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What Liz Cheney is really aiming for

United States Representative Liz Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican, must be banking on the notion that much can happen between now and 2022, and even more by 2024. Why else would she have gone out of her way last week to fist-bump President Joe Biden at the joint-session of Congress, an image that will return to haunt her in a Wyoming primary, where former president Donald Trump is working to defeat her?

Although Cheney says she can win that primary, in 2022, the numbers currently say no. "She wanted to be speaker," a conservative political consultant told me today. "And it's all going up in flames." But could Cheney be setting her sights higher than that?

The daughter of Dick Cheney has refused the conspiracies that fueled the Capitol insurrection on January 6, 2021. She has taken a lonely and tough stance against Trump's position as either the GOP's king or its kingmaker. Despite being censured by the Wyoming GOP after the House impeached Trump, she won't repudiate that vote.

The fist bump sent another message. Liz Cheney is an old-school Republican who has clear differences with Democrats but a shared commitment to the democratic process. Given every opportunity to repair her relationships with Trump loyalists, Cheney has doubled down on a simple truth: Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election.

Cheney retaliated after Trump said on Gab that, "The Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2020 will be, from this day forth, known as THE BIG LIE!" Six out of 10 Republicans agree, but not Cheney. "Anyone who claims it was is spreading the BIG LIE," she tweeted, "turning their back on the rule of law and poisoning our democratic system."

Later that same day, at an American Enterprise Institute event, Cheney repeated herself. Support for the election conspiracy theory was "disqualifying" for any Republican, she emphasized, but particularly those with presidential aspirations.

Cheney is betting the farm that ordinary conservative Republicans will, in the end, support that position—and perhaps her, too. Not so long ago, she was a rising star in the GOP. "She kind of reminds you of Margaret Thatcher or somebody like that in history," United States Representative Greg Walden, Republican of Oregon, told Politico right before the 2020 election: "a strong person, in a big position, a woman who stands her ground in an otherwise male-dominated conference."

Now, Cheney has allies in her conference, but none of them supports publicly standing her ground against a lie that is a GOP moneymaker and that placates the angry man at Mar-a-Lago. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's patience with Cheney has been dwindling since April when Cheney, in an interview with a New York Post reporter, repeated her assertion that support for the Big Lie was "disqualifying." Importantly, when asked, Cheney refused to rule out a presidential run for herself in 2024.

Whether it's Cheney's unwillingness to accept the lie or the hint that Cheney is eyeing the presidency, McCarthy (who saved her leadership position) is under increasing pressure to demote her. In a news conference Tuesday morning, McCarthy signaled that a vote to replace Cheney in the conference leadership could happen next week.

Cheney might have insulated herself from controversy had she taken the easy route into the Senate in 2020. Yes, delegates booed former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who as a senator twice voted to convict Trump, at the recent state party convention. Catcalls of "traitor!" and "communist" were hurled from the crowd. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has refrained from criticizing members of his conference who dissent from the Big Lie. It is a position he has said he shares.

Currently, Cheney is an outlier for 2024. Trump is flirting heavily with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, nationally known because of his resistance to mask mandates and keeping the state open for business during the Covid-19 pandemic. But what if there is no Trump—as a candidate, kingmaker or king—in 2024? What then? That GOP would be a party without ballast. Its leadership has invested everything in an elderly, unpredictable man entangled in a series of federal and state investigations.

Cheney is a demonstrably tough leader and excellent fundraiser ready to take charge of the party. United States Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, who will retire in 2026, has defended Romney;'s right to depart from Trump. She seems to think so, too. "Liz Cheney is a woman of strength and conscience," Collins told the Washington Examiner. "She did what she thought was right, and I salute her for that."

Can Liz Cheney finish what she has started?

She thinks she can.

Republicans put themselves in a box — after driving the nation into a ditch​

Why, at this time of desperate need, does the Republican leadership refuse to put its fingerprints on legislation that relieves the American people's suffering? Not one Republican in the entire US Congress voted for the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

If you scrolled through right-wing social media last weekend, you'd see the top news was not the increased pace of vaccination or the arrival of $1,400 stimmies. It was Joe Biden's triple-stumble on the staircase to Air Force One. A particularly creative meme tweeted out by Donald Trump, Jr. interspersed video of the former president hitting golf balls, which then appeared to hit Biden in the head and knock him down.

United behind obstructionism so extreme it overwhelmed the need to pass legislation when the GOP controlled both chambers of the Congress, Biden tripping and falling now counts as a Republican win. In fact, over the four years of the Trump administration, exactly one major piece of legislation was passed, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, a big unwrapped present to corporations, but not to the American people. Instead, congressional Republicans have unified behind the bizarre theory that Congress must deliver cultural criticism and mean jokes about their colleagues.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell once proudly called himself the "grim reaper" of Democratic legislation. In the last four years, however, he also kept bipartisan legislation—universal background checks for gun purchases, promoting net neutrality, and reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act—off the Senate floor.

In fact, the GOP seems engaged in dismantling the government, a project the 2017 tax package enhanced. Even as the national debt spiraled upwards to $27 trillion by the end of 2020 (a number that will probably go higher when the Covid-19 pandemic is fully calculated), vital government responsibilities like public health, delivering the mail, and monitoring tax returns were starved of funding and personnel.

Yet congressional Republicans, still reeling from their 2020 election losses and in desperate need of a win, don't see helping their own constituents as a way back to power in 2022. In fact, they seem to be willing to absorb as many legislative losses as they need to, including voting unanimously against the nearly $2 trillion covid pandemic relief package that delivers tangible aid to their constituents. Why?

The most obvious answer is that the Republican Party has put itself in a box. It cannot embrace popular right-wing conspiracy theories that Biden is a tired, confused old man fronting for socialists (which seems to be their strategy for 2022) while simultaneously doing business with him. Instead, the Party of No portrays itself as taking a principled stand against obvious—and, importantly, hidden—government interference. As Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) told Fox News, Biden was being deliberately "boring" in his policy approach in order to "hide his radical policy agenda."

Cruz and others also insist, against all evidence, that a nation that is governed least is governed best. Rand Paul has used his medical credentials (he's an ophthalmologist) to oppose government action against the coronavirus since last spring. Famous for misinformed public rants that portray federal health mandates as authoritarian, Paul bullied the covid-czar Anthony Fauci last week in a televised Senate hearing.

Not acknowledging the crisis helps the GOP to obscure its role, and the role of the Trump administration, in driving the nation into a ditch. More importantly, accepting the win of delivering services to their constituents with a bipartisan ARPA would have represented significant ideological backpedaling for a party that, since the Reagan administration, had refused the idea that government aid can ever be a hand up. But surely, you might ask, there is a less nakedly ideological explanation than this?

The answer is yes. With the national government now dominated by Democrats, the GOP is pushing meaningful legislation to Republican-dominated county governments, state legislatures and governor's mansions where they can win. There, a torrent of legislation—from culture-war edicts on school curricula to laws expanding gun ownership, and restricting reproductive and voting rights—is flourishing. When challenged, those laws will go to a US Supreme Court built by Mitch McConnell.

There are Republicans willing to take credit for government spending for which they never voted. "Independent restaurant owners have won $28.6 billion of relief," Senator Roger Wicker tweeted to Mississippi constituents on March 10. But that is also an important clue. Republicans know that even without their support that Democrats will help their constituents, indirectly deflecting voter discontent. Fed and housed by the government while at the same time fired up by GOP accomplishments at the local level, Republicans hope these same voters will return them to power in 2022.

Behind the right wing's nefarious obsession with calling Joe Biden 'senile'

If you haven't heard anyone tell you, with complete confidence, that President Joe Biden is senile and has had numerous strokes, it says something about you.

You have no right-wing friends.

The charge that Democratic leadership was too old has been a coordinated right-wing media strategy since early 2020. In January, pundit Laura Ingraham implied that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had "dementia"; on May 7, Dinesh D'Souza began referring to Biden as senile. As the election grew near, he called him a "senile dotard."

Deliberate falsehoods and wisecracks about Biden's mental state (Tucker Carlson referring to him as "President Houseplant") are not really about age. They imply that Biden, a liberal, is a figurehead being controlled by his party's left wing. This narrative is foundational to the evolving conspiracy theories, and doubts about democracy, that activate far-right partisans today. Biden, they believe, is fronting for the deep state.

Age was worth discussing last year. It featured five of the 10 oldest candidates in American history, four of them Democrats. There were widespread doubts that, at almost 78, Biden could withstand the rigors of a national campaign, or the work of the presidency. Those doubts have proved to be unwarranted. Yet the Republican right remains unshaken. Partisans still comb every second of video for evidence of Biden's decline.

Deliberate falsehoods and wisecracks imply that Biden, a liberal, is a figurehead controlled by his party's left wing.

Donald Trump set things in motion with a nickname: "Sleepy Joe." Invoking the image of an old man nodding off, he implied that Biden's occasional verbal stumbles, many related to a congenital stutter, were signs of decline. "Sleepy Joe doesn't know where he is or what he's doing," he tweeted on March 2, 2020. Three weeks before Election Day, he said Biden was afflicted with "obvious & rapidly getting worse 'dementia.'"

In this narrative, aneurysm repairs that Biden underwent in the late 1980s were "strokes." As Donald Trump, Jr. tweeted, even "two explosions in his brain" did not explain why Biden "can't remember where he is most days." Fox News political analyst Brit Hume imagined a larger deception. Hume "didn't have any doubt that Biden's senile," but warned that such people are adept at concealing their condition.

Such comments lead us to another theory. Portrayals of Biden as senile allowed right-wing conspiracy theories that the election had been "stolen" to thrive. On November 6, the late Rush Limbaugh expressed disbelief that Americans elected "the most socialist, leftist, senile man ever." A columnist for alt-right Taki's Magazine imagined that "when the reality of a dementia patient in the White House becomes more than just a joke" Democrats "push him aside" in favor of a true socialist—like Kamala Harris.

Biden's competence and likability have awakened a desire among some ordinary Republicans for a functioning government. Perhaps not surprisingly, then, assertions that he is fronting for socialists may be a tactical diversion on the part of right-wing operatives. As one partisan fantasized this week, dangerous "leftists" like White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain, Pelosi (who is, oddly, no longer senile) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer are actually in control of Biden. They "are telling him what to do," this Trump supporter insisted. "The old senile man has no other choice."

The idea that Biden is an empty suit also helps the QAnon conspiracy theory hang together as a social movement, even though none of what the mythical "Q" has promised actually occurred. As QAnon defectors explained to CNN earlier this month, friends and family members believe that what appears to be Biden is either an occasionally malfunctioning robot with humanoid skin, or that the president is an actor on a White House movie-set. Either way, the "deep state" has taken control.

As Democrats and Republicans benefit from the $1.9 trillion American Recovery Plan Act, Biden's effectiveness will become harder to dispute. Unless, of course, Americans can be persuaded that, one way or another, Biden isn't even there, that good government is an elaborate deception perpetrated on the American people, and that we are all now living under socialism.

Which makes the image of Joe Biden as a senile old man crucial to keeping alive, not just for right-wing conspiracy theories, but for the Republican party's hope that it can return to power in 2022.

The revenge of the 'liberal tears'

For four years, Donald Trump and his followers mocked Democrats as congenital failures and weepers of "liberal tears." On the 2020 trail, Trump imagined a fistfight he might have with Joe Biden (a famous male weeper), promising his followers that Biden "would go down fast and hard, crying all the way." Madison Cawthorne (R-NC), celebrated winning a Congressional seat last year by tweeting: "Cry more, lib."

It was a ritual in 2020 for Trump supporters to taunt Democrats for crying or, like a bully on a playground, anticipate with delight the tears that would flow from liberal eyes when Trump and his allies scored another victory.

But Biden won, and crying may be back. On Monday, his nominee for attorney general, Merrick Garland testified before some of the same senators who refused him a Supreme Court hearing in 2016. Garland stopped to compose himself as he told the story of his grandparents' flight from antisemitic violence, and his "obligation to the country to pay back" for their lives. While some outlets respectfully described him as "emotional," others noted that Garland was "tearing up" as he spoke.

Of course, this kind of bullying is not entirely conservative. It is also good business. Just as you can purchase bacon-scented gun oil branded as liberal tears, there are coffee mugs for sale that hold "alt-right tears," "white tears," "MAGA tears" and the tears of men who are white, straight, and just plain mediocre.

But history skews towards weeping as a conservative slur. From the 1890s through World War I, Progressive men were taunted by their "red blood" opponents as effeminate "mollycoddles" prone to breaking down in tears. Women were excluded from voting until 1920, and then from office holding for another half-century because their tears were seen as the opposite of reason. A 2019 study showed that one in eight Americans still believe women are too emotional to hold office.

While President Dwight Eisenhower was known to have a good cry when asked to recall the sacrifices of World War II, male tears largely remained a sign of political weakness and failure for most of the 20th century. In 1952, then-Senator Richard Nixon cried when confronted with a fundraising scandal. Jimmy Carter was widely reported to have wept when he lost the 1980 election while the victor, Ronald Reagan, never shed a tear in public and was famous for displays of masculine anger.

That changed with Bill Clinton, who may have done more than any modern liberal to rehabilitate crying and associate it with the Democratic party. While Clinton cried very little as president, photographers often caught him in tears as he watched the former First Lady succeed as a politician after 2000.

The association between crying and authenticity was cemented in the 2008 New Hampshire primary when a TV crew caught the normally restrained Hillary Clinton on the brink of tears, a personal moment that gave her a victory over Barack Obama. By 2016, Obama had cried so frequently in public that it was said to be "revolutionary."

Obama's emotional honesty may have encouraged other men to cry too, even Republicans. John Boehner, who cried when he became speaker of the House in 2010, routinely wept when asked about his bootstrap story. And Glenn Beck, who wept so much— faith, family violence, and George Washington were a few triggers—that he was suspected of faking it and characterized by Trump during the 2016 campaign as a "weird guy" who was "always crying."

Trump hated tears. He announced on the eve of his inauguration that he never cried because he liked "to get things done." Not crying, as if others wept at the drop of a hat, became part of the Trump brand. While Melania Trump was said to have cried in despair when her husband was elected, she never cried in public: Trump once said proudly that she wouldn't cry if he died. Although Ivanka is said to cry when calling editors to have negative publicity retracted, no one in the Trump family has been photographed in tears.

And ironically, the false narrative of Trump's victory still hinges on tears. "Gimme four more years," a white adolescent boy lip-synced on TikTok last week, draped in a Trump flag. "What comes next? Liberal tears." Bumper stickers and tee shirts that used to read "Trump 2020: make liberals cry again" have been updated for an anticipated 2024 campaign.

They are now on sale at Amazon: because the only losers are people who cry.

Here's what makes the GOP so afraid of impeachment

As the United States Senate convenes Tuesday to begin trying Donald Trump for the second time, the vast majority of Republicans will not defend the disgraced president's attempt to overturn the 2020 election. Instead, as they did last time, they will charge that Democrats are "trying to achieve regime change through impeachment."

But is that true? And is regime change always undemocratic?

Progressives usually say yes. As foreign policy, regime change represents a forced political transformation, often by assassination, supporting a belligerent faction, or covert intervention in civil society. Regime change was a critical Cold War strategy by which the United States, the Soviet Union, and eventually China, created spheres of influence without risking direct warfare between nuclear superpowers. Reflecting on this, and the tinkering with other nations' governments that the US has engaged in since 1989, has led one scholar to conclude that regime change "rarely succeeds."

Arguably, Trump's second impeachment is an intriguing parallel. It seeks to purge a despotic figure, one that his own party is unwilling to disavow, from political life. Although he is out of office, a former president usually continues to wield power as the de facto leader of the party. A successful impeachment would decapitate the GOP politically, leave the party rudderless, and cripple its fundraising capacity for 2022.

Regime change also implies an attack on a nation's laws and constitutional government. Indeed, Republicans who support Trump have seized on the fact that the Constitution is silent on the question of impeaching a president after he leaves office: in the words of Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the Senate trial is "blatantly unconstitutional."

But let's think about regime change another way: what if we're seeing not an effort to topple another group, but a Democratic party renewing its commitment to justice?

More positively, regime change can refer to an institutional transformation that alters the political system. Democrats have much to account for in the compromises they made with conservative economic and governance theories in the 20th century. With the rest of what Occupy Wall Street famously called the 99 percent, Trump's white populist base was impoverished by these decisions, his donors enriched by them.

When, in his 1996 State of the Union, Bill Clinton announced that "the era of big government is over," he was announcing the triumph of a Democratic party consensus that had adapted to Reaganism. Now the party of a "new, smaller government" that would "work in an old-fashioned American way," Clinton Democrats embraced what became known as "neoliberalism": cutting taxes, eliminating social programs, encouraging self-reliance, getting tough on crime, and reducing regulations.

Many of these policies had a particularly devastating effect on Black communities that organized around making Barack Obama, a community organizer, the first Black president. Their success was a stunning form of regime change: electing a Black president of a historically white supremacist nation, but also one who promised to steer Democrats back to progressive, New Deal, and proudly "big," governance. Urging him forward as vice president was one of the Senate's staunchest liberals, Joe Biden.

Now, Biden seeks to complete a regime change within the Democratic party that, backed by a Democratic Congress, could create an ideological change in the political system that Republicans dread. While the president's inaugural address is remembered for its call to national unity, he also argued for the New Deal liberalism, refreshed and improved, that Clinton displaced. It is a vision of government doing big things: curing disease, fighting extremism, rebuilding the middle class, and delivering racial justice.

Is this regime change? You bet it is, and part of what that requires is demonstrating forcefully that the old bipartisan consensus, the one that brought Donald Trump to power, was a corrupt one. Successful or not, putting that information out in public is the most important job that impeachment does. Which is why Republicans fear it.

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