Our new book is titled Divided We Stand: The 2020 Elections and American Politics. Among other things, it discusses the state of the parties. The state of the GOP is not good. Trump and his minions falsely claimed that he won the election, and have kept repeating the Big Lie. And we now know how close he came to subverting the Constitution.
Ms. Cheney, though, is fighting on behalf of her own code of honor. Hers is driven by a fidelity to what the Yale political theorist Steven Smith calls “enlightened patriotism,” one that insists on “loyalty to a particular constitutional form that we call liberal democracy or constitutional democracy.”
Such patriotism has always been in tension with the motto “my country, right or wrong,” because it is beholden to abstract, creedal principles, such as equality, individualism and the rule of law. And because these principles are open to interpretation, patriotism in the United States has long had a distinctly critical, questioning character. Mr. Smith even suggests that it birthed the nation, since the American revolutionaries regarded themselves as the true British patriots, not traitors.
Not unlike those British subjects facing a subversive king, Ms. Cheney had no real choice when faced with Mr. Trump’s assault on our constitutional order. To Ms. Cheney — and her Republican supporters in Wyoming — it would have been shameful to remain loyal to Mr. Trump. This is why, on the first anniversary of the Capitol invasion, she admonished on Twitter, “Anyone who denies the truth of what happened on January 6th ought to be ashamed of themselves.”
Beneath the surface of their honor feud lurk clashing understandings of political ambition. Unlike Mr. Trump, Ms. Cheney is seeking the esteem of future generations by doing what’s in the public interest even if she is cast out of office for doing so. Ms. Cheney told a Wyoming paper that just moments before her fellow Republicans pushed her out of House leadership, she warned them “that history was watching.”
Mr. Trump, meanwhile, is so loyal to his narrow code that he lacks even the theory of mind to understand Ms. Cheney’s ambition. For him, losing any contest is always dishonorable because it tarnishes his reputation as a strongman. Hence, his enduring fixation with ratings, polling and the “stolen” 2020 election. It’s also why he asked Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?” as they stood over the graves at Arlington National Cemetery, according to reporting in The Atlantic.