Wednesday, August 17, 2022

After Wyoming

Nobody - certainly not Liz Cheney herself - was surprised Tuesday by the outcome of the Wyoming Republican primary. Still, it got as much attention as a closely contested election for a more major office in a more electorally significant state. And understandably so! As Donald Trump has successfully remade the Republican party into a politically dangerous personality cult, congresswoman Cheney has emerged as a uniquely powerful spokesperson for the defense of democratic constitutional politics. 

“Two years ago, I won this primary with 73 percent of the votes," Cheney reminded her audience as she conceded at an outdoor stage in Jackson. "I could easily have done the same again, the path was clear, but it would have required that I go along with President Trump’s lie about the 2020 election,” she continued, making her major point. “It would have required that I enable his ongoing efforts to unravel a democratic system and attack the foundations of our Republic. That was a path I could not and would not take. No House seat, no office in this land is more important than the principles that we are all sworn to protect. And I well understood the potential political consequences of abiding by my duty.”

How many of her congressional colleagues, for so many of whom nothing in the world would be worse than losing an election, must have watched with complete incomprehension as this daughter of a former Republican Vice President, who won her last election by a landslide and a year ago occupied the third highest post in the House Republican party caucus, threw it all away for the sake "of abiding by my duty.”

So what next for Cheney? Invoking Lincoln's losses before winning the presidency possibly portends her own presidential run. Of course, Cheney understands full well that there is no electoral path for her to become president. And she surely understands the peril to the republic from yet another third-party, "spoiler" candidate, replicating the damage done by the likes of Ralph Nader in 2000 and Jill Stein in 2016. On the other hand, imagine her running in the 2024 Republican presidential primaries, challenging Donald Trump's otherwise unobstructed path to another coronation!

Obviously, I have no special insight into her plans. Presumably she understands the evocative power of the Lincoln analogy. Lincoln led the new Republican party to victory. In the last - and only - "third party" presidential win, Lincoln's Republicans replaced the Whig party. Does she somehow envision a movement that can repeat history and do that to the Republicans? Probably not. Lots of ex-Whigs were drawn to the new party because of its stance on slavery. Trump may prove to be as divisive as was the issue of the expansion of slavery, but it is hard to imagine a comparable constituency in today's Republican party to be lured away by her. No, the only vehicle for fighting Trump's Republicans and preserving democratic constitutional government still viable in the present is the Democratic party, despite its divisions and the self-destructive chaos its character as a fractious coalition invites upon itself. 

Again, Cheney knows all these things. But, by running for president in the Republican primaries, she can aspire to replicate on an even larger stage her role on the January 6 committee as the sort of Socratic gadfly our society so desperately needs now. To quote Socrates himself in his Apology:

I am the gadfly of the Athenian people, given to them, and they will never have another, if they kill me. And now, Athenians, I am not going to argue for my own sake, as you may think, but for yours, that you may not sin by condemning me. For if you kill me you will not easily find a successor to me, who, if I may use such a ludicrous figure of speech, am a sort of gadfly, given to the state; and the state is a great and noble steed who is tardy in his motions owing to his very size, and requires to be stirred into life. I am that gadfly  attached to the state, and all day long and in all places am always fastening upon you, arousing and persuading and reproaching you. You will not easily find another like me.

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