As a memoir, however, Cheney’s book is overly narrow, and at times curiously uncurious. Yes, anyone interested in the author’s recollections from inside the House chamber on Jan. 6 will find plenty of material (when Jim Jordan of Ohio approached her to help “get the ladies” off the aisle, Cheney swatted his hand away, retorting, “Get away from me. You f — ing did this.”), and Cheney is unstinting in her contempt for Kevin McCarthy, then the Speaker of the House, whom she describes as unprincipled and unintelligent in roughly equal doses. (She even finds McCarthy less substantive and capable than Democratic leaders in the House, like Nancy Pelosi — a savage dig in G.O.P. world.)
Yet, for all the insider detail Cheney offers, her memoir is truncated, treating the period between the 2020 election and the Jan. 6 attack as the beginning of history, or the only history that matters, as though no prior warnings about Trump had been warranted or even audible. Cheney once believed in the staying power of the country’s constitutional principles, she writes, “but all that had changed on January 6 of 2021.”
Did nothing change for Cheney before Jan. 6? Not anything at all?
Cheney, who has said elsewhere that she regrets voting for Trump in 2020, seems disinclined to revisit or reconsider in this book why she and so many others made their peace with earlier signs of Trump’s authoritarian, anti-constitutional impulses. Her explanation for voting against Trump’s first impeachment is thin; she wishes the Democrats had moved to subpoena John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, to gather additional evidence. It’s a grudging excuse from Cheney, who, as a former State Department official, no doubt can recognize when diplomacy is being manipulated for domestic political gain.
Instead, she merely decries those who failed to pivot away from Trump after the 2020 election and Jan. 6, blaming their social-media silos and their exposure to pro-Trump news outlets like Fox News and Newsmax. A longtime Wyoming donor, for example, had “fallen for all the nonsense” about election fraud, Cheney writes, while a close family friend “fell for the lies, hook, line, and sinker.”
I did not expect “Oath and Honor” to double as a mea culpa; in any case, Cheney does not seem the type to dabble much in remorse. Her courage in challenging her party over Trump’s election fantasies is hardly rendered meaningless by her prior support for Trump, and her leadership of the House Jan. 6 committee elevated patriotism over partisanship. But history did not in fact begin with that day of violence at the Capitol nearly three years ago. Trump’s unceasing deceit, his disdain for the norms of his office and his assault on the institutions of government spanned his presidency, not just its closing weeks. And his declarations of supposed electoral fraud against him far predated the 2020 presidential contest; his similar rants ahead of the 2016 election were rendered moot only by his unlikely victory.