On Jan. 5, former Congresswoman Liz Cheney delivered the keynote address for Dartmouth’s Democracy Summit in a speech titled “An Oath to Defend Democracy.” The event was sponsored by the Dartmouth Political Union, the Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Dickey Center for International Understanding.
The Rockefeller Center public programming officer, Joanne Blais, estimated that over 300 people watched the sold-out event live in the Hanover Inn Grand Ballroom, and 2,200 people viewed it over livestream. Audience members present at the event included students, faculty and public officials, such as Rep. Annie Custer ’78, D-N.H. and senior associate justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court James Bassett ’78.
Both in an interview with The Dartmouth prior to the event and during her speech, Cheney emphasized that she would take any necessary steps to keep Trump from office.
“I am going to do whatever is the most effective thing to ensure that Donald Trump is not elected,” Cheney said during her interview with The Dartmouth. “I’ll make a decision about what that is in the coming months, as we see what happens in the Republican primary.”
Cheney additionally did not rule out the prospect of launching a presidential campaign.
She later began her keynote address with a quote from political journalist and historian Theodore White’s book “The Making of a President 1960.”
“Heroes and philosophers, brave men and vile, have, since Rome, tried to make … [the] transfer of power work effectively,” Cheney read. “No people has succeeded at it better or over a longer period of time than the Americans.”
However, Cheney went on to argue that the peaceful transfer of power can no longer be “taken for granted” after the Jan. 6 attacks on the Capitol.
Cheney is a Republican and former representative from Wyoming’s at-large district, which is the only district for the state of Wyoming. In 2021, Cheney’s decision to vice-chair the House’s select committee on the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol resulted in her being ousted from House Republican leadership and later removed from her House seat.
Since leaving Congress, Cheney has published a book called “Oath and Honor: A Memoir and a Warning” about her experiences on Jan. 6 and as a leader of the Republican party. Moreover, Cheney has been named a Class of 1930 Fellow by the Rockefeller Center for the 2023-24 academic year.
Throughout her speech, Cheney heavily criticized former President Donald Trump, stating that Trump’s attempt to “seize power” following the 2020 election “threaten[ed] the very foundations of our democracy.” Cheney described Trump as “depraved” and “derelict in his duty” for failing to tell insurrectionists to go home after many hours and expressed dissatisfaction with members of Congress who continue to support and endorse Trump.
“We faced a real test after Jan. 6 … about whether or not members [of Congress] are going to put the Constitution above their allegiance to party,” Cheney said. “I was stunned by how few did, and I was stunned by having misjudged many of my colleagues.”
When comparing Trump to President Joe Biden, Cheney drew distinctions between their impact on the welfare of the country.
“What President Biden does can be bad policy,” Cheney said. “What President Trump did was an assault on the foundations of our constitutional republic. Our nation can survive and recover from policy mistakes. We cannot recover from a president willing to torch the Constitution.”
Cheney stated her beliefs about Trump in an interview with The Dartmouth prior to her keynote address. According to Cheney, Trump is democracy’s greatest threat.
“The thing to remember about Donald Trump is that he has made clear he won’t abide by the rulings of the courts,” Cheney said. “People really need to understand that … the moment [Trump] does that, the system unravels because the courts can’t enforce themselves.”
Lilian Sweeney ’25 said that she came to the Keynote Address because it was an opportunity to hear from someone who holds beliefs that are contrary to her own.
“I feel like Congresswoman Cheney and I don’t agree on a lot of policy, but I really admire that she was able to stand up for what she believes in and push partisanship aside in order to protect democracy,” Sweeney said.
During her interview with The Dartmouth, Cheney also emphasized the importance of young people in determining the future of the nation.
“At the end of the day, determining whether or not we elect somebody who’s going to uphold the Constitution very much can be in the hands of young people,” Cheney said.
Following her remarks, Cheney answered questions in a segment conducted by moderator and DPU President Jessica Chiriboga ’24. When asked about the recent decisions to disqualify Trump from the primary ballot in Colorado and Maine, Cheney agreed that section three of the 14th Amendment supported the disqualifications.
“There is no question in my mind that [Trump’s] actions clearly constituted an offense that is within the language of the 14th Amendment,” Cheney said.
The 14th Amendment prohibits any person from holding “any office, civil or military” who has “engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.”
Michael DiCostanzo ’27 said he appreciates how Cheney abides by her principles, even if they stand at odds with the Republican Party.
“I think [Cheney] has been incredibly insightful and has been a voice within the Republican party for people who still want to abide by conservative principles but don’t want to fall into the cult of personality that it seems that the party is falling into,” DiCostanzo said.