I loved every second.
I celebrated on social media with other libertarians who also enjoyed her comeuppance. But some libertarians didn’t agree. They stood with Liz Cheney and even praised her stance and her as moral, good and righteous.
That is something I can’t wrap my head around.
This is Liz Cheney. You are a libertarian! I don’t care if you absolutely loathe Donald Trump, were horrified by the January 6 Capitol Hill attack (as everyone should be) and believe the former president should be impeached for it (I believe Trump played a role in inciting the attack, an act that is definitely impeachment worthy, but also believe it is unconstitutional to pursue impeachment post-presidency).
But this is still Liz Cheney: one of Washington’s most high profile and influential neoconservatives, the sworn enemies of peace lovers and civil libertarians of any stripe. War. Torture. Drone strikes. Black sites. PATRIOT Act. Gitmo. Mass surveillance. Her dad. She’s your gal.
Then I noticed something else. Many of the libertarians warming to Cheney were younger than me. Mostly in their twenties or thirties. I’m 46.
It dawned on me: they didn’t know.
They did not experience the awful George W. Bush era as adults or perhaps were unaware of Republican hawks’ merciless tactics during the Obama years. They must not remember that Team Bush-Cheney did everything possible to squash any hint of non-interventionism from taking root within the Republican party. Throughout the aughts, GOP hawks — who had all the leverage, from manning the White House to a rabidly pro-Iraq war base — did not hesitate a bit to stomp any anti-war types on the Right out like a bug or an Afghan wedding.
Younger folks also might not recall that for over a decade, neoconservatives’ primary targets were the small group of libertarian-friendly Republicans members of Congress sometimes called ‘Ron Paul Republicans’: Sen. Rand Paul, Rep. Thomas Massie and former Rep. Justin Amash (now Libertarian)
I could write a book on this. Here’s a short history instead.
After Rand Paul won his Republican US Senate primary in 2010, a distraught David Frum lamented, ‘How is it that the GOP has lost its antibodies against a candidate like Rand Paul?’
The former George W. Bush speechwriter was not merely upset his candidate lost. Frum did not believe someone with the foreign policy views of Rand Paul belonged in his party.
Today, people wonder if they have the antibodies to ward off COVID. Frum cried over Republicans contracting Rand Paul.
Frum also had a point: he and his generation of Bush-Cheney alumni had almost exclusively defined what it meant to be a conservative, post-9-11. Paul did not belong in their club. A decade prior, Frum wrote his infamous ‘Unpatriotic Conservatives’ essay for National Review, declaring that Robert Novak, Pat Buchanan and a handful of lesser known anti-war figures were now banished from the conservative movement.
Not merely ‘we agree to disagree.’ Hawks declared these conservatives personae non grata. Begone!
Yet by 2010, the neocon mob could no longer dismiss anti-war views on the right as merely left-wing — but they sure as hell tried. When Dick Cheney endorsed Rand Paul’s primary opponent — one of only two Republican primaries the former vice president would intervene in that year — he said, ‘I’m a lifelong conservative, and I can tell the real thing when I see it.’
In other words, conservative = war, so bye Rand. Yet, the Tea Party-backed Paul, for whom I worked for several years, ended up winning his primary with 59 percent of the vote, besting his opponent, Trey Grayson’s, 35 percent.
Team Cheney was in freakout mode over future Sen. Paul. Former Cheney aide Cesar Conda sent an email to a group of prominent neocons, ‘Rand Paul is NOT one of us,’ he warned. ‘It is our hope that you can help us get the word out about Rand Paul’s troubling and dangerous views on foreign policy.’
That private email was sent to a who’s who of neoconservative figures such as Bill Kristol, Robert Kagan, Dan Senor, Marc Thiessen and…Liz Cheney. At the time, Ms Cheney headed the neocon group ‘Keep America Safe’, an organization dedicated to promoting pre-emptive war and defending torture, a history she has attempted to hide since.
‘This guy could become our Republican senator from Kentucky?’ Conda exclaimed in a later interview. ‘It’s very alarming.’
A Republican peacemonger in the US Senate?! Oh no!
Republican hawks had not only Mitch McConnell and Dick Cheney working to stop Paul in that election, but brought in the original neoconservative presidential hope from 2008, former New York City mayor, Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani said, ‘Trey Grayson is the candidate in this race who will make the right decisions necessary to keep America safe and prevent more attacks on our homeland.’
‘He is not part of the “blame America first” crowd that wants to bestow the rights of US citizens on terrorists and point fingers at America for somehow causing 9/11,’ Giuliani added.
That line was a dig at Rand — and his dad.
Accusing non-interventionists of excusing or aiding terrorists had become a common attack from neoconservatives. In 2007, on a Republican presidential debate stage, Giuliani demanded an apology from Ron Paul for supposedly blaming America for 9/11.
Neocons couldn’t stand it. Bill Kristol whined on C-Span in 2012, ‘A lot of people when they criticize Ron Paul have to preface their criticism by saying, “you know, he’s a good guy, he brings a lot to the debate”. I actually don’t buy that.’
‘I do not think he’s a particularly good guy,’ Kristol jabbed. ‘I think it would be better for the Republican party, if he left the Republican party.’
For hawks, the Paul family’s unthinkable political success had become personal. Neoconservatives began wondering aloud what was happening to their Republican party.
But Ron and Rand Paul were just the beginning.
Also elected in 2010 was Republican congressman Justin Amash of Michigan, who would go on to become one of the most libertarian members of Congress. In 2013, when Edward Snowden revealed to the world that the US government was conducting warrantless mass surveillance, it was Amash who led the fight to restrain and reform the NSA. He was just a few votes shy of getting his legislation passed.
The neoconservatives never liked Amash (until he later supported impeaching Trump), but the most shameful attack on him came after the NSA fight.
In 2014, hawks found an opponent to primary him. Out front for this effort was Republican Devin Nunes, who accused Amash of not being a real Republican, the tired old Bush-Cheney GOP tactic.’He’s been leading the charge and not telling the truth about [NSA surveillance policies],’ Nunes told Politico. ‘He’s been fanning the flames, and it gets to the point where my assessment is this is a guy willing to work with San Francisco Democrats…’
Then Nunes said of Amash, who is of Palestinian and Syrian descent, ‘At the same time he’s al-Qaeda’s best friend in the Congress.’
Again, neoconservatives arguing that non-interventionists and civil libertarians are on the side of terrorists was not new. The xenophobia was.
Amash said of his neocon-backed opponent, ‘I’m an Arab-American, and he has the audacity to say I’m al-Qaeda’s best friend in Congress? That’s pretty disgusting.’
It was disgusting. But as any anti-war conservative who remembers this history recalls, there is no low to which hawks would not stoop to kneecap libertarian Republicans.
Needless to say, the neoconservatives have never liked the libertarian Republican congressman from Kentucky, who sits in a safely red seat. But if there was ever a chance to remove him from Congress, you bet the old hawkish GOP guard would take it. Instantly.
And Liz Cheney did.
When Rep. Massie demanded a roll call vote on the first COVID relief bill in April 2020, hell rained down: President Trump wanted to kick him out of the GOP and most Republicans and all Democrats roundly denounced him.
Cheney pounced — she immediately endorsed Massie’s Republican primary opponent and rallied support for him.
Never mind that Massie’s primary opponent was a racist. But does anyone actually think Cheney’s team vetted this guy? Of course not. It wasn’t about that.
Cheney was so eager to oust Massie — for being a principled fiscal conservative on an issue he was later proven right about — that any primary opponent would do. Embarrassed, she later withdrew her support for his challenger.
But she intended to use Massie’s brief unpopularity with Trump and the Trump-loving Republican base against him. It wasn’t about being pro-Trump, but anti-Massie. She was eager to stand with Trump if it meant eliminating a libertarian Republican from Congress. The reason mattered far less to her than getting the job done.
Cheney and her kind have operated this way for at least two decades, post-9/11. Ruthless. Shameless. No mercy.
Today it seems most Republicans are mad at Liz Cheney for disloyalty to Trump, a reason many libertarians may or may not agree with. That’s fine.
But don’t glorify this woman. Do not give her and the neoconservatives the respect or courtesy they have never given us and never would.
Non-interventionists don’t have to like Donald Trump. They don’t have to disagree with impeachment. But they should not embrace an unrepentant warmonger who would work overtime to take them down if they ever got anywhere close to political power.
In 2020, Liz Cheney had zero hesitation in taking out her ideological arch-enemy Thomas Massie using Trump’s popularity in the GOP to do it.
May she meet the same fate for the same reason in 2022.
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