(WASHINGTON) — There was only one path forward for her fellow conservatives, Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney said in a speech on Wednesday night: either follow the Constitution or former President Donald Trump, whose conduct around last year’s pro-Trump insurrection is the focus of the congressional committee Cheney helps oversee.
“It is undeniable — the Republican Party cannot be both loyal to Donald Trump and loyal to the Constitution. We must choose,” Cheney told a crowd at the Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute in Simi Valley, California.
“We must not elect people who are more loyal to power or to themselves than they are to our Constitution,” Cheney went on to say.
She appeared at the library as part of a larger speaker series on the future of the GOP, which previously spotlighted Republicans from several segments of the party, including Sens. Tom Cotton and Ben Sasse, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and more.
Cheney has emerged as one of the Republican Party’s most vocal and most famous Trump critics, alternately esteemed for her candor and criticized by Trump and other conservatives for what they call her betrayal. Indeed, as she was being introduced on Wednesday, a library official briefly noted and then dismissed concerns they received that Cheney might be heckled in the audience.
She and nine other GOP members of the House voted to impeach Trump last year in the wake of the Jan. 6 rioting at the U.S. Capitol — a decision that ultimately led Cheney to lose her position in the House’s Republican leadership — and she is one of only two Republicans on the House Jan. 6 committee, alongside Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger.
Unlike Kinzinger, who is stepping down from office, Cheney is seeking reelection in November.
Trump has repeatedly assailed Cheney — for her criticism of him as well as, he says, for her foreign policy views, calling her a hawk — and he endorsed a primary challenger against her, Harriet Hageman, with their race set for Aug. 16.
At Wednesday’s speech, Cheney took pains before addressing Trump and the Jan. 6 committee to reiterate that she holds deeply felt conservative policy beliefs and has long been connected to the party, in part through her father, Dick Cheney, a former secretary of defense and vice president. She also took time to criticize Democratic President Joe Biden’s handling of inflation and the southern border.
“But at this moment, we are confronting a domestic threat we have never faced before — a former president who is attempting to unravel the foundations of our constitutional republic. And he is aided by Republican leaders and elected officials who have made themselves willing hostages to this dangerous and irrational man,” she said.
She made something of a broader pitch to her party — and perhaps her constituencies — about the kind of candidates who should, ideally, thrive on a Republican ballot: leaders who are “serious” and “substantive,” who “defend principle” and “abide by their oaths of office.”
Leaders unlike the last Republican president, she felt.
“As the full picture is coming into view through our work on the Jan. 6 committee, it has become clear that the efforts Donald Trump oversaw and engaged in were even more chilling and threatening than we imagined,” she said.
She applauded Cassidy Hutchinson, a 26-year-old former Trump White House aide who delivered revelation after revelation at Tuesday’s surprise Jan. 6 hearing.
“I have been incredibly moved by the young women, some of whom worked on the Trump campaign, some in the Trump White House, some as staffers on the Hill, who knew immediately that what happened on Jan. 6 must never happen again. America met one of these young women yesterday: Ms. Cassidy Hutchinson,” Cheney said.
“Her superiors — men many years older — are hiding behind executive privilege, anonymity and intimidation. Her bravery and patriotism were awesome to behold. Little girls all across this great nation are seeing what it really means to love this country, what it really means to be a patriot,” she continued.
Cheney’s appeal for the future? Create a party that fosters disagreements and one that steels itself against Trump’s rancor.
“We should work to build a future where we remember that, despite our differences, we are all Americans. Where our political battles and disagreements are intense, but where we do our best not to descend into vitriolic partisan attack,” Cheney said.
“But this time, this moment in our history, demands more. We cannot let ourselves be torn apart. That is what our enemies hope for,” she said.
“We stand at the edge of an abyss, and we must pull back,” she said. “We must pull back.”
She ended, in part, with this: “In our great nation, one individual can make all the difference and each individual must try. There is no bystander in a constitutional republic.”
“We must love our country so much,” she said, “that we will never yield in her defense.”
Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.