The former vice president — and member of Congress — has long been an unapologetic conservative. When he and President George W. Bush left office in early 2009, he was the conservative that liberals loved to hate the most.
“No question, Dick Cheney is a bona fide conservative,” Brookings’ Thomas Mann told CNN way back in 2000.
All of which brings me to Thursday when Cheney offered a stinging critique of his own party and their collective reactions to the riot at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.
“It’s not leadership that resembles any of the folks I knew when I was here for 10 years,” Cheney told CNN’s Ali Zaslav. In an interview with ABC’s Jonathan Karl, Cheney went even further, saying, “I’m deeply disappointed we don’t have better leadership in the Republican Party to restore the Constitution.”
It’s worth noting here — as plenty of Republicans will — that Cheney’s daughter, Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, is the leading (and one of the only) voices within the Republican Party urging the GOP to condemn both what happened on January 6 and the role then-President Donald Trump played in fomenting the insurrection.
Which, well, ok. Cheney, like any parent, is probably somewhat protective of his daughter. But, at the same time, he didn’t have to come to Congress to commemorate the anniversary of the January 6 attack. Nor did he have to talk to reporters — and tell them how he thinks the GOP has lost its way.
That he did so speaks to his concern at the current leadership of the Republican Party — and his belief that a course correction is badly needed.
He’s right, of course. And, my guess is that lots and lots of elected Republicans — leaders and rank and file — know it but are simply too scared of incurring the wrath of Trump to speak out.
Consider what the top two Republicans in Congress said in the immediate aftermath of the riot.
“Former President Trump’s actions preceding the riot were a disgraceful dereliction of duty,” Sen. Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor in the wake of Trump’s acquittal last February from an impeachment charge for his actions (and lack thereof) on January 6. “There is no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day. The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their President.”
A week after the Capitol riot, Rep. Kevin McCarthy was similarly blunt. “The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters,” McCarthy said. “He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding. These facts require immediate action by President Trump.”
In the year since those comments, McConnell has gone silent about Trump while McCarthy has slunk back into Trump’s good graces by trying to rewrite the history of January 6 — and Trump’s role in it. The party has generally followed suit, with few Republican elected officials willing to stand up and say that Trump lost the election fair and square and that there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud. So few have been willing to step out of line because a significant majority of the Republican base now believes the lie that the election was stolen from Trump.
Staying silent or even defending something you know to be false is, quite literally, the opposite of what leadership looks like. Real leaders stand up for what they believe to be right — even if their constituents don’t always agree. Because leadership isn’t going along to get along. It’s putting yourself on the line when it really matters to stand up and do what needs to be done for the good of the country.
Cheney’s critique of his own party’s leaders goes directly to that leadership question. And every Republican in Congress should stop what they’re doing and listen to him.