Liz Cheney’s Future

She'll almost certainly be out of a job in January. Then what?

I went to Jonathan Martin’s NYT feature “Liz Cheney Is Ready to Lose. But She’s Not Ready to Quit.” based on a quote highlighted by Taegan Goddard:

I would much rather serve with Mikie Sherrill and Chrissy Houlahan and Elissa Slotkin than Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert, even though on substance certainly I have big disagreements with the Democratic women I just mentioned. But they love this country, they do their homework and they are people that are trying to do the right thing for the country.

It reminded me a bit of my reaction way back in 1998 when incumbents Alfonse D’Amato (R, NY) and Carol Mosely Braun (D, IL) were defeated by Chuck Schumer and Peter Fitzgerald, respectively. While the net result of both those contests and the wider election itself impacted the partisan balance of the Senate not one iota, it was nonetheless a great day because it raised the collective IQ and integrity level considerably.

Otherwise, the report tells us little we didn’t already know.

The most closely watched primary of 2022 has not become much of a race at all. Polls show Ms. Cheney losing badly to her rival, Harriet Hageman, Mr. Trump’s vehicle for revenge, and the congresswoman has been all but driven out of her Trump-loving state, in part because of death threats, her office says.

Indeed, Cheney seems resigned to that fate.

Yet for Ms. Cheney, the race stopped being about political survival months ago. Instead, she has used the Aug. 16 contest as a sort of high-profile stage for her martyrdom — and a proving ground for her new crusade. She used the only debate to tell voters to “vote for somebody else” if they wanted a politician who would violate their oath of office. Last week, she enlisted her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, to cut an ad calling Mr. Trump a “coward” who represents the greatest threat to America in the history of the republic.

In a state where Mr. Trump won 70 percent of the vote two years ago, Ms. Cheney might as well be asking ranchers to go vegan.

“If the cost of standing up for the Constitution is losing the House seat, then that’s a price I’m willing to pay,” she said in an interview last week in the conference room of a Cheyenne bank.

Certainly, she has burnished her brand:

The 56-year-old daughter of a politician who once had visions of rising to the top of the House leadership — but landed as vice president instead — has become arguably the most consequential rank-and-file member of Congress in modern times. Few others have so aggressively used the levers of the office to seek to reroute the course of American politics — but, in doing so, she has effectively sacrificed her own future in the institution she grew up to revere.

But to what end, exactly?

Ms. Cheney’s relentless focus on Mr. Trump has driven speculation — even among longtime family friends — that she is preparing to run for president. She has done little to dissuade such talk.

At a house party Thursday night in Cheyenne, with the former vice president happily looking on under a pair of mounted leather chaps, the host introduced Ms. Cheney by recalling how another Republican woman, Senator Margaret Chase Smith of Maine, confronted Senator Joseph McCarthy when doing so was unpopular — and went on to become the first female candidate for president from a major party.

The attendees applauded at the parallel, as Ms. Cheney smiled.

In the interview, she said she was focused on her primary — and her work on the committee. But it’s far from clear that she could be a viable candidate in the current Republican Party, or whether she has interest in the donor-class schemes about a third-party bid, in part because she knows it may just siphon votes from a Democrat opposing Mr. Trump.

There’s no conceivable way she wins the Republican nomination for President. Even aside from the Trumper backlash, she doesn’t have the personality. An independent or “3rd party” run would be unpredictable. I would think it would take more votes away from a Trumper Republican than from Biden or an alternative Democratic nominee but it’s really unknowable this far out and without knowing the dynamics of the race.

She’s certainly right here:

Ms. Cheney said she had no interest in changing parties: “I’m a Republican.” But when asked if the G.O.P. she was raised in was even salvageable in the short term, she said: “It may not be” and called her party “very sick.”

The party, she said, “is continuing to drive itself in a ditch and I think it’s going to take several cycles if it can be healed.”

We’ve written both parties off multiple times in the four decades I’ve been paying attention. Still, this is something different.

Ms. Cheney is surer of her diagnosis for what ails the G.O.P. than she is of her prescription for reform.

She has no post-Congress political organization in waiting and has benefited from Democratic donors, whose affections may be fleeting. To the frustration of some allies, she has not expanded her inner circle beyond family and a handful of close advisers. Never much of a schmoozer, she said she longed for what she recalled as her father’s era of policy-centric politics.

“What the country needs are serious people who are willing to engage in debates about policy,” Ms. Cheney said.

I’m not sure that’s even possible in an era where the parties are as sorted and polarized as they are.

As to Cheney, her stance has obviously won some admirers but, again, it’s not sure what good it’ll do her since it’s from people who fundamentally disagree with her on policy and therefore aren’t going to vote for her.

Ms. Cheney long ago stopped attending meetings of House Republicans. When at the Capitol, she spends much of her time with the Democrats on the Jan. 6 panel and often heads to the Lindy Boggs Room, the reception room for female lawmakers, rather than the House floor with the male-dominated House G.O.P. conference. Some members of the Jan. 6 panel have been struck by how often her Zoom background is her suburban Virginia home.

In Washington, even some Republicans who are also eager to move on from Mr. Trump question Ms. Cheney’s decision to wage open war against her own party. She’s limiting her future influence, they argue.

“It depends on if you want to go out in a blaze of glory and be ineffective or if you want to try to be effective,” said Senator John Cornyn of Texas, who has his own future leadership aspirations. “I respect her but I wouldn’t have made the same choice.”

Responding to Mr. Cornyn, a spokesman for Ms. Cheney, Jeremy Adler, said she was not focused on politics but rather the former president: “And obviously nothing the senators have done has effectively addressed this threat.”

Ms. Cheney is mindful that the Jan. 6 inquiry, with its prime-time hearings, is viewed by critics as an attention-seeking opportunity. She has turned down some opportunities that could have been helpful to her ambitions, most notably proposals from documentary filmmakers.

If Cheney’s desired reward is ensuring Trump never sits in the White House again, I think she’s got a really good shot at receiving it. But her future in elected politics is doubtful at best.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Kylopod says:

    Maybe she’ll get a gig on MSNBC, which seems to have evolved from a “liberal answer to Fox” to a place for disillusioned anti-Trump Republicans (Joe Scarborough, Nicolle Wallace, Michael Steele, Jen Rubin, S.E. Cupp). Unlike most of the Republicans on the network, though, she’s somewhat of a late-comer to the cause.

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  2. MarkedMan says:

    Her best shot is as an official in some Democratic administration. Something defense related? She is just so relentlessly and narrowly conservative about everything, though, so it would be tough to find a slot.

  3. Sleeping Dog says:

    Awarding her the Presidential medal for freedom would be a good start.

    Her political career is over, though she could find a position in an administration, though she’s not a good match for Dems and not for R’s till they regain their sanity, which won’t be in her lifetime.

    Let’s not leave out the possibility that if a FG restoration would occur, she’d be subject to prosecutional harrasment.

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  4. Kathy says:

    I’d have suggested consultant to Democratic campaigns on how best to attack Republiqans to good effect, but her current political travails argues against it.

  5. Michael Reynolds says:

    UN Ambassador under Biden?

  6. Jen says:

    I think this falls under “let’s wait and see.” If we are truly in a realignment to the center, she has a path–maybe not in 2024, but beyond. Same for Adam Kinzingner.

    If we’re edging back from the precipice, maybe. If the Republican base is as far gone as I think it is, then her only option as others have noted is the token Republican in a Democratic administration.

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  7. Kevin McKenzie says:

    Inspector General somewhere? Maybe help clean up the clear rot at the Secret Service DHS? It’s really weird, watching her, as I fundamentally disagree with her on almost everything, but she’s very clearly principled, and I respect what she’s doing. But her father was also deeply scary when he was in power, and she would be too, probably, we just have a common enemy at the moment.

    And at some level, who is more scary? The competent, or the principled? We’ve been really lucky that the Trumpers so far have been at best one.

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  8. @Jen:

    If we are truly in a realignment to the center

    Honest question: what makes you assert that we are in a “realignment to the center”?

  9. Scott F. says:

    “What the country needs are serious people who are willing to engage in debates about policy,” Ms. Cheney said.

    I’m not sure that’s even possible in an era where the parties are as sorted and polarized as they are.

    Debates about policy are possible in this era. We’ve just seen that with the Inflation Reduction Act (CHIPS and PACT as well). The debates are simply taking place wholly within the Democratic Party – our one functional party – while the other party throws bombs to appease their base.

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  10. Jen says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Sorry! It was a theme that ran through Dr. Joyner’s post “Feelings don’t care about Facts” yesterday, which included a comment by Michael that he made last Friday that I really would like to be true. 😀

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  11. gVOR08 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I won’t presume to speak for others, but I’d assume the “realignment to the center” flows from James’ post yesterday in which, among other things, he quoted Michael Reynolds,

    I have a sense – based on feeling more than hard data – that the US is centering itself, pulling in from both the far right and the far left.

    AsI noted yesterday, I quibble with MR in that outside kid lit we don’t seem to have much of a far left. The actual, avowed Socialists (as opposed to social democrats) and Communists could probably hold their annual conventions in a good sized Starbucks. Which hopefully they wouldn’t as Starbucks seems to be horribly anti-union.

    That said, it does feel like something has to blow in the Republican Party. Said feeling being tempered by the realization it’s felt like that for years and it hasn’t happened. It may be that Liz Cheney made a mistake by initially doing the right thing and, unlike say Kevin McCarthy, not immediately back tracking. Or one may hope that she’s way better tied into internal GOP politics than I and sees some trend she might ride. The tension between the Billionaire Boys Club who fund the party and the “populists” who vote for it seems to keep building. Are we going to see one side or the other start a serious third party? Are the “populists” going to demand substantive concessions from the elites? If so will the elites acquiesce or leave? Will the elites take over the D Party, leaving us with a looney right party and a center right party? It does feel like something has to give.

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  12. Scott F. says:

    I believe Cheney sees her primary task is to save the family business – the GOP – and she understands that has to happen before she could possibly work for the country. I don’t see her taking a role in a Democratic administration or seeking political office of any kind in the short term. She’ll access whether she can influence the necessary redirection of the Republican Party (first project Stop Trump) better as a mouthpiece on the cable shows or from behind the scenes in some think tank.

  13. Scott says:

    The Republican party was always described as a three legged stool: Christian right/social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, and foreign interventionists. There is only one leg left: the far right Christian nationalists. The Cheneys always represented the latter two legs. There is no place for them anymore.

    I always feel that the OTB participants (and most of the media) are fairly oblivious to the far right Christians and their power and is a blind spot. So a discussion on where the Cheneys (or the Bushes, Kinzinger, or any of that paradigmatic group) go from here or how they can participate in the larger political sphere tends to go into a cul-de-sac of nowhere.

    I’m not very optimistic so I’ll leave this quote from Dune:

    “When religion and politics travel in the same cart, the riders believe nothing can stand in their way. Their movements become headlong – faster and faster and faster. They put aside all thoughts of obstacles and forget the precipice does not show itself to the man in a blind rush until it’s too late.”

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  14. Beth says:

    @Kevin McKenzie:

    But her father was also deeply scary when he was in power, and she would be too, probably, we just have a common enemy at the moment.

    With all the love and respect being thrown at her, we would do well to remember that most of use are only allies of convenience for her and she would have ZERO problem with our deaths.

    https://www.msnbc.com/opinion/lgbtq-community-has-reason-doubt-liz-cheney-s-new-support-n1280364

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  15. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @gVOR08:

    AsI noted yesterday, I quibble with MR in that outside kid lit we don’t seem to have much of a far left.

    Exactly this! AOC–darling of the progressive bashers, destroyer of Democratic consensus, scourge on the hopes of Democrats achieving workable government–would be pretty much a bog standard liberal if we moved her to Korea, for example.

    When we have the situation here that a friend of mine in Korea had in his first Korean teaching job where one of his middle school classes had a study group/team that decided to call itself “North Korea Will Prevail,” come back and we can talk about how “far left” some factions here are.

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  16. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @gVOR08: Also, I’m not sure that that the Billionaires NEED to take over the Dem’s to turn them into a “center right party.” The Dems are barely a “center center” party as it is now. The current Democratic Party is to some degree the child of various “rethink liberalism” movements of your and my salad days. Not a bad choice, mind you, but Rush was correct about conservatism having won. Conservatism just metastasized because Rush et al still needed an enemy to fight.

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  17. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Beth: Indeed. Yet another problem for find the consensus with the center instead of being all liberal-y and divisive-y.

  18. Michael Reynolds says:

    @gVOR08:

    As I noted yesterday, I quibble with MR in that outside kid lit we don’t seem to have much of a far left.

    That’s overstating it, but true at some level. The far left lives in universities, on Twitter and in some parts of Hollywood. I still have seemingly sane people (including one relative) calling themselves communists on my Twitter feed. I’ve noted (complained) many times that academia is the home office of the left, with the attendant melodrama, persecution complexes, belligerence and self-harming tactical cluelessness one expects of students and liberal arts faculty.

    The main effect of the left has been to feed red meat to the right. But Republican overreach on trans issues and above all, abortion, are sobering the left up. I think it’s begun to penetrate that there are real enemies, not exaggerated caricatures to be dealt with by hashtag, but real and dangerous enemies. Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.

    Liberal issues, especially abortion and climate, have risen to the top of the great political Pez dispenser, replacing the terribly important issue of renaming schools et al, leaving the right to deal with us on issues Americans actually care about, and where the majority supports us. Hence my timidly optimistic comment the other day that the country seems to be centering itself.

    I personally have about a 90% issues overlap with progressives, I just want them to stop drawing focus to minor issues that do nothing but feed the Fox Machine. Less ‘let’s be right on the issues,’ and more, ‘let’s win on the issues.’ Less be, more do.

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  19. gVOR08 says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Also, I’m not sure that that the Billionaires NEED to take over the Dem’s to turn them into a “center right party.”

    Sadly true.

  20. dazedandconfused says:

    I think she may have a shot, just not in this cycle, perhaps 2028.

    IMO Trump represents the reactionary impulse spawned by the election of a black man as POTUS, something a certain significant demographic is still at least a couple generations away from accepting. That memory will fade and they will once again think about selecting someone who can actually win in the general election, at least FOX will once it is safe for them to do so, and that demographic will follow FOX once Trump is out of the picture. And he will be out of the picture at some point.

    IOW, IMO the shift from selecting men like McCain and Romney to a man like Trump is quite likely a temporary phenomena.

  21. gVOR08 says:

    @Michael Reynolds: One does overstate in blog comments. Whatever disagreement you and I have is, I think, on emphasis and tactics. You focus on the left being too loud and wish we had a way to get them to muffle for the common good. I tend to focus more on the supposedly liberal MSM and wish we had a way to make them less eager to create “Dems in disarray” stories and use obscure lefties to “balance” obscure righties like DeSantis, TFG, McCarthy…

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  22. Gavin says:

    Cheney voted with Trump in >95% of votes. The mere concept that “Liz Cheney, diehard super-right-wing crazypants Republican, is voted out of a job” should in any way be somehow a thing to discuss is just ridiculous.
    Liz Cheney voted for Trump. Liz Cheney voted against abortion access. Liz Cheney has no problem with the wave of R voting restrictions across the country.
    Will Liz Cheney support an expanded child tax credit? Will liz cheney support expanding ballot access? Obviously there’s plenty more issues.. and you would only be shocked if you think Liz Cheney’s actual views [as stored for posterity on your favorite congressional vote-tracking site] are in any way different than bog-standard hyper-conservative R.
    Don’t pay attention to the carnival barker [media, personality-driven character assertion, etc].. pay attention to what they do. And LizCheney’s replacement won’t vote any different.. it’s really all a mirage. Indeed, the leopards-eating-faces party will in fact eventually eat your face.. and replace you with a carbon copy who votes the same.

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  23. Michael Reynolds says:

    @gVOR08:

    One does overstate in blog comments.

    He says, with comic understatement.

  24. Jax says:

    @Gavin: I’ve said that from the beginning….Harriet Hageman IS Liz Cheney as far as her potential voting record, but she’s willing to commit treason if it will get her elected. She lost the race for governor last go-round to a moderate, she’s got donor debts to pay and Trump is where she gets that money.