Trump faction purges Cheney; ‘Big Lie’ politics ricochet on GOP establishment
Republican protesters hold anti-Liz Cheneysigns during a rally Jan. 28, 2021, outside the Wyoming State Capitol in Cheyenne. | Michael Cummo / The Wyoming Tribune Eagle via AP

House Republicans made the purge of Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney official Wednesday morning, ousting her from their No. 3 leadership position over her refusal to go along with former President Donald Trump’s lie that Democrats stole the 2020 election from him. Behind closed doors, GOP House leader Kevin McCarthy oversaw a voice vote to decide Cheney’s fate rather than allow a tabulated ballot reveal any dissension in Republican ranks.

In stinging remarks on the House floor Tuesday evening and again Wednesday in front of the Republican political execution squad, the condemned hit out at what she called Trump’s “Big Lie” politics but was met with only boos from her colleagues.

Cheney has been the darling of the mainstream liberal media in recent weeks. It became clear that she was the symbolic defendant in a GOP show trial to set an example for Republican elected officials not toeing the Trump line. The fawning on outlets like MSNBC and others ramped up even further following Cheney’s televised Tuesday speech.

She pulled no punches against Trump, apparently determined to go down as a martyr for fabled decent Republicans in the GOP’s civil war. Cheney sees herself as the leader of the anti-Trump faction in the GOP and vowed to carry on the fight, perhaps sensing a way to turn her ouster to her political advantage. Her challenge to Trump’s domination paralleled a statement that came Wednesday morning from 100 Republicans demanding changes in the GOP and threatening the establishment of a third party if they don’t get their way.

Characterizing the former president as “a threat America has never seen before,” Cheney said Trump “provoked a violent attack on the Capitol in an effort to steal the election” and still threatens to “incite further violence.” Referring to the voter base of her own party, she said, “millions…have been misled,” and referring to her colleagues in the leadership, she denounced those taking “our party down a path that abandons rule of law and joins the former president’s crusade to undermine democracy.”

The consequences faced by Cheney—a member of Republican royalty—for daring to speak out against the falsehoods peddled by the ejected White House occupant demonstrate just how much factional control of the GOP has shifted. The blatantly anti-democratic, racist, QAnon-coddling, and fascist-leaning faction grouped around Trump, with roots in the Tea Party protests of the Obama years and links to white supremacist and terrorist movements, clearly has the upper hand over the country club neocons that have run the party for decades.

Cheney has been abandoned by the Republican Party leadership, sacrificed to the Trump faction. | Andrew Harnik / AP

Opportunist politicians like McCarthy in the House and Mitch McConnell in the Senate—neither of whom is a Trump true-believer—have accommodated themselves to this turn to secure their own positions. They continue to believe they can ride the tiger of Trumpism for their own benefit and power, even as they watch other GOP grandees like former House Speaker Paul Ryan and now Cheney fall.

Beyond the internal competition for control that the purge has revealed, it is also a case of the GOP establishment’s own political strategies ricocheting and coming back to hit them. For it was the George W. Bush and Dick Cheney (father of Liz) administration that resurrected “Big Lie” politics in the early 21st century.

In his blueprint for conquest, Mein Kampf, Hitler said that “broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily.” Condescendingly, he wrote that “in the primitive simplicity of their minds, they more easily readily fall victim to the big lie than the small lie.” His henchman and propaganda master Joseph Goebbels was blunter: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it…truth is the mortal enemy.”

Trump’s Big Lie is that Joe Biden and traitorous election officials conspired to cheat him out of a second term. But Liz Cheney’s father, Dick Cheney, was the architect of another Big Lie—one which provided Trump a fine example to follow.

Accomplice: Liz Cheney stands immediately to the left and behind her father, Vice President Dick Cheney, at the Bush-Cheney victory rally of Nov. 3, 2004, in Washington. She participated in the spread of the ‘Big Lie’ about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. | Ron Edmonds / AP

In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Bush administration declared to the world that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein possessed “weapons of mass destruction” that threatened humanity, thus requiring the United States to remove him from power. Cheney, the father, was the chief cheerleader for an Iraq invasion. He alleged Hussein was “amassing WMDs to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.” He swore that Iraq gathered materials to build nuclear bombs and claimed Iraqi intelligence had conspired with 9/11 perpetrators.

Of course, it has been confirmed that none of this was true—and it’s been proven that Cheney knew the statements were untrue at the time he uttered them. It wasn’t a case of bad intelligence or faulty reports but rather intentional deception at the highest levels. Despite a massive global anti-war movement, the Bush-Cheney lies successfully won over Congress and a few international allies to the drive for war.

Almost two decades later, the price of that Big Lie is still being felt. Iraq and the wider region remain in chaos. At least 200,000 Iraqis were killed (though the number could be as high as a million), 4,000 U.S. soldiers died, and the extremist Islamist movement emerged more emboldened.

During the war, Liz Cheney was perched in the State Department as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, a position from which she pushed the lie that Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorists and the Iraqi government were in cahoots with one another. In the years since she has continued to defend the invasion of Iraq and even took a stand endorsing the use of waterboard torture techniques against those captured by the U.S. A staunch neoconservative, she has also long advocated a U.S. attack on Iran.

Though Cheney has denounced Trump and voted for his second impeachment, she voted with him 93% of the time. Here, Trump gives his pen to Cheney after signing a bill in March 2017. | Andrew Harnik / AP

In her own time as an elected official, Cheney sought to wed herself to the rising extremist faction in her party to win votes. In 2012, she said that former GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, acknowledged by honest observers to be the most unprepared candidate for the White House of anyone until Trump, had been “more qualified than Obama and Biden combined.”

Cheney said the construction of a mosque in Manhattan would be a terrorist victory; she defended racist birther attacks on Obama. In Congress, she voted with Trump 93% of the time.

In the early 1930s, the German conservative elite—the political representatives of the old business and Junker ruling class—thought they could use Hitler and his Nazi extremists for their own purposes. Their gamble was that they would let Hitler crush the trade unions, the Communists, and the Socialists, and then they—the conservative elite—could pull Hitler’s strings. The bet made by old conservative politicians like Franz von Papen and Oskar von Hindenburg was a miscalculation. Once in power, Hitler’s fascist movement became a runaway train, throwing off those who believed they could wield it like a weapon. It took a world war to put an end to the Nazi terror.

Cheney voted to impeach Trump for the Jan. 6th coup attempt and had the audacity, to tell the truth about him this week. Given the immediate political costs to her own career, those actions took some guts, to be sure. That doesn’t, however, make her or others in the anti-Trump GOP faction, like George W. Bush, heroes of liberty. They helped birth and nurture Big Lie politics; Trumpism is, to a large extent, the result of their strategic choices.

The left and all defenders of democracy cannot simply revel in watching Republicans devour one of their own or seeing figures like Cheney fall from power. The further strengthening of the Trump faction, which after the Jan. 6 attempted coup has revealed the extent of the GOP’s fascist orientation, is a danger to the whole country. The Cheney purge is a further indicator of the Republican Party’s headlong rush into ultra-right, anti-democratic extremism. With the racist voter suppression measures being passed in GOP states nationwide and the sabotage of the post-COVID economic recovery, the shadow cast over the 2022 and 2024 elections grows darker.

As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article represents the opinions of its author.


C.J. Atkins
C.J. Atkins

C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People's World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left. In addition to his work at People's World, C.J. currently serves as the Deputy Executive Director of ProudPolitics.