A Very Qualified Defense of Liz Cheney

Although former President Trump might have handled the events of January 6 better than he did, I nonetheless find Representative Liz Cheney’s (R-Wyo.) attacks on our former president to be mind-blowing. Unlike Cheney, I doubt Donald Trump represents any kind of threat to the American republic, which his opposition has done much more than he has to batter. 

I also believe the January 6 committee, on which Congresswoman Cheney serves, is carrying out a biased investigation of the “insurrection” it claims Trump incited. Since this congressional committee has excluded the possibility of cross-examining witnesses and kept away dissenting voices, I consider its findings to be dubious.

Despite my deep reservations about her stands, however, I admire Cheney for persisting, at tremendous personal loss, in what she believes. She embodies a position that social theorist Max Weber characterized as the “ethic of responsibility.” According to Weber, we inescapably live in a world beset by value conflicts, but it is also one in which we are required to take political and moral stands. One who does this, must also bear the consequences of that engagement. Cheney holds that Trump thoroughly disgraced his office and was trying to overthrow our constitutional order. She has suffered grievously for taking that stand. In fact, she has gone from being a respected Republican congresswoman with an important party assignment, to a political has-been, after losing a Republican primary in humiliating fashion in Wyoming by 37 points.

Cheney’s wish to continue her career as an anti-Trump crusader by running for president will likely go nowhere. Her sole value to the Left and the Democratic establishment was as a weapon to wield against Trump and the Republicans. Her fair-weather friends have no interest in supporting her in a presidential bid because in Congress she voted with Trump, whom she hates, 93 percent of the time. 

Anyone can see how Cheney has changed physically in the time she has been warring against Trump and her fellow-Republicans. It is a striking transformation. She has gone from being a handsome woman (like her mother Lynne) to a haggard-looking, wrinkled crusader. She is so tiresomely fixated on the subject that has ruined her career that she doesn’t seem to care about other matters. The widely expressed judgment of Wyoming voters that she no longer serves their interests but is using her congressional position to pursue her private passion is, unfortunately, true.

Despite this obsessiveness, I am far more impressed by Cheney’s anti-Trumpism than by the transparent careerism of NeverTrumpers who still benefit from conservative associations. For example, National Review has been able to have its anti-Trump cake and eat it at the same time, denouncing Trump in rhetoric hardly distinguishable from that of Cheney without losing the magazine’s high status as a “conservative” enterprise. Its staff has railed against Trump’s “moral culpability” for the unfortunate events of January 6 and has treated the former president as a contemptible buffoon. Inserting attacks against Trump into essays ostensibly about other figures has become characteristic of this strategy, whether we find Rich Lowry ostensibly criticizing Merrick Garland or Charles C. W. Cooke writing in the New York Post about Alec Baldwin. In both cases the real target seems to be the hated former president. Such commentaries serve as pretexts to slam Trump and to belabor the point that he deserves to be held in public contempt.

This method of attack works well in allowing its practitioners to appeal to the Left and the supporters of Liz Cheney without having to suffer unpleasant consequences. In comparison to this soon to be ex-Congresswoman, authorized anti-Trump conservatives are doing quite well for themselves. They can gather funds and publicity from across the political spectrum by playing to all media-endorsed sides. National Review dutifully notes Cheney’s “sacrifice” before getting back to Trump’s contemptible character and stressing the need to remove him from public life:

It is true that Trump’s course of conduct from Election Day 2020 through January 6 amply justified his removal from office and warranted the political and moral judgment that he should never hold public office again.

Although National Review and its editor complain about the “monomania” into which Cheney’s noble sacrifice” descended, not even this sacrificed warrior can equal National Review in its endless outpouring of anti-Trump invective. They have become at least as monomaniacal as Cheney in riding this hobbyhorse. At the same time, these triangulators remain key players in what passes for conservative discourse and take ample advantage of their access to Fox News and the Murdoch press. All this is in contrast to the politically ruined Liz Cheney, who has a war chest but probably nowhere to go with it. One can feel sympathy for this driven crusader even if one rejects her crusade. For those who have egged her on, while never losing their conservative bona fides, I feel nothing but contempt. 

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About Paul Gottfried

Paul Edward Gottfried is the editor of Chronicles. An American paleoconservative philosopher, historian, and columnist, Gottfried is a former Horace Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, as well as a Guggenheim recipient.

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