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‘Existential and unique’: Cheney calls Trump an unprecedented danger to Republican Party

By Jake Beardslee · December 13, 2023

In brief…

  • Cheney believes Trump was an "aberration" in the GOP; Colbert disagrees and sees continuities
  • They sparred over whether longtime Republican rhetoric and policies paved the way for Trump
  • Cheney lost her seat after investigating January 6 and condemning Trump's election claims
  • She argued the priority now is opposing Trump's threat, not debating GOP history
Liz Cheney and Stephen Colbert debated whether Donald Trump represents an unprecedented danger or the outcome of longstanding Republican Party dynamics.  Office of Representative Liz Cheney/Wikimedia

Former Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney and late-night host Stephen Colbert sparred over whether former President Donald Trump represents an “aberration” in the GOP or an outcome of longstanding trends within the party, in an interview Monday tied to Cheney’s new book tour.

While promoting her memoir “Oath and Honor: A Memoir and a Warning,” Cheney told Colbert she believes Trump constitutes an “aberration” in Republican politics. “I think what Donald Trump has done is, first of all, he tapped into a sense among a lot of people in this country that their voice isn’t heard,” she said. “But he then lied to them, and he preyed on their patriotism and told them, ‘You know what, I’ll speak for you.’”

Colbert disagreed, arguing that Trump explicitly appealed to voters “through things like racism” and that his undermining of the media represented “a very fascist thing.” Cheney conceded the latter point: “There’s no question that he’s using a fascist playbook.”

Yet the former congresswoman attempted to draw distinctions between Trump and longtime GOP trends, saying, “It’s really important that we not sort of slide into saying everything the Republicans have ever done, you know, is somehow the same as what Donald Trump is doing.” Trump is “existential and unique” in American political history, she argued.

Colbert countered that there were “breadcrumbs” within the Republican Party’s rhetoric and policies leading up to Trump’s election, a view Cheney dismissed: “We’re just not going to agree on that.”

Cheney lost her seat last August after frequently criticizing Trump’s role in the January 6 Capitol attack and serving as vice chair of the House committee investigating it. She argued Monday that “We have to understand — this is a very real threat, and there’ll be a lot of time for us to debate how we got to this place,” she told Colbert. “But right now, we have to stand together as Americans to stop it. That’s the most important thing.”