Donald Trump gets his revenge on Liz Cheney — but it may be short-lived

Trump's big win in Wyoming might be his last hurrah: Darkness is closing in and Republicans are slipping away

By Brian Karem


Published August 18, 2022 9:57AM (EDT)

Liz Cheney and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Liz Cheney and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Longtime White House correspondent Brian Karem writes a weekly column for Salon.

Liz Cheney is gone, at least from Congress. Her bid for re-election was thwarted in Wyoming by a Republican candidate whose lips are permanently sewn onto Donald Trump's backside — making her part of an all-too-real human centipede.

But it remains to be seen whether striking down Cheney destroys her, or makes her more powerful than we can imagine.

That's right: To some who swear the old Republican Party still exists, she is their Obi-Wan, struck down by the minions of Darth Trump. 

Meanwhile, Joe Biden has delivered again this week, but he'll never get the credit for making the Kessel Run in under 12 parsecs. Every time Biden does something of note, he'll crow for an hour and then someone in the family comes down with COVID or someone on his communications team fumbles the ball, and we're back to square one. Biden has had more victories in Congress than Trump, and has presided over a country in peril with the countenance of a stoic scholar and the intestinal fortitude of a grunt crawling up Normandy Beach on D-Day. Yet his poll numbers are still incredibly low.

Watching his administration stumble through the minefield of the incredibly obtuse media landscape is like watching "The Bad News Bears" on acid — and yet, because of the horrifying nature of Trump and his troglodyte zombies, there is hope for a New Republic.

Less than three months before the midterm elections, the Democrats have some renewed energy, even though most of the conversation is still about Donald Trump. This is entirely by Trump's design. He craves attention and can't get enough of it, good, bad or — in most cases — extremely ugly. For those who remain concerned about the threat he continues to represent to the ideals of our democracy, concern about this attention is understandable. We'd like him to go away.

But like the drunken uncle at a neighborhood barbecue who exposes himself and vomits on the grill after downing too many beers, Trump is better at making a mess than at disappearing.

When it comes to those at the barbecue who still believe Trump to be a savior, instead of a menace or a nuisance, you have to wonder if they'll ever understand why hw is a mockery of the system and not the one preserving it.

For the Christians among us, you can point to the Ten Commandments and, with a variety of salient facts, produce a scorecard showing that Trump has broken those commandments more prolifically than any American politician of this century or the last one. That won't be enough. It never has been. The Christians still love him — he's doing their bidding. They'll never budge.

Still, there has been some movement, and a growing number of people, including Fox News celebrity Laura Ingraham, say that America is "ready to turn the page on Trump," believing the Don's con is past its prime.  At this point, those who don't get it are mocked and ridiculed by those who do, even if some of us prefer a different approach.

I want to know why you don't see. I want to know what it would take for you to believe differently. How is it that a rich man is able to more easily manipulate the criminal justice system than your average Midwest family farmer or inner-city homeless person — and why would you support that? I confess that I'm still curious about why exactly people feel so attracted to a living cancer.

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If we are truly a nation of laws, then the justice system has to work equally well for everyone. We all know it has not done so for a long time. But Donald Trump has put into stark relief the divide between those who wield power and those who have no power. He not only openly mocks the system and cheers his ability to avoid responsibility, but he has — in some circles — successfully deflected his sins and placed the blame on those who investigate and oppose him.

Trump isn't upset because the Justice Department is going on a witch hunt. He's upset because the Justice Department isn't treating him with the deference he believes his social and economic position entitles him to. Viewed one way, Donald Trump is receiving true justice. Viewed another way (at least by some on the left), the continuing investigation is just the rich and powerful turning on their own, which is why some believe he will never be brought to justice: The rich and powerful simply won't allow it.

But the truth is even more complicated. The investigation against Donald Trump is the ultimate test of the maxim that no one is above the law. It is why the investigation must continue, and will ultimately lead to the first state and/or federal indictment of a former president — at least according to former Trump attorney Michael Cohen. 

Trump's attempt to parlay with Merrick Garland was nothing more than a veiled threat — from a man already known to be willing to turn to violence to achieve his ends.

He isn't the only one who sees the writing on the wall. Trump can see it too, and cryptically tried to contact Attorney General Merrick Garland recently to negotiate a truce, claiming that he didn't want something bad to happen to this country. If that's truly the case, Trump should walk into Garland's office and sign a confession concerning his many crimes against the state and its people.

But that will never happen. Trump's attempt to parlay with Garland was nothing more than a veiled threat from a man already known to be willing to turn to violence to achieve his ends. After the FBI served a search warrant on Trump's Mar-a-Lago property recently and found classified documents that Trump had previously claimed weren't there, you can bet Don is steamed.

It didn't stop him from using the raid to raise funds — so we also know that some part of the Donald loved the opportunity to bleed his supporters a little more. But what really worries Trump is the question: "Who snitched?" Who broke the Cosa Nostra oath of omertà?

Cohen and Mary Trump, the niece of his former boss, find themselves in agreement this week about who tipped off the federal government. Both have said publicly they believe it to be Jared Kushner. 

But it isn't who tipped off the government, no doubt in order to save their own skin, that really matters, though that is no doubt driving Trump crazier than Vecna of "Stranger Things" mainlining fear and regret. What is more important is why Trump had classified documents stashed at Mar-a-Lago, after having an attorney tell the DOJ in June that he had no such documents. 

Knowing Trump's previously documented propensity to use whatever he can to his advantage, one has to wonder if the documents he kept seemed to offer possible profit, possible leverage or both. We all know the way of Trump's madness; if he thinks something can benefit him, then he will grasp it tightly and use it at his whim.

But Trump has no overriding big plan, and never did. It's always been about survival by the seat of his pants, day after day, for a lifetime. His life is riddled with and dominated by fear; the fear of loneliness, while alone with his innermost demons and doing battle with a world he can't stand and doesn't understand. Hence his need to make everyone else fearful. He doesn't want to be alone. His status and privilege have given him an immense ability to affect others, which he does to suit his needs. If these were the actions of a six-year-old, we would tolerate the behavior — while trying to correct it before the child grows up to be another Donald Trump. 

Trump's lack of parenting is, now unfortunately, a problem for all of us — proving once again that the privilege afforded the rich in this country is a bitter poison that we all end up having to swallow.

In Trump's case, the spoiled-rotten little shit has grown up to not only break every commandment but to become a pestilence, the seven deadly sins sprung to life in one morbidly obese and moribund robber baron.

When you think of Trump, think of Jabba the Hutt, but without Jabba's more endearing qualities.

George Conway likened Trump to a self-loathing and denying Cookie Monster this week, and he's not far from wrong. The temptation to lampoon such moronic behavior is powerful and, more importantly, accurate.

But for those who still believe, the criticism falls on deaf ears. So again I ask them: What is it that draws you to Donald Trump? He constantly demonstrates anything but Christian actions. Still, many conservative Christians openly mock the First Commandment in worshiping him. He's not poor, yet there are poor people who support him against their own self-interest. The same goes for some members of the LBGTQ+ community as well as women and minorities. 

As more and more evidence falls into place, it becomes clearer than ever that Trump is a master of pride, greed, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony and sloth. He is a turgid garbage can of fear, always on the run — and most fearful of being caught and left alone out of the limelight. Mary Trump has said on several occasions that if Donald Trump were left in a room alone he would cease to exist. She's not wrong either.

There will be no Trump "Civil War." All we saw was half a dozen overfed protesters outside Mar-a-Lago: fans of mac & cheese, Ron DeSantis and the Confederate flag.

I've often said that the best fate for Trump would be to become a blip in the road, forgotten by history, his name excised from public consciousness. But that's folly. Trump will gain a level of infamy due to his unique criminality that will, in some sense, give him the public recognition he so desperately craves. He will, unfortunately, be remembered by history, if perhaps in the same manner as Benedict Arnold (or more so), and that will ultimately be OK with Trump, because he so desperately needs to be remembered.

At the end of the day, whether he is praised or debased, he will be like Jack Sparrow: "You have heard of me." Sparrow, however, was a fictional parody. Trump is bad parody, made real.

With Cheney's ouster in Wyoming — losing her seat to a Trump acolyte by 37 points — the bad parody continues. For the moment, Donald Trump can cheer as he continues to grip the remnants of the Republican Party in his pudgy little fist, like a toddler who holds onto a chocolate bar until it melts. It's messy, it's sticky and ultimately it's gone.

Donald Trump wished for Cheney's downfall and actively plotted it, even though she sided with him in Congress more than 90% of the time. Trump needs to be careful what he wishes for, because Cheney, who is now eyeing a run for the presidency in 2024, could be more devastating as a GOP outsider than Trump can fathom.

Of course Trump continues to believe that he controls the Republican Party, and that  those who don't follow him can be threatened, browbeaten and, if necessary, physically beaten. By God, according to Trump, there will be "Civil War."

Bullshit. There will be no Trump Civil War. 

There will be sporadic outbreaks of violence. But if there was going to be a civil war, after the Mar-a-Lago search we would have seen protests and riots outside the White House and the Capitol. Instead, there were a half a dozen protesters outside Mar-a-Lago, most of them overfed locals who worship mac and cheese and Ron DeSantis and own at least one Confederate flag, perhaps tattooed in public or private places on their body.

That's what's left of the Trump legions: People who wear thongs and are mocked on social media when they go to Walmart. 

It's still a scam — and if you don't get it, you're still the mark.

But make no mistake: Donald Trump cannot win. While his dwindling cadre of sycophants believe he can, a growing number of Americans perceive the truth.

As Elvis Costello told us, Yesterday's news is tomorrow's fish 'n' chips paper. Or, if you prefer the Star Wars treatment, Donald Trump isn't Obi-Wan. He's just Darth Maul. He looks scary, right up to the moment he gets cut in two.

By Brian Karem

Brian Karem is the former senior White House correspondent for Playboy. He has covered every presidential administration since Ronald Reagan, sued Donald Trump three times successfully to keep his press pass, spent time in jail to protect a confidential source, covered wars in the Middle East and is the author of seven books. His latest is "Free the Press."

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Commentary Donald Trump Elections Joe Biden Liz Cheney Mar-a-lago Merrick Garland Republicans