Liz Cheney is striking a nerve. Over and over again. Purposefully and with force.
Donald Trump sends an email saying the election was stolen, and Cheney – the No. 3 House Republican – tweets right back at him, minutes later, that “the 2020 presidential election was not stolen.”
Whenever asked, she says that those who believe the election was rigged – and voted against certification – should be disqualified from a presidential run. Unequivocal, period.
House Republicans threaten to dethrone her from her leadership post; the response is a virtual shrug.
And when asked whether she has ruled out a presidential bid herself, the answer was no – as one might expect from any politician.
So what’s going on with Cheney, the conservative Republican who voted with Trump more than 90% of the time?
“Something broke with her on November 3 and January 6,” says one GOP strategist who knows her well and supports her. “She thinks it’s a big lie and she can’t live with it. It’s kind of astonishing.”
Astonishing, yes, especially in this political climate. But one thing is clear: Cheney has no comfortable perch in a House GOP conference in which more than half subscribe to the Big Lie that President Joe Biden was not duly elected. Win or lose, this is a fight Cheney is not shying away from. As she has made very clear, she sees the big lie as an existential threat to democracy.
Not too long ago, Cheney turned down a gift-wrapped Senate seat in Wyoming after Sen. Mike Enzi announced his retirement. At the time, some Republicans figured she was interested in becoming the next House speaker. But that was way before January 6, before Trump’s second impeachment, before she went out on a limb to challenge the ex-President’s lies, taking on her own conference. The speakership just isn’t in the cards anymore.
What galls some Republicans is that she’s making life difficult for House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, who just wants to move on and get his flock on the same anti-Biden page. But for Cheney – who has been very critical of Biden – the party must first move beyond its fealty to Trump on all fronts.
But not only is she on an island, she also seems to be digging a deeper moat around herself. Whatever the reason, she’s clearly on a mission to raise the standard for traditional conservatism – whatever that may now be – within the Republican Party. She’s even gone so far as to say she would not support Trump if he ran for president again in 2024 – a bold statement that even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell would not make, although he had once insisted that Trump had “provoked” the insurrection.
Political strategists being what they are, there’s already some whispering about Cheney’s potential national future: Maybe, just maybe, if Trump decides not to run for president, she might. Lots of Trumpists will show up – you know who they are – and she might be ready to lead what’s left of the GOP, both in the primaries and a general election.
Sure, that’s a long-shot scenario, because the party base belongs to Trump. And Cheney is a very traditional, old-school conservative Republican, like her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney. Her campaign would no doubt offer the proposition that the Trump era was a detour into a cul-de-sac, and she could turn the party around.
Cheney knows she’s never going to be a MAGA member or nominee, so she occupies another lane – not the one with the never Trumpers, because she has supported Trump’s policies in the past. She just believes his election lies have become a threat.
So sure, GOP leaders are angry that she has diverted the conference from a clear anti-Biden message, and that’s true – she has. But she’s now playing on a larger tableau. And if they’re annoyed internally, and publicly, so be it.
Sometimes, even in politics, what you believe matters.