Liz Cheney wanted to prove that the Republican Party was not a wholly owned subsidiary of Donald Trump.
She failed. Miserably.
The three-term US representative from Wyoming didn’t just lose her reelection bid in that state’s Republican primary on Tuesday; she was wiped out. In the state that has long served as a political launchpad for the national ambitions of the Cheney family, Liz Cheney won less than 29 percent of the vote, as opposed to the more than 66 percent that went to challenger Harriet Hageman. Cheney lost all but two of Wyoming’s 23 counties—Albany, the home of liberal Laramie and the University of Wyoming, and Teton, the wealthy ski-resort enclave that has long been the most Democratic County in one of the nation’s most Republican states.
Cheney never really had a chance. After she broke with Trump, the former president who has made himself the undisputed boss of the Grand Old Party, she was doomed to defeat in a Republican primary where her last best hope was a massive Democratic crossover vote that still would not have been enough to save her. Even if every Democrat and Democratic-leaning independent in the state had voted for Cheney, she would have lost because she was so incredibly unpopular with the Republican base.
So, in this moment of complete and utter rejection by the Republicans who know her best, Cheney is busy making her next political move. And it’s a big one.
On the morning after her crushing defeat, the soon-to-be former congresswoman went on NBC’s Today show and signaled that she is interested in bidding for the presidency in 2024. “It is something that I am thinking about, and I’ll make a decision in the coming months,” said Cheney, who on Wednesday announced the formation of a new group that could serve as a base for a presidential run.
The group will have plenty of money. Instead of going all in as a Wyoming primary candidate, Cheney banked a lot of the money she collected from donors across the country. Her last pre-primary campaign finance report showed that she had spent only half of the more than $15 million she raised for the congressional race.
Cheney, an ambitious and calculating politician, will keep right on raising money to keep herself in contention. But for what? Her presidential prospects would appear to be no better than those of her father, Dick, who before installing himself as vice president mounted a failed bid for the 1996 Republican presidential nomination. So there’s a creeping suspicion that all the post-primary positioning could be more about promoting Liz Cheney’s brand than her stated goal of “doing whatever it takes to keep Donald Trump out of the Oval Office.”
The notion that Cheney would be a serious contender for the Republican nomination in a challenge to Trump’s all-but-certain 2024 bid is comic. The Grand Old Party is now Trump’s political plaything. Of the almost 200 candidates he has endorsed in 2022 Republican primaries, 182 have won and just 15 have lost. Cheney is the fourth House Republican who voted for Trump’s impeachment to be defeated in a GOP primary, and four others decided to drop their reelection plans rather than face a Trump-backed challenger.
The likelier route for Cheney is as an independent, or as the leader of a new party that would try to attract disaffected Republicans, as well as independents and Democrats who have been impressed with the representative’s fierce opposition to Trump.
That’s comparable to what Abraham Lincoln did in 1860, when he and his allies pulled former Whigs, Free Soil land reformers, dissident Democrats, and abolitionists together in a Republican Party that won an election where four major candidates split the presidential vote. Cheney would very much like to be considered the Lincoln of her time.
“The great and original champion of our party, Abraham Lincoln, was defeated in elections for the Senate and the House before he won the most important election of all,” Cheney said after suffering her own defeat. “Lincoln ultimately prevailed, he saved our union, and he defined our obligation as Americans for all of history.”
In case anyone missed the connection she was trying to make, Cheney added:
Speaking at Gettysburg of the great task remaining before us, Lincoln said that, “We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from this earth.” As we meet here tonight, that remains our greatest and most important task.
The reference to “the great task” was a marketing move. Within hours of referencing Lincoln’s 1863 reflection on winning the Civil War as “the great task remaining before us,” Cheney’s political team announced that the new group that will serve as her springboard for future fundraising and campaigns will be called The Great Task.
Cheney egos are every bit as big as Trump egos. Don’t doubt for a moment that Liz Cheney does, indeed, see herself as similar to the 16th president.
But she’s not, personally or politically. And the notion that Cheney might form a new party with appeal to moderate Democrats—or even moderate Republicans—is absurd.
While her work on the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol has been exemplary, Cheney’s record is that of an extreme right-wing advocate for positions that have mirrored those of Trump when it comes to attacking immigrants, refugees, Muslims, and Democrats. Before her split with the 45th president, she voted with him 93 percent of the time. And she has an ugly history of exploiting political divisions by promoting Big Lies, as Cheney did when she refused to reject Trump’s vile “birther” lies about former President Barack Obama, and when she claimed that Vice President Kamala Harris “sounds just like Karl Marx.”
Lincoln, like other early Republicans, read Marx, who was the European correspondent for Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune, the newspaper that played a critical role in calling the party into being. Indeed, a number of Marx’s German followers were among the great many immigrants and refugees who helped to forge a Republican Party that opposed the spread of slavery, promoted worker rights, and implemented land reforms that were aimed at alleviating poverty. When the Republican Party was founded in Ripon, Wis., in 1854, a number of the people in the room were members of the socialist Ceresco commune.
Lincoln was not as militant as the Radical Republicans who supported him. But he was no conservative. Raised in a working-class family on the frontier, he had nothing to do with the sort of dynastic politics in which Liz Cheney was raised. Lincoln was a circuit-riding country lawyer who won his campaign for the state legislature as a champion of workers and farmers. Liz Cheney came to prominence as a defender of the Iraq War that was launched based on her father’s lies, and as a champion of the sort of empire-building military interventionism that Lincoln opposed as one of the US House’s most ardent critics of the 1846 US invasion of Mexico. Lincoln took inspiration from the anti-colonial pamphlets of Thomas Paine. Cheney perfected her rhetorical skills as a Fox News regular who defended the use of torture.
No matter how hard Liz Cheney wants voters to think of her as a new-model Lincoln, the reality is that she’s just a slightly refurbished Cheney.
John NicholsJohn Nichols is a national affairs correspondent for The Nation. With Senator Bernie Sanders, he's the co-writer of It's OK to Be Angry About Capitalism (Crown). He's also the author of Coronavirus Criminals and Pandemic Profiteers: Accountability for Those Who Caused the Crisis, fromVerso; The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party: The Enduring Legacy of Henry Wallace's Anti-Fascist, Anti-Racist Politics, from Verso; Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse: A Field Guide to the Most Dangerous People in America, from Nation Books; and co-author, with Robert W. McChesney, of People Get Ready: The Fight Against a Jobless Economy and a Citizenless Democracy.