Opinion | White House

Liz Cheney: A profile in courage

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

I have known Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) since we served together in the first George W. Bush administration. I remember then-Deputy Secretary of State Rich Armitage praising her to the skies. In many ways she was and is like Armitage himself - straightforward, never one to mince words, and totally fearless.

Like the president she worked for, Cheney stands for classic Republican values. She supports small government. She is skeptical of tax hikes on either individuals or corporations. As a former State Department official, she is keenly aware of the importance of diplomacy. At the same time, however, she advocates for a muscular America whose forces, together with those of its allies and partners, can credibly deter adventurism by China, Russia, North Korea, Iran or anyone else. She recognizes that, without that deterrent, diplomacy is but an empty shell.

Like President Bush, there is not a racist bone in Liz Cheney's body. Like Bush, she doesn't brag about that fact; she just lives it. She is honest, ethical, a patriot. It is a combination of qualities that demands respect, regardless of whether one agrees with any or all of her policy preferences and priorities.

It should come as no surprise that Cheney is the Republicans' anti-Trump. She represents everything that the former president is not. It is an understatement to assert that Cheney has not been shy about decrying and debunking the conspiracy theories that led to the Jan. 6 insurrection and are embodied by Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) - who had the temerity to lead rallies against Cheney in her home state of Wyoming - and others in the House Republican Caucus, of which Cheney is the third ranking member. 

Cheney's recent strongly-worded tweets rejecting the argument that President Biden stole the 2020 election, and her greeting the president when he spoke to the joint session of Congress, has infuriated many in the House GOP caucus - including, apparently, her fellow caucus leaders - more so than anything Gaetz and Greene have done.  

The House Republican Caucus has yet to take any action against Gaetz, despite a cloud of sexual misconduct allegations against him. Gaetz has not been suspended from or stripped of his committee assignments, even though it is arguable that suspension would be warranted pending the outcome of the investigation of his alleged activities. Similarly, the caucus has taken no action against Greene, despite her seeming threats to other members of the House. Instead, it was left to the Democrats to vote her off her House committee assignments.

Both Gaetz and Greene are outspoken Donald Trump supporters, and it appears that much of the caucus, with some brave exceptions, cannot contemplate looking past the former president. That the caucus is contemplating dumping Cheney from her current role as House Republican conference chair, and that her superiors in the caucus reportedly are advocating for her removal because of her clear opposition to Trump's ongoing assault on the election's outcome, says less about Cheney's integrity and more about their pusillanimity.

There are those who argue that Cheney should leave the Republican Party, perhaps to lead a new conservative party. There is no reason that she should. On the contrary, she represents longstanding conservative Republican values. She and her like-minded colleagues in both the House and the Senate - and indeed, around the country in statehouses and city halls - can yet save the party from itself. If anyone deserves the epithet of "Republican in name only" it is Trump, a longtime Democrat who switched parties and appears willing to do and say anything to avoid being cast as "a loser."

Cheney deserves the support of all right-minded Americans, regardless of their political affiliations. At the same time, however, she should not become a vehicle for bashing Republicans. On the contrary, she should be applauded for what she is - a profile in courage, the first 21st century figure who, without doubt, deserves to be added to the John F. Kennedy classic study bearing that timeless title.

Dov S. Zakheim is a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and vice chairman of the board for the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He was under secretary of Defense (comptroller) and chief financial officer for the Department of Defense from 2001 to 2004 and a deputy under secretary of Defense from 1985 to 1987.

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