United States Representative Liz Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican, must be banking on the notion that much can happen between now and 2022, and even more by 2024. Why else would she have gone out of her way last week to fist-bump President Joe Biden at the joint-session of Congress, an image that will return to haunt her in a Wyoming primary, where former president Donald Trump is working to defeat her?
Although Cheney says she can win that primary, in 2022, the numbers currently say no. "She wanted to be speaker," a conservative political consultant told me today. "And it's all going up in flames." But could Cheney be setting her sights higher than that?
The daughter of Dick Cheney has refused the conspiracies that fueled the Capitol insurrection on January 6, 2021. She has taken a lonely and tough stance against Trump's position as either the GOP's king or its kingmaker. Despite being censured by the Wyoming GOP after the House impeached Trump, she won't repudiate that vote.
The fist bump sent another message. Liz Cheney is an old-school Republican who has clear differences with Democrats but a shared commitment to the democratic process. Given every opportunity to repair her relationships with Trump loyalists, Cheney has doubled down on a simple truth: Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election.
Cheney retaliated after Trump said on Gab that, "The Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2020 will be, from this day forth, known as THE BIG LIE!" Six out of 10 Republicans agree, but not Cheney. "Anyone who claims it was is spreading the BIG LIE," she tweeted, "turning their back on the rule of law and poisoning our democratic system."
Later that same day, at an American Enterprise Institute event, Cheney repeated herself. Support for the election conspiracy theory was "disqualifying" for any Republican, she emphasized, but particularly those with presidential aspirations.
Cheney is betting the farm that ordinary conservative Republicans will, in the end, support that position—and perhaps her, too. Not so long ago, she was a rising star in the GOP. "She kind of reminds you of Margaret Thatcher or somebody like that in history," United States Representative Greg Walden, Republican of Oregon, told Politico right before the 2020 election: "a strong person, in a big position, a woman who stands her ground in an otherwise male-dominated conference."
Now, Cheney has allies in her conference, but none of them supports publicly standing her ground against a lie that is a GOP moneymaker and that placates the angry man at Mar-a-Lago. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's patience with Cheney has been dwindling since April when Cheney, in an interview with a New York Post reporter, repeated her assertion that support for the Big Lie was "disqualifying." Importantly, when asked, Cheney refused to rule out a presidential run for herself in 2024.
Whether it's Cheney's unwillingness to accept the lie or the hint that Cheney is eyeing the presidency, McCarthy (who saved her leadership position) is under increasing pressure to demote her. In a news conference Tuesday morning, McCarthy signaled that a vote to replace Cheney in the conference leadership could happen next week.
Cheney might have insulated herself from controversy had she taken the easy route into the Senate in 2020. Yes, delegates booed former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who as a senator twice voted to convict Trump, at the recent state party convention. Catcalls of "traitor!" and "communist" were hurled from the crowd. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has refrained from criticizing members of his conference who dissent from the Big Lie. It is a position he has said he shares.
Currently, Cheney is an outlier for 2024. Trump is flirting heavily with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, nationally known because of his resistance to mask mandates and keeping the state open for business during the Covid-19 pandemic. But what if there is no Trump—as a candidate, kingmaker or king—in 2024? What then? That GOP would be a party without ballast. Its leadership has invested everything in an elderly, unpredictable man entangled in a series of federal and state investigations.
Cheney is a demonstrably tough leader and excellent fundraiser ready to take charge of the party. United States Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, who will retire in 2026, has defended Romney;'s right to depart from Trump. She seems to think so, too. "Liz Cheney is a woman of strength and conscience," Collins told the Washington Examiner. "She did what she thought was right, and I salute her for that."
Can Liz Cheney finish what she has started?
She thinks she can.