Spoiler alert: Liz Cheney could take Jan. 6 warnings about Trump to GOP primary

‘Ron DeSantis would love to have her on the debate stage to take Trump down,’ strategist says

Rep. Liz Cheney chairs a hearing of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot on July 21. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Liz Cheney chairs a hearing of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot on July 21. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted July 29, 2022 at 6:00am

ANALYSIS — Rep. Liz Cheney’s steely and forceful demeanor during the House Jan. 6 select committee’s public hearings has proved she is her father’s daughter. So it is no surprise the Wyoming Republican is not ruling out a presidential bid — even if to play a spoiler role.

The eldest daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney has rankled Donald Trump and other Republicans as the vice chairwoman of the select committee. She has pleaded with GOP voters that Trump is unfit for a second term, claimed Republican lawmakers broke federal laws on his behalf — and painted some as hypocritical cowards.

Why wouldn’t the heir to one of America’s most stubborn and controversial political families at least consider injecting the select committee’s anti-Trump warnings into the 2024 primary?

“At this point, I haven’t made a decision on 2024,” she told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday. “I’ll make a decision on 2024 down the road.”

Her mulling is merely part of what former Florida GOP Rep. David Jolly calls her “journey,” a trek he and other anti-Trump Republicans have taken — to no avail.

“She knows she’s in the right, but there’s also this Pollyanna optimism that she can prevail. Inevitably, I think she will learn that she will not,” Jolly told CQ Roll Call. “To put it generously, if her intent is to move the Republican Party past Donald Trump, but also the injury that he laid upon the republic, she would be the first. Others have tried that nobly, in small ways and in big ways. None have succeeded.”

“The party doesn’t have the appetite for it,” said Jolly, who lost a reelection bid in 2016 after declining to support Trump. “Not only are the numbers not there for her to be the nominee, they’re less than minuscule.”

There are plenty of reasons to calculate that Cheney’s goal of a 2024 bid would be to continue the Jan. 6 committee’s drumbeat that Trump is more threatening than presidential.

“Her presidential primary prospects are limited. But she could make Trump’s life miserable during the campaign,” said Brad Bannon, a Democratic strategist. “Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis would love to have her on the debate stage to take Trump down.”

Whit Ayers, a Republican strategist, said in an interview that the GOP’s so-called big tent “really consists of three groups: 10 percent are never Trump, 30 percent are always Trump, and then there are 60 percent who are maybe Trump, people who voted twice for Trump but are open to voting for other people in 2024 who carry less baggage.”

“What the Jan. 6 committee has done is increase those people in the 60 percent camp,” added Ayers, who has consulted for DeSantis, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, former Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker and others. “They are anxious to see what kind of alternatives are out there, who would follow some of the same policies as Trump but be less controversial.”

‘Purposeful choice to violate his oath’

Cheney has been field-testing a possible primary message during the select committee’s public hearings, which have been her introduction to voters.

“Here’s the worst part: Donald Trump knows that millions of Americans who supported him would stand up and defend our nation were it threatened,” Cheney said on July 21, during the panel’s second prime-time hearing. “And he is preying on their patriotism. He is preying on their sense of justice.”

“And on Jan. 6th, Donald Trump turned their love of country into a weapon against our Capitol and our Constitution,” she added, moments later urging her fellow GOP voters to disqualify Trump if he decides to run again.

Of the then-president’s actions leading up to and then on Jan. 6, she said that “there was no ambiguity, no nuance — Donald Trump made a purposeful choice to violate his oath of office, to ignore the ongoing violence against law enforcement, to threaten our constitutional order.”

Next came what could very well be a mission statement for her long-shot 2024 bid for the Republican presidential nomination: “There is no way to excuse that behavior. It was indefensible. And every American must consider this: Can a president who is willing to make the choices Donald Trump made during the violence of Jan. 6th ever be trusted with any position of authority in our great nation again?”

Cheney’s latest non-denial came after reports Trump would prefer to announce his 2024 candidacy before November’s midterm elections. It came four days before he made his first visit to Washington, D.C., since leaving office several weeks after the select committee alleges he revved up a throng of angry loyalists and sent them to the Capitol to “fight like hell.”

“I ran the first time and I won. Then I ran a second time and I did much better. We got millions and millions more votes. … We may just have to do it again,” Trump told a forum hosted Tuesday by the America First Policy Institute, a think tank established by some of his former White House aides.

He also called his dark remarks, which called the entire country a “cesspool of crime” with blood and carnage filling American streets, “just the beginning” of his “looking into the future” in the coming “weeks.” But he also used this phrase several times during the same appearance: “The next Republican president.”

Such cryptic comments appear calibrated toward keeping his biggest rival, DeSantis, and other potential 2024 candidates from taking serious steps toward their own presidential runs.

Cheney has made clear she has no further patience for these kinds of Trump antics.

Liz Cheney wants to hunt Donald Trump all the way to hell,” Bannon said. “So she might run for the GOP presidential nomination to drive the final nail in Trump’s coffin, even if she has no chance to win the nomination.”

Cheney’s ’journey‘

He is not the only Democrat to think Dick Cheney’s daughter is on a mission.

“She’s certainly earned the right to decide her own political future,” Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., told CQ Roll Call.

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin was more effusive, going so far as to describe — broadly — a day in which his side would negotiate legislation with a President Cheney.

“First of all, I admire her convictions and her ability to stand up for what she knows is right. We certainly recognize that this has been a fundamental issue, and she has put our nation well ahead of her own interests within the Republican Party, certainly losing her leadership [post] in the House of Representatives,” the Maryland Democrat said in a brief interview.

“We admire her leadership. I must tell you, there’s a lot of policy issues we would disagree with, but I would welcome the Republican Party having choices of people who have the integrity to be the president of the United States,” he said. “And then we could have a debate on the policies, not the individual. That would be healthy, if the Republicans would nominate someone who has the moral strength and conviction to be the president.”

How ironic that Democrats who railed against the father for all kinds of shenanigans, including pushing embellished intelligence before the 2003 Iraq conflict, now see the daughter as a potential savior of the Republican Party — and the American system.

Liz Cheney becoming the next Republican presidential nominee would bring our politics full circle. A Cheney being so lauded by Democrats shows how Trump has transformed the unthinkable into reality.

To Jolly, Cheney is at the first stage of “the journey of someone truly trying to lead but not having any followers.”

Any Cheney can read political tea leaves. So her potential bid would not be about accepting the party’s nomination in Milwaukee in the summer of 2024, strategists say.

She would try to convince enough GOP voters that the former president made “a mockery of conservative devotion to the sanctity of the Constitution with his attempt to subvert the outcome of the 2020 election,” Bannon said. “In short, Trump is not a true conservative; he’s just a demagogue without a conservative compass.”

There is no doubt about Cheney’s conservative bona fides: She has voted with her party’s House leaders nearly 90 percent of the time in 2021 and 2022, according to CQ vote studies.

That’s another big reason why Cheney might not be able to resist jumping into the fray: Trump claims with questionable credibility that he wants to “save America” — but Cheney could credibly claim she wants to save her father’s political party.

Editor-at-Large John T. Bennett writes a weekly column for Roll Call, parts of which first appeared in the subscription-only CQ Senate newsletter.