On the eve of the third anniversary of the Jan. 6 insurrection, former U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., used a speech at Dartmouth to issue stark warnings about the still-perilous state of American democracy and to call on voters to turn out against Donald Trump in the Jan. 23 New Hampshire primary.
“When you and New Hampshire go to the polls, the world will be watching. And so, New Hampshire, I ask you this, speak for us all. Tell the world who we are with your vote,” Cheney said in her appearance at the keynote of the Democracy Summit, a series conceived by students.
“Show the world that we will defeat the plague of cowardice sweeping through the Republican party. And voters of New Hampshire, when you go to the polls in a few weeks, show your fellow Americans all across our exceptional nation how it’s done, show them and the world that we all love our country more.”
The event was co-sponsored by the Dartmouth Political Union, the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy, the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding, the dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and the Dartmouth Ethics Institute, and drew 350 attendees to the Hanover Inn and more than 5,000 viewers on the livestream.
Cheney said Trump was “the only president in American history who failed to fulfill his obligation to guarantee the peaceful transfer of power, the only president who has ever attempted to overturn an election and seize power…(and) the only president in American history who sent an armed and angry mob to the Capitol to attempt corruptly to stop the official proceeding of the count of electoral votes, and then watched on television for hours as the mob attacked.”
“It may be the last real vote you cast”
In her best-selling book, Oath and Honor: A Memoir and a Warning, Cheney offers a chilling behind-the-scenes account of terrified, gas-masked House members being hastily evacuated from the House chamber as Trump supporters intent on preventing the legal certification of the 2020 election results ransacked the Capitol. Although they failed—early in the morning of Jan. 7 a reconvened Congress counted the 306 electoral votes delivering a victory to Democrat Joe Biden—Cheney warns that, even though she opposes many of Biden’s policies, returning Trump to the White House would be a grave, irreparable mistake.
“It may well be the last real vote you ever get to cast. It will be that bad,” should Trump win back the White House and return to power, she said.
But, asked Dartmouth Political Union President Jessica Chiriboga ’24, would Cheney be willing to vote for Biden, or enter the presidential race as a third-party candidate?
“I’m going to do whatever is the most effective thing to ensure that Donald Trump is not elected,” Cheney replied, drawing loud applause.
How Cheney would do in a national race remains unknown. She was roundly defeated in a Republican primary in Wyoming in 2022, losing her House seat, because of her denunciations of Trump and service as vice chair of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attacks.
Asked whether she supports judicial attempts to prevent Trump from seeking office under the 14th amendment, Cheney said, “I don’t believe he should be part of our political process. And this is a process that will go through the courts, and we’ll see how that unfolds. But there’s no question in my mind that his actions clearly constituted an offense that is within the language of the 14th.”
Not long after Cheney’s speech, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it had agreed to take up a Colorado case on that point.
Faith in voters
In her address, as in her book, Cheney has repeatedly blasted leaders of her own party for failing to keep the promises they made under oath to uphold the Constitution. But speaking to Dartmouth News earlier Friday, she said she has not given up on GOP voters.
“I think that the leaders of the party in many cases are themselves now unfit, whether or not it’s because they’re just complicit or whether they’re fully embracing Trump knowing what he is. I don’t know if the party itself is salvageable, but I know the country needs a party that believes in conservative principles. Look, there are millions of really good, hardworking people who really have been duped by Trump. And that’s a very sad thing. But I certainly would not say I’ve lost faith in the entire electorate of the party.”
Introducing Cheney, Elizabeth F. Smith, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, thanked her for “protecting the quality of American political debate in an era when it has been and remains under serious threat.” Smith noted that Dartmouth will next week launch Dartmouth Dialogues, which she said, “aims to help members of the Dartmouth community cultivate skills to engage in respectful, well-reasoned argument even in environments characterized by heightened emotions and where misinformation may compete for attention.”
Before her speech, Cheney met with President Sian Leah Beilock. And earlier in the day, students held their own lively Q&A session with Cheney, on topics ranging from Constitutional law to foreign policy. JJ Dega ’26 attended that reception and the keynote. He and Cheney occupy opposite sides of the political spectrum.
“I am from Idaho, which is a very ruby red state, but I identify as a Democrat,” Dega said. Still, he liked much of what he heard from Cheney, especially about the power of the next generation to preserve democracy.
“Young people are leading the charge and they’re recognizing that even though we don’t agree on issues, it’s the ability to disagree in politics that’s fundamental to democracy,” said Dega.
Lucia Vitali ’26 agreed, hoping that what Cheney called “a plague of cowardice” among Republican leaders will not become a political pandemic.
“I really liked that she kept saying, ‘This is a crucial moment in time,” said Vitali. “Just one dark moment, that we can get past if we cast our votes right in November.”
U.S. Rep. Ann McLane Kuster ’78, a New Hampshire Democrat, sat in the front row at Cheney’s speech and said she thinks her former House colleague can make a difference with New Hampshire voters. Kuster noted that about 40% of New Hampshire voters are independents, and that Trump has never enjoyed majority support in the Granite State, where the primary is just over two weeks away.
Said Kuster, “What I say is that Republican or Democrat, whether you plan to write in Joe Biden or vote for Nikki Haley, that we can agree we will not support insurrectionists, ever. Period.”