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Opinion: Liz Cheney’s ominous warning

Opinion By Julian Zelizer, CNN

(CNN) — Former Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney is furious with her party, ripping the GOP in her forthcoming memoir, “Oath and Honor,” for having enabled and supported former President Donald Trump in his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

According to a copy of the book obtained by CNN, Cheney paints a damning portrait of a party that understood it had lost the 2020 election — and supported Trump’s attempt to overturn the results anyway. Although Cheney was and remains a staunch right-wing conservative, she recognizes that the direction of her party is at odds with the health of US democracy. As she writes, Republicans were “willing to violate their oath to the Constitution out of political expediency and loyalty to Donald Trump.”

The biggest question is whether the book will make a difference within the Republican Party and move the needle in the GOP primaries — or the 2024 presidential election.

Nobody is spared in this account. In the book, Cheney exposes former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy for his jarring U-turn in the aftermath of the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol. Just weeks after he said Trump should “accept his share of responsibility” for the attack, McCarthy traveled to Mar-A-Lago and posed for a photograph with the former president.

When Cheney saw the photo of the two men smiling together, she recounted, “Not even Kevin McCarthy could be this craven, I thought. I was wrong.” When she confronted McCarthy in person, he justified his visit by saying he was worried that the former president was depressed and not eating.

The book is filled with Cheney’s disappointment with her fellow Republican colleagues. She details one such moment when Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas infuriated her by trying to put aside the Electoral College vote count on January 6 in favor of setting up a commission that would investigate election results that had already been recounted and certified. “It was one of the worst cases of abandonment of duty for personal ambition I’ve ever seen in Washington,” she writes.

Written before she knew that Rep. Mike Johnson would be elected Speaker of the House, Cheney also accuses him of bowing to Trump. When Cheney challenged Johnson, pointing out the flaws in the amicus brief he crafted to throw out the election results in four states Trump had lost, Cheney writes, “Johnson would often concede, or say something to the effect of, ‘We just need to do this one last thing for Trump.’”

Her position as a Republican willing to speak out against Trump and her own party was so rare that by the end of the House select committee’s investigation of January 6, we learn, Cheney saw Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s chief of staff walking around with a “Team Cheney” hoodie. Although Pelosi and Cheney disagreed on almost everything, they concurred on one big issue: “the defense of our Constitution and the preservation of our republic.”

But the question remains: will the book matter at all? Although Cheney includes new, first-hand details, the basic story is one the public has long known. Congressional committees, legal proceedings and journalists have provided extensive information about the GOP’s role in making Trump the powerful figure  he is. Despite it all, the former president seems to have suffered few political consequences.

Many Republicans just don’t care. It isn’t simply that some voters have bought into Trumps’ election lies — Cheney argues that many prominent Republicans were simply willing to accept Trump’s actions, seemingly believing that all is fair in partisan warfare.

Much of the party has caved to the extraordinarily dangerous notion that anything goes — that backing Trump even with all of his baggage enables Republicans to forcefully counter Democrats. This is what happens when the partisan imperative to win becomes the single most important factor above all else, including the health of our democratic institutions.

Cheney’s book is a stark warning — and the only way for Republicans to prove that they hear what she is saying is to rally around another candidate and defeat Trump in the primaries. Without accomplishing that goal, the book — along with Cheney’s repeated calls for Republicans to change course — will end up proving once again that the GOP is more than comfortable with abandoning reason and throwing our democracy under the bus, so long as it means they can rally behind Trump once again in the hopes of winning back the White House.

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