By Jessie Seigel / Washington, D.C.
As Donald Trump revs up his 2024 presidential campaign’s noxious rhetoric, enquiring minds want to know what has happened to former Republican Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney’s promise to keep him from ever again entering the Oval Office. And will she or won’t she run for president in 2024 to spoil Trump’s chances? Many hope she will.
Despite being an arch-conservative who had backed 93 percent of former President Trump’s policies, Cheney voted to impeach him for his role in the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol. And, as vice chair of the House Select Committee investigating that January 6 coup attempt, she demonstrated an integrity lacking in almost all of her Republican colleagues—not to mention showing more backbone than any other leaders in her party.
It may well be that the Democrats granted Cheney a leading role on the Select Committee because a Republican could be more effective than a Democrat in convincing other Republicans of the facts the committee was presenting. But Cheney lived up to the role in spades, surpassing all possible expectations. Her questioning of witnesses was sharp and incisive, and her public statements were no-nonsense and plain-spoken.
In summing up evidence against Trump, she declared: “The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack. Everything that followed was his doing. None of this would have happened without the President. The President could have immediately and forcefully intervened to stop the violence. He did not. There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”
However, no good deed goes unpunished, and Cheney paid a heavy political price for hers.
Because she dared to vote for Trump’s second impeachment, the Republican party of Wyoming censured Cheney on February 6, 2021. Subsequently, on May 12, 2021, she was ousted from her post as chair of the House Republican Conference, the third-highest position in the House Republican leadership.
This was followed, on November 16, 2021, by the Wyoming GOP Central Committee's vote to no longer recognize her as a member of the party. Finally, Cheney lost Wyoming’s 2022 Republican primary last August to the Trump-endorsed Harriet Hageman, who won against her by nearly a 70 percent landslide.
None of this seems to have fazed Cheney whatsoever. She appears to have become a woman with a righteous cause. She has expressed a recognition of the fragility of democracy—that when it is lost, it is irretrievable.
According to the New York Times, in reaction to her ouster from leadership, Cheney defiantly told reporters on May 12, 2021: “I will do everything I can to ensure that the former President never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office.” In her parting shot to those ousting her, she asked God to “help us remember that democratic systems can fray and suddenly unravel. When they do, they are gone forever.”
In August 2022, after loss of her primary, Cheney announced the creation of a political organization called the Great Task which she said would be mobilized to oppose Trump. And on the Today Show, Cheney said she was thinking about running for president. At that time, she had over $7.4 million that she could transfer to the organization for these purposes.
Cheney quickly began her crusade to stop Trumpism by crossing party lines to support three Democrats in the 2022 midterm elections: centrist Reps. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, and Tim Ryan of Ohio. Two of the three—Slotkin and Spanberger—won their House reelection races. Ryan, who was running for the Senate, lost.
Cheney’s choice of which Democrats to endorse was apparently based in large part on the fact that the Republicans opposing them were election deniers and conspiracy-mongers. In August 2022, she told the Times, “I think we have to make sure that we are fighting against every single election denier. The election deniers, right now, are Republicans. And I think that it shouldn’t matter what party you are. Nobody should be voting for those people, supporting them or backing them.”
Cheney’s PAC financed a $500,000 TV ad in Arizona in which she entreated Republicans to vote against election deniers Kari Lake for governor and Mark Finchem for secretary of state on the grounds they were a threat to the nation’s democracy. They lost.
After the midterms, Cheney kept a low profile until March 1, when the University of Virginia announced that it was “thrilled” to have her become a professor of practice at its Center for Politics. Of the post, Cheney said, “There are many threats facing our system of government and I hope my work with the Center for Politics and the broader community at the University of Virginia will contribute to finding lasting solutions that not only preserve but strengthen our democracy.”
Cheney’s appointment begins immediately and will run through 2023’s fall semester, with an option to renew for one or more years. But it would still be possible, at the end of the fall semester, for Cheney to choose, instead, to challenge Trump in Republican primaries and/or the 2024 general election.
What Would Be the Effect of a Cheney Run in Primaries or in the 2024 Election?
Some have worried that if Liz Cheney runs explicitly as an anti-Trump candidate in the Republican primaries, she could simply split anti-Trump GOP voters between herself and others like Mike Pence who have recently grown somewhat critical of Trump—thereby helping the former president to again obtain the Republican nomination.
Cheney speaks strongly, directly, and takes no prisoners while Pence and his ilk are largely anemic equivocators. If there is a debate like the one the Republicans had in 2016, I would take odds that Cheney will wipe the floor with the lot of them—Trump included. Of course, that probably would not change the minds of the MAGA crowd or get her the nomination. So a Cheney challenge could backfire, resulting in a Trump candidacy.
The New York Times has warned that if Cheney runs as a third-party candidate, she could take votes away from Biden or whomever else is the Democratic presidential candidate.
According to the Times, a so-called centrist group called No Labels has acquired $50 million in commitments for an independent candidacy. It has tried to court West Virginia’s conservative Democratic Senator Joe Manchin as a possible candidate. Politico reported as early as last August that some in the No Labels group had suggested Cheney as a running-mate for a nominee like Manchin.
Such a combination would thwart Cheney’s stated goal of preventing another Trump presidency. With someone like Manchin in the mix, votes could be drawn away from the Democratic candidate, permitting Trump or one of his fascistic clones to win. That would be the final nail in Democracy’s coffin.
No Labels might successfully persuade some moderate Democrats that Manchin and Cheney are a viable centrist alternative. But neither of them is. Manchin is the senator who repeatedly obstructs the legislative efforts of his own party by blocking elimination or reform of the filibuster.
And while one must give Cheney her due for standing against Trump, she has a long history of promoting ultra-conservative policies. In addition to voting for the Trump agenda an overwhelming amount of the time, Cheney has a 71 percent score for supporting legislation in accord with the positions of Heritage Action, an affiliate of the right-wing Heritage Foundation.
As late as May 2021, Cheney told Axios that she would not oppose the Republican push for reactionary restrictions on voting. As Axios put it: “Cheney is trying to put former President Trump's Big Lie about the election in a silo.” Apparently, Cheney’s care for democracy is limited to opposing violent coups.
Furthermore, as recently as last summer, Cheney praised the Supreme Court for overturning Roe v. Wade, which eviscerated women’s rights over their own bodies.
Until the coup attempt, Cheney was an avid and faithful Trump supporter. She defended his birtherism theories. She voted against his 2019 impeachment for trying to strong-arm Ukraine into helping him subvert the 2020 election. And despite massive evidence of Trump’s abuse of power and obstruction of justice related to that first impeachment, Cheney voted for him in the 2020 election.
Furthermore, according to Mother Jones, when Biden won the election, Cheney—then still third-ranking House Republican—declined to acknowledge his win for weeks.
There is no indication that Liz Cheney has experienced a sea-change on any public issue other than Trump’s denials of the 2020 election results, conspiracy-mongering, and his attempt at a violent overthrow of the duly elected government.
In addition, according to the New York Times, Cheney “believes that the country…can be pulled from its downward spiral only by those who answer history’s call.” The Times added that Cheney “is a firm believer in the ‘great man theory’ of history—the notion that America has been sustained by leaders who emerged at critical times to lead.” In an August interview, Cheney said, “It’s absolutely clear that the only thing that makes a difference is individuals. It’s the only thing that makes a difference.”
These convictions may be responsible for Cheney taking on Trump with such determination. But however grateful one must be for that, her philosophy smacks of a paternalistic sense of destiny ensconced in a Napoleonic view of the world. Not a truly democratic one.
The Bottom Line
Liz Cheney is smart, tough, and a force to be reckoned with. She surely will have a prominent place in history for her role in exposing and combatting Trump’s autocratic aspirations.
If a Cheney entry into the Republican primaries or as an independent candidate can counter the ongoing Trumpist power-grab, it will be a tremendous service to the country.
On the other hand, it would be a great disservice to democracy if an independent run for president by Cheney resulted in Trump—or some Trumpist clone—gaining power again.
Given all the uncertainty in the 2024 political landscape, it would be wise to be cautious about what we wish for.
Political columnist Jessie Seigel had a long career as a government attorney in which she honed her analytic skills. She has also twice received an Artist’s Fellowship from the Washington, D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities for her fiction, and has been a finalist for a number of literary awards. In addition, Seigel is an associate editor at the Potomac Review, a reviewer for The Washington Independent Review of Books, and a dabbler in political cartoons at Daily Kos. Of this balance in her work between the analytic and the imaginative, Seigel jokes, “I guess my right and left brains are well-balanced.” More on and from Seigel can be found at The Adventurous Writer, https://www.jessieseigel.com.