“This primary election is over. And now the real work begins…I will do whatever it takes to ensure that Donald Trump is never anywhere near the Oval Office, and I mean it. I love my country more,”
— Liz Cheney August 16, 2022
My latest for MSNBC Daily focuses on last night’s pyrrhic MAGA victory.
Rep. Liz Cheney had no illusions about her fate.
“If the cost of standing up for the Constitution is losing the House seat,” Cheney told The New York Times’ Jonathan Martin this month, “then that’s a price I’m willing to pay.”
With Cheney’s defeat in Tuesday’s Wyoming House primary, former President Donald Trump has helped end the congressional careers of eight of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach him for his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection. Four of them retired, and now four have been defeated in their GOP primaries.
Cheney was the crown jewel of Trump’s revenge tour, and, as much as any other election result, her ouster epitomizes the arc of the Trumpified GOP two years from the next presidential election.
And yet, it also reflects the party's vulnerabilities, because Cheney will leave office more influential and admired — and perhaps even powerful — than ever before.
This is a hard concept to understand for much of official Washington, for whom clinging to power is the prime directive and electoral defeat is its worst fear.
Like Trump, they misunderstood and underestimated the iron lady of Wyoming. But she is also a political rarity with few historical parallels: a mainstream politician willing not only to give up political power, but also to risk excommunication from the only political world she has ever known.
In an age when actual political courage is vanishingly rare, she personified John F. Kennedy’s definition of a profile in courage: “In whatever arena of life one may meet the challenge of courage, whatever may be the sacrifices he faces if he follows his conscience — the loss of his friends, his fortune, his contentment, even the esteem of his fellow men — each man must decide for himself the course he will follow.”
Indeed, as NBC News’ Jonathan Allen notes, “Cheney has arguably given up the most of any elected Republican — one who had been on a path to potentially become speaker of the House someday — to draw a line against Trump and his efforts to overturn the 2020 election by all means available to him.”
Whatever your opinion of her political views, she never wavered in her commitment to hold Trump accountable. When she announced she would vote to impeach Trump in January 2021, every sentence in her statement delivered a hammer blow:
The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack.
Everything that followed was his doing.
None of this would have happened without the President.
The President could have immediately and forcefully intervened to stop the violence.
He did not.
There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.
By any measure, this was an audacious and risky move, not only because she was the third-highest-ranking member of the GOP House leadership at the time, but also because she represented a district (the at-large seat from Wyoming) that Trump won by more than 46 points in 2020.
Over the next few months, Republicans like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who initially claimed to be appalled by the attack on the Capitol, scurried back to win Trump’s favor. Even some of the Republicans who voted with her to impeach tried to mute their criticism (and lost anyway).
Cheney remained rock solid.
When she was ousted from her leadership position in the GOP, she didn’t waver. When she was censured by her state party and it became clear she would face near-certain defeat in the 2022 primary, she continued to warn that Trump continued to pose a clear and present danger.
Because not only did she recognize Trump’s existential threat to democracy; she acted on that threat. And that meant putting the defense of the Constitution ahead of every other political and ideological priority. Cheney had consistently voted with Trump, and she remains a staunch conservative — on everything from foreign policy to government spending — but (unlike some of her critics) she recognized that those goals and principles now needed to be subordinated to the fight for democracy.
And so she continued to vote with Republicans on many issues, but she was willing to find common ground with the Democrats who wanted to investigate Trump’s role in the attempted coup. She accepted Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s appointment to the special committee and took on a marquee role as Trump’s most relentless prosecutor.
She knew this would make her a pariah in her own tribe. She did it anyway, accepting that she would lose friends, colleagues, donors and many of the alliances she had built up over a lifetime in politics.
This earned Cheney a somewhat strange (and sometimes strained) new respect among Democrats but subjected her to the full fury of MAGA vitriol. She has spent tens of thousands of dollars on special security because of threats of violence.
Few Washington politicos can begin to understand the moral and physical courage this required. But this 56-year-old woman put all the strutting phonies of MAGA manliness and masculine “toughness” to shame.
She didn’t want or need a seat at this table. She didn’t think another two years sitting at the right hand of an invertebrate like Kevin McCarthy — in a caucus stacked with cranks, bigots, cowards and time-serving hypocrites — was worth the price of her silence…
Speaking of Cheney, Politico’s Playbook reports:
Rep. LIZ CHENEY is wasting no time beginning the next phase of her bid to prevent DONALD TRUMP’s return to office.
“In coming weeks, Liz will be launching an organization to educate the American people about the ongoing threat to our Republic, and to mobilize a unified effort to oppose any Donald Trump campaign for president,” Cheney spokesperson JEREMY ADLER tells Playbook exclusively.
The new group, which will serve as Cheney’s primary political vehicle as she considers whether to run for president in 2024, does not have an official name yet. An informed guess: The Great Task, which was the name of Cheney’s final ad of the campaign. The phrase is from the last sentence of the Gettysburg Address, and Cheney also referenced it in her concession speech from Jackson, Wyo., last night.
ALSO: Make sure you watch Tim Miller’s latest Not My Party:
[Editor’s note: Watch Not My Party every week on Snapchat.]
Tim Miller: Liz Cheney died so that our democracy can live.
Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin on 30 Rock): Thank you, Liz.
Miller: This is “Not My Party,” brought to you by The Bulwark. This week as the Fates commanded, Liz Cheney, the patron saint of Not My Party, was sacrificed at the altar of election-fraud hysteria.
Our Censored Classrooms
PEN America is out this morning with a chilling report on “educational gag orders.’ It’s a BFD.
This year, proposed educational gag orders have increased 250 percent compared to 2021. Thirty-six different states have introduced 137 gag order bills in 2022, compared to 22 states introducing 54 bills in 2021. While there has been a decline in new gag order laws passed from 12 last year to 7 this year, overall, legislative attacks on education in America have been escalating—fast.
This year’s bills have been strikingly more punitive. In 2022, proposed gag orders have been more likely to include punishments, and those punishments have more frequently been harsh: heavy fines or loss of state funding for institutions, termination or even criminal charges for teachers.
While most gag order bills have continued to target teaching about race, a growing number have targeted LGBTQ+ identities. This includes Florida’s HB 1557—the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill—and 22 others. Attacks on LGBTQ+ identities have increasingly been at the forefront of educational censorship.
Bills introduced this year have targeted higher education more frequently than in 2021, part of a broader legislative attack on colleges and universities. Thirty-nine percent of bills in 2022 have targeted higher education, compared with 30 percent last year. At the same time, bills focused on diversity trainings at government agencies have decreased. Educational gag order bills have become focused almost entirely on educational institutions. And for the first time, some bills have targeted nonpublic schools and universities, too.
Consistent with last year’s trends, Republican legislators have overwhelmingly driven this year’s educational gag order bills. Only one bill out of the 137 introduced so far this year has had a Democratic legislative sponsor. Just a few years ago, Republican legislators were championing bills protecting free expression on college campuses; many are now focused on bills that censor the teaching of particular ideas.
Meanwhile, conservative groups and education officials are working to broaden the interpretation of existing gag order laws. Lawsuits have begun to appear that ask courts to interpret gag orders as broadly as possible, while state boards of education have handed down draconian penalties in excess of what the laws require.
In 2023, we anticipate that the assault on education will continue. More gag order bills will be filed in states where they failed narrowly this year. Based on current trends, we predict that other legislative attacks on education, such as “curriculum transparency” bills, anti-LGBTQ+ bills, and bills that mandate or facilitate book banning are also likely to increase.
1. Does Preserving Democracy Require Letting Trump Off?
Mona Charen, in today’s Bulwark:
Linker argues, with a heavy heart, that we have no choice but to refrain from making Trump a martyr with a prosecution. Like it or not, a significant constituency will have its faith in the rule of law further eroded by a Trump trial with consequences we cannot tolerate. The Trump minions are openly discussing civil war. And so, though it means surrendering to intimidation, the wiser course is to refrain.
2. The MAGA Crowd May Venerate 1776 But They Idolize a Would-Be Monarch
Jeffrey Isaac writes in this morning’s Bulwark:
The MAGA adherents who bedeck themselves in the symbols of the Revolution imagine themselves to be zealous patriots, modern-day Sons of Liberty and Minutemen at Lexington and Concord, standing against tyranny. The MAGA fanatic who died in a shootout last week after he attacked the FBI field office in Cincinnati said as much, referring to “patriots” in his postings to Trump’s Truth Social website and replying to MAGA superstar Marjorie Taylor Greene that “the next step is the one we used in 1775.”
The irony here is that the real-life American revolutionaries were avowed enemies of monarchy, while today’s wannabe revolutionaries have as their leader and hero Donald Trump, the most arrogant, monarchical president in U.S. history, a man who truly imagines himself to be beyond the law that applies to everyone else.
The winners of the Wednesday Worst Take Olympics: some assorted anti-anti-Trumpers:
Linker is wrong. We must indict Trump. We must not appease the MAGA terrorists and thugs by declining to charge Trump if the facts and law would warrant such a charge against any other citizen. We will not prevent a "civil war" by giving in to threats and intimidation, doing so would expedite it and make it worse. We must make our stand against our fellow citizens who would have us ruled over by a MAGA authoritarian (or worse), and we must make that stand using the best instrument we have in our arsenal: The Rule of Law.
Linker's argument is what has been happening for the past 6 years among the educated R's. The notion that placating Trump (and his minions) will work has failed everytime. I understand that the coming years are going to be awful, they might be violent in ways we haven't seen since the 60's but the notion that not elevating Trump to martyrdom will advance the polity of this nation is a fool's errand that has been tried and tried and tried again.
It breaks my heart what has happened in the last couple of decades to this country but can we please stop with the "we must take baby steps so the whole thing doesn't fall down" narrative. It hasn't worked, it isn't working, and it won't work. Assymetrical arguments are nonsense at this point.