump’s cons and preying on their patriotism.
“Donald Trump knows that millions of Americans who supported him would stand up and defend our nation were it threatened,” Cheney told ABC News. “They would put their lives and their freedom at stake to protect her. (He) turned their love of country into a weapon against our Capitol and our Constitution.”
Hageman, by contrast, has now irrevocably tied her political identity to backing Trump’s lies about the “rigged” election. Even if she wanted to abandon him, Hageman cannot simply walk away. You don’t just shuck off those handcuffs when you get tired of wearing them.
No, Hageman has made the political calculation to double down on her support, even as many incumbent Republican lawmakers distance themselves from Trump after the GOP’s disastrous midterm election results. Our freshman congresswoman doesn’t have much choice.
“The Jan. 6 Committee was illegitimate when it was created and its sham conclusions were pre-written,” Hageman said in a statement. She didn’t appear to appreciate the irony of releasing that accusation before the final hearing — pre-written indeed — but it sure gave me a chuckle. “Every moment of their witch hunt was politically motivated and everything they say should be viewed that way. What a colossal waste of time and millions of dollars in taxpayer money.”
“Witch hunt” may be the two most important words for her campaign fundraising machine during her first term, and she’ll need to fire that engine up ASAP. History shows how extraordinarily safe congressional seats are for incumbents in an ultra-red state like Wyoming, but of course Trump and the Cheney-Hageman experience has forever changed that calculus. Public popularity in Wyoming used to be a function largely of policy and party affiliation. One of Trump’s biggest disruptions was to make it, instead, a function of patronage.
Hageman was quick and crafty in adapting to the new rules of the game and it earned her a seat in Congress. But now, before she’s even taken the oath of office, her patron is on the decline.
She hitched her wagon to what she thought was the most powerful horse in the field. Now the world is quickly realizing her rotund orange steed was a jackass all along. And Cheney is leading it to the glue factory.
Cheney made this bold declaration at the first Jan. 6 committee public hearing, more than two months before the Wyoming primary:
“In our country, we don’t swear an oath to an individual, or a political party. We take our oath to defend the United States Constitution. And that oath must mean something.
“Tonight, I say this to my Republican colleagues who are defending the indefensible: There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.”
Cheney made the honorable choice. Hageman made the politically expedient one. Trump’s still here, but it’s already clear whose choice will stand the test of time.