Yes, the hearings of the January 6th Committee have been riveting. Yes, the Committee seems to be making a case against the former president that could be a great study for law students wanting to be prosecutors. Yes, the witnesses and evidence are convincing. But…
Buried in the mountain for testimony and miscellany, there’s a small drama taking place. A human interest piece that’s gone largely unreported. A story of someone “falling on a sword” that will most likely end a political career.
We could be watching the end of Rep. Liz Cheney’s political days. At least in Congress.
On the other hand, we may be seeing the beginning of a new career in non-elected public life that will find her rising to new prominence.
First, the bad news. At nearly this time when she ran for re-election, Cheney was a solid eight-points behind her opponent in Wyoming’s primary season. Somehow, she overcame that and won. Barely. Fast forward to 2020, same time period, same opponent. Polling going into her primary in September polling had her behind 28-points! A death knell.
How could she fall so far? What made the difference so negative for someone from Wyoming’s premier political family? Wha hoppen? Hold that thought.
Go back about 50 or so years and look at the last days of the meteoric rise and sudden fall of Idaho’s Sen. Frank Church. Remember who beat him in the 1980 general election? A political nobody – a Republican far to Democrat Church’s right – somebody many Idahoans never heard of. Steve Symms.
Symms – with his big smile – his seeming unbounded energy – an Idahoan most people didn’t know unless they were part of the state’s Conservative wing of Gem State Republicanism. A guy they would call – post-election – the “Giant Killer” who knocked off a big, nationally known politician. Frank Church
Church – who had been highly popular – a gifted orator – a guy many called “Golden Boy – Frank Church rose to national prominence as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relation’s Committee. He oversaw the return of the Panama Canal to Panama after decades of U.S. “ownership.” He was one of very few politicians – from any country – invited to speak at the United Nations even though he was not a head-of-state. He had a highly positive national reputation. A reputation that was one of the most cited reasons for his political downfall in Idaho.
“Too big for his britches,” was not uncommon when Church’s name came up in conversations in 1976. “He’s not paying attention to those of us who sent him there,” many said. And they voted him out!
Fast-forward to 2022 in Casper, Rock Springs, Laramie, Cheyenne and other communities in the “Cowboy State.” Walk the streets, ask what people think about the job Liz Cheney’s doing in Washington and you heard many of the same quotes.
“She’s so busy going after Trump she’s not paying attention to us.” “We didn’t send her back there to be on TV every night.” And similar short-sighted – not to mention ignorant – expressions.
If you’re a member of Congress from California, New York, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Colorado or even Utah, you can most often make a national name for yourself and survive. Dianne Feinstein, John McCain, Sherrod Brown, Mo Udall and a lot more. All with national – or international – profiles and all have – or had – long political careers.
But Idaho – population 800,000 in Church’s time; Wyoming – 2020 population 581-thousand in Cheney’s – the higher you rise, the more national prominence attached to your name. So, of course, “You’re just not paying enough attention to the folks at home.”
Any politician who wants to remain in national office has an overriding necessity for filling one job. Just one. Constituency service. Be responsive – very responsive – to every call, every letter, every request for help, every complaint. Respond. Phone. Email. Snail mail. Respond to all.
But, the caveat is, even that sometimes doesn’t work. Church, for example, I can say from lengthy first-hand experience, had an excellent constituency response. Cheney, raised in the political climes of Washington, and in an influential political family, may have had the same.
Still, both were considered “too big for their britches.”
First evening of the January 6th televised hearings, Cheney was the “wheel horse.” She was given the most TV time and was second only to the Chairman allowed to ask questions.
Was her political career considered when programming was done? Was her stellar performance part of an “audition” for future prominence – whether in or out of elected office? Were the “underwater” polling numbers thought about? Was the time allotted because Dems outnumber GOP members on the Committee seven to two?
We’ll never know. But, one thing we DO know is that, going into her 2022 election, Cheney was a 28-point polling underdog, “power of incumbency” or no. That’s considered “having both hands tied behind your back”in matters political. Something that had to be weighing heavily on her personally. Or, maybe when she resisted GOP demands she not serve on the committee, she knew her fate was sealed.
Given her nearly-impossible-to-overcome deficit with the folks at home, Liz Cheney probably felt “falling on her sword” in the name of “doing what’s right” was the right – the honorable – thing to do.
Those three words – “doing what’s right” – have been heard a number of times in the hearings already. They’ll be heard more before the saga is over.
At the moment, they seem to apply mostly to Ms. Cheney. In spades!
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