Liz Cheney
Rep. Liz Cheney at a news conference with House Republican leadership in March. REUTERS/Erin Scot

The democratic principle of “a loyal opposition” has existed for centuries and is premised on both the “peaceful transfer of power” and opposing points of view as crucial to saving and strengthening democratic institutions.

Without those principles, democracy dies and dictatorships rise.

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Enter Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, the eldest daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney and the unlikely leader of the current GOP version of the “loyal opposition.”

She not only defied ex-President Donald Trump on mask mandates, she voted to impeach him, then doubled down on his complicity in the Jan. 6 insurrection.

“The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack. Everything that followed was his doing,” she said. “There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”

Since that bold condemnation of Trump’s actions, Cheney has continued to defy him. Like a modern-day Joan of Arc, she not only charges into battle, she often outsmarts him.

Outraged, Trump demanded that challengers “primary” her in Wyoming, directed his minions in the House to force her resignation, and called for her removal from the No. 3 GOP leadership slot.

Not only did Cheney not resign, she handily won a vote in February to keep her post, did not get censored, or yield her ground, and has elevated her national stature as the leader of the GOP’s “loyal opposition.”

Plus, she raised more campaign funds than any member of Congress except Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and remains the highest ranking woman in the GOP.

Still, Trump’s anger smolders. He called her a “warmongering fool” who has little support in Wyoming and to “save face” probably won’t seek re-election.

Cheney’s response: “Wishful thinking. I’m not going anywhere.” Except into more battles.

Then came the viral fist bump with President Biden during his recent speech to a joint session of Congress, and Cheney’s agreement with Speaker Nancy Pelosi on narrowing the focus of the Jan. 6 investigation. The Trump acolytes were infuriated.

“I disagree strongly w/@JoeBiden policies, but when the President reaches out to greet me in the chamber of the US House of Representatives, I will always respond in a civil, respectful & dignified way,” Cheney tweeted on Thursday.

“We’re different political parties. We’re not sworn enemies. We’re Americans,” she tweeted. 

Why is Cheney so bold?

Lots of obvious reasons. She’s the eldest daughter of a powerful Republican, well educated with a law degree from the University of Chicago, has prior governmental experience, and her often overlooked, copious insider knowledge.

As with all well-connected individuals, she knows what’s coming. Before the press, the people, and even her colleagues. She already knows the probable trajectory of Donald Trump’s legal and financial jeopardies, which look bleak.

She comprehends that Trump’s failures will infect all those attached to him. The recent FBI raids of Rudy Giuliani’s home and office, the investigations of Trump loyalist Matt Gaetz for alleged sex trafficking, the lawsuits against the Trump organization, and multiple tax audits are piling up.

Who wants to hitch their future to a collapsing star?

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy for one. He is openly feuding with Cheney while waffling on Trump; a tenuous position, at best, to hold.

McCarthy initially faulted Trump for inciting the insurrection, then retreated, insisting that “everybody in the U.S. has some responsibility,” for the Capital mob. Then, in an attempt to appease Trump, he visited him at Mar-a-Lago, to seek help in winning back the House in 2022.

Cheney charged into that fray, too, arguing that anyone challenging the 2020 election results should be disqualified from a presidential campaign in 2024. That includes most Republicans.

She knows that if Trump goes down, so does McCarthy. And that leaves her and “the loyal opposition” still standing.

The fight continues, but some Republicans are getting nervous, “Whatever happens we should do it quickly,” said Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, an Ohio Republican. “Because I don’t think anyone believes this dynamic is particularly healthy right now.”

A classic understatement.

Colleen O’Connor is a retired college professor and native San Diegan.