Beware Liz Cheney 2024: If you think that's a big improvement on Trump, think again
Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming (AFP)

I have thought for a long time that it wasn't at all improbable that the first woman president would end up being a Republican. I know that seems absurd considering the right's patriarchal ideology and their strong reliance on ultra-conservative, white evangelical voters. But it isn't. After all, some of the most successful anti-feminist activists, such as Phyllis Schlafly, were women with important public careers, even when that was extremely unusual in American society. As we now know, Republican adherence to the tenets of "traditional family values" is much more malleable than anyone suspected. After all, GOP "base" voters remain big fans of the dishonest, profane, crude, thrice-married ex-president to this day.

I wrote about this for Salon a couple of years ago, suggesting that while former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley looked perfect on paper — an experienced Southern politician, a person of color, the child of immigrants, even a respected member of the Trump administration — she was not likely to be that first Republican woman nominated for president. I'm afraid that person-of-color, child-of-immigrants thing is a serious liability for a white nationalist party.

Haley left the administration on good terms and has tried to walk a fine line between being someone the suburbs could vote for as a mainstream candidate while also pandering to Trump's whims. But it's pretty clear at this point that the best she could hope for would be to become his 2024 running mate. Recently, she declared that she wouldn't enter the race if Trump did, which shows what a bind she's in.

But there is a different path, and it's being taken by another Republican woman, who I also wrote about back then: Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming. I characterized her at the time as "a white woman who's an authoritarian nationalist with a Republican establishment pedigree a mile long," which makes her a very good fit for the modern GOP. I also suggested that she "eagerly marches in lockstep" with Trump, based on her clever tactic of letting him take the heat for the crude racism the base craved, while she went after his enemies with a complementary set of attacks.

At the time, Trump had just directed the four members of the "Squad" to go back where they came from, prompting the usual denunciations from the Democrats and the press. Cheney got into a protracted back and forth with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York over the latter's use of the words "concentration camp," fatuously implying that AOC was being antisemitic. Then she took to the microphone to offer this:

As I pointed out then, Republicans complaining about this, while serving the man whose inaugural address is commonly referred to as "American Carnage" — and who has insisted for 40 years that the U.S. is a loser nation, run by fools who have made it the laughing stock of the world — is so dissonant it makes your head spin. But there she was, subtly distancing herself from his crudest commentary but nonetheless joining in the dishonest assault.

Cheney made little mention of Trump in those days. She didn't condemn the racism, that's for sure. In fact, she ostentatiously voted against an "anti-hate" piece of legislation, reportedly mystifying GOP leaders who had proposed it. It wasn't until Trump lost the election that she spoke up.

Today Liz Cheney is widely hailed as the Last Good Republican, repeatedly defying Donald Trump and standing solidly in front of the GOP caucus daring them to dethrone her. Her leadership post was threatened after her comments about Trump's culpability and her vote to impeach him for the events of Jan. 6. She survived because the caucus took the vote on a secret ballot, betraying the fact that a substantial majority of House Republicans were on her side but were simply too cowardly to say so in public, thereby raising her reputation as the brave maverick even more.

Just this week at the Republican retreat in Florida (they still need to be near Dear Leader, evidently), Cheney and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy locked horns once again over Trump and the events of Jan. 6. Politico reported that it was virtually all the attendees were talking about, which says something about the state of the party in itself.

McCarthy wants Cheney to shut up about Jan. 6. He's doing everything in his power to shut down any meaningful inquiry into the matter by insisting on throwing in a kitchen sink's worth of poison pills. She disagrees, and thinks it needs to be thoroughly and impartially investigated. He's begged her to stop criticizing Trump and she refuses, saying that support for Trump's bogus challenges to the 2020 election should disqualify any 2024 GOP presidential nominee. That puts a lot of people on the sidelines, in particular Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Ted Cruz of Texas, both of whom voted not to certify the electoral votes — after the Jan. 6 insurrection — along with former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who backed Trump's ridiculous lies to the hilt.

This week Cheney herself refused to rule out a 2024 presidential bid, and it's obvious her strategy is to run on her new reputation as the tough conservative woman who stood up to Donald Trump. It's not a bad plan. Cheney understands politics and realizes that her only hope for the presidency is to be the anti-Trump, in the hopes that his star fades or he decides not to run and she can emerge as the GOP standard-bearer who might be able to lure back some of those suburban women and college-educated white men who had been staunch Republicans until the Trump circus came to town. It may not work, but it makes sense for someone to make that bet.

But let's not get carried away with tributes to her great integrity and courage. After all, she's just saying what we should expect any elected official to say if the entire Republican Party hadn't turned itself into a cult of craven Trump sycophants. I have no idea if Liz Cheney truly believes what she's saying. Maybe she does. But it doesn't change the fact that she is also a far-right hawk who, just like her father (who is said to be her most trusted adviser), has never met a war she didn't eagerly back, a military budget she didn't want to hike or a tax she didn't want to cut. She's as hardcore conservative as it's possible to be. Being her daddy's daughter that includes being completely comfortable with illegal domestic surveillance, torture and unilateral military action. (Her father was also, you might recall, perfectly willing to usurp the Constitution to maintain his own power, so her paeans to democracy ring just a bit hollow.)

If you want a president who combines the worst aspects of Dick Cheney and Margaret Thatcher, then you'll love President Liz Cheney. And if you think that's an improvement over Donald Trump, it really isn't.