Nicholas Goldberg: Liz Cheney’s principles were showiing at the Reagan library. So were her politics.

I am not a Republican and will not tarnish at the memory of the GOP’s glorious achievements.

So when I first arrived at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley on Wednesday, the pictures were of the 40th President — in cowboy costume, or eyeball to eyeball with Gorbachev, or love for Nancy, or planting a golf ball in the Oval Office – disappeared from me cold.

In my view, Reagan was a dangerous cold warrior and archconservative whose mistrust of government led him to unravel programs that had brought relief to millions of Americans.

But it’s a sign of how times are changing—and how egregiously the bar has been lowered—that I found my heart soften just a touch as I made my way through the exhibitions.

At least Reagan wasn’t some narcissistic, irrational, deceitful demagogue like some others I might name.

Stipple style portrait illustration by Nicholas Goldberg

opinion columnist

Nicholas Goldberg

Nicholas Goldberg was the editorial page editor for 11 years and is a former editor of the Op-Ed page and the Sunday Opinion column.

My re-evaluation was not really surprising under the circumstances. I had driven from Los Angeles to the Reagan Library for a speech by Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the outspoken, outspoken Jan. 6 vice chair of the House Special Committee who risked her seat in Congress to take on Donald Trump and his trailblazers.

“Low Polling Liz,” as Trump called her, had come to the rocky hills of Simi Valley to spread her message that Trump—a member of her own political party—has placed American democracy in existential jeopardy; that he had “gone to war against the rule of law”; that Republicans cannot be loyal to him and the Constitution. She said the country “stands on the brink of a precipice” and everyone has to choose sides.

“We face a domestic threat that we have never encountered before,” Cheney told the crowd of nearly 700 people. “And this is a former president trying to unravel the very foundations of our constitutional republic. And he is supported by Republican leaders and elected officials who have made themselves willing hostages to this dangerous and irrational man.”

In comparison, Reagan – for all his mistakes – looks like a statesman.

As for Cheney, my political disagreements with her are as deep and as comprehensive as my disagreements with Reagan ever were, from her hawkish foreign policy views to her reverence for small governments. She has defended the use of torture. She praised the Supreme Court’s decision to overrule Roe vs. Wade. For a time she did not even support her own sister’s right to marry another woman. (She has since changed her mind.)

But for now, that all seems beside the point. Today, she stands up for what she believes in and reminds Americans and people around the world what it means to be a principled person. It takes courage to challenge your political allies and join forces with your opponents.

As a result of her lonely anti-Trump struggle, Cheney was stripped of her leadership position in the House of Representatives by her GOP peers. Now she faces an even greater threat: a primary challenge on Aug. 16 from a Trump-backed candidate at home in Wyoming. Some polls suggest it could be as much as 30 percentage points behind.

Cheney is not a gifted or hyper articulate speaker. She is factual and factual; Her words draw strength more from their bluntness than from their eloquence.

Of course, she talked about the January 6 committee findings in the library. She said Trump knows he’s lost a fair election. Nevertheless, he called a dangerous mob to Washington. He knew mob members were armed and dangerous, but he ordered them to march on the Capitol to prevent votes from being authenticated. And not only did he not try to stop the melee, he fomented more violence.

Cheney also spoke about her own “conservative Republican” beliefs and snapped some brief snapshots of the Biden administration’s economic and immigration policies. She spoke about God and the importance of family.

I was very curious as to who would be attending an event for a breakaway Republican in a GOP stronghold. The room was full. The audience was clearly supportive. Cheney received several standing ovations even when she first walked in.

There were Democrats in the crowd – almost certainly more than usual at Reagan library events. Some felt a bit out of place. “I’m here to thank her for what she’s doing,” said Alan LaFace of Glendale, a Democratic voter.

There were also self-proclaimed independents who were curious to see Cheney in person.

And of course Republicans – mostly unhappy with Trump’s rise. One couple self-identified as Rockefeller Republicans. Another person said he was a Reagan Republican. A woman from Camarillo told me that she always voted Republican until 2020 when she voted for Biden. “I have a lot of respect for Liz Cheney,” she said.

A handful of protesters lining the street outside the library entrance shouted that Cheney was a RINO – a Republican in name only – and that those who attended the speech should be ashamed. They said that the January 6 committee was a unilateral delusion.

But in the library she was one of the supporters. “She risked everything,” said Big Bear City’s Greg Wyatt.

I have no idea if Cheney really risked it all or if she’s already gearing up for the next ambitious move. Many listeners said they see her as a potential future Republican presidential nominee, presumably representing the non-crazy wing of the Republican Party.

For my part, I would never choose her in a million years. It would be terrible for the country. But I still admire her, and I would at least always know that she is a principled person.

@Nick_Goldberg Nicholas Goldberg: Liz Cheney’s principles were showiing at the Reagan library. So were her politics.

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