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John Nichols: Liz Cheney and Donald Trump are members of the same cult

John Nichols: Liz Cheney and Donald Trump are members of the same cult

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Liz Cheney was born in Madison. That counts in her favor.

She voted to impeach Donald Trump for inciting a cop-killing mob to attack the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. That counts in her favor, too.

And now the House Republican Conference chair has provoked a high-profile fight with the former President Donald Trump that is likely to get her tossed from the No. 3 leadership position in her party’s congressional caucus. For purposes of entertainment, let’s count that in her favor as well.

But Liz Cheney is not some moderate maverick Republican who is breaking with her party on a question of peace, taxing the rich or caring for workers. The Wyoming Republican is a rigidly right-wing warmonger whose crude attacks on people of color, immigrants, Muslims and progressives carry the same venom as those of the most extreme members of her caucus — and of the 45th president, whose election in 2016 and reelection in 2020 she enthusiastically supported.

Liz Cheney voted with Trump 93% of the time — more than Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz or Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, and much more than her likely replacement as conference chair, New York Rep. Elise Stefanik. As a party leader, Cheney did as much as anyone in Congress to turn the GOP into the cult of Trump.

“Not only is she not a hero,” says Wisconsin Democrat Mark Pocan, “she’s enabled the very people who will now throw her out. Cults are like that.”

Is it possible to give Cheney credit for voting to impeach Trump while at the same time recognizing that, like the former president, she bears responsibility for the degeneration of the Republican Party into the nightmare it has become? Absolutely.

Cheney’s a hyper-partisan, ideologically-inflexible political strategist who is playing the long game, just as her father did over the course of a political career that began in the Nixon White House during the Vietnam War (in which he avoided serving by collecting multiple draft deferments), extended through the George H.W. Bush White House during the Persian Gulf War (which he mismanaged as a secretary of defense whose service to the military-industrial complex was so subservient that he ended up as the bumbling CEO of Halliburton), and that ended in the George W. Bush White House during the Iraq War (into which he steered the United States with outrageous lies and a promise that American troops would be “greeted as liberators”).

Liz Cheney holds the Wyoming House seat Dick Cheney occupied in the 1980s, when he was also House Republican Conference chair. Back in those Reagan years, it was still suggested that the Republican Party was a “big tent.” Dick Cheney positioned himself on the extreme right side of that tent, voting against pressuring the apartheid government of South Africa to release Nelson Mandela from prison, opposing a holiday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and generally standing on the wrong side of history.

The GOP folded the big tent long ago. But there’s still a Cheney positioned on the extreme right. Liz Cheney has served as a fierce militarist, constantly proposing new sanctions on Iran, and condemning President Biden for trying to end the forever war in Afghanistan. She’s sold out to the defense contractors; in March, she ripped House Democrats for making the “grave mistake” of proposing even modest cuts in the bloated Pentagon budget. She’s a vigorous foe of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act and voting rights protections. She dismisses the American Rescue Plan as a “dangerous” package of “far-left priorities” that “will allow taxpayer money to fund abortion” and “provide stimulus checks for illegal immigrants, criminals and even terrorists.”

That’s actually mild language compared to some of what we’ve heard from Liz Cheney.

In the run-up to the 2020 presidential campaign, Cheney decried the Democratic Party as “the party of anti-Semitism, the party of infanticide, the party of socialism.” After the 2020 Democratic National Convention, she announced that socialists had “a chokehold on the Democratic platform, on Joe Biden’s policies going forward.” She claimed that former Secretary of State John Kerry had “traveled around the world acting as the head of the Chamber of Commerce for the mullahs in Iran.”

Two days before the 2020 presidential election, Cheney said Vice President Kamala Harris “sounds like Karl Marx.” Cheney then proceeded to dismiss Harris’s qualifications — as a former elected prosecutor, state attorney general and U.S. senator — by claiming that “Joe Biden clearly decided that he was going to make a choice based on somebody’s gender, based on their race and based on his need to placate the very-far socialist left of his party.”

Cheney has reserved her most venomous language for the first two Muslim women to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. Her targeting of Representatives Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., borders on “obsession,” according to Jim Zogby, the founder and president of the Arab American Institute, who tweeted to Cheney that she goes to such extremes that her rhetoric “smacks either of a deep-seated anti-Arab/Muslim bigotry or crass politics designed to prey on the bigotry of your ‘base.’ In either case it’s disgraceful. Your party’s been playing this game for a decade. Shame.”

To be clear, Donald Trump is also shameful. But two wrongs don’t make a right. They make a pair of right-wingers who aren’t getting along just now but who have, over many years of co-conspiracy, fouled our politics with the same brand of vitriol.

John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. jnichols@madison.com and @NicholsUprising. 

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