There is little of more value in politics than name recognition. Put any number of qualified, competent, even well-funded but largely unknown candidates up against a legacy – think the Kennedy clan – and the outcome is usually preordained. Such was the pathway to power for the woman who has apparently engaged in self-selection as the voice of those intent on drumming Donald Trump – and by inference, his most ardent supporters – out of politics forever.
The fast track to national recognition for 54-year-old Liz Cheney, third-term member of Congress, did not commence because she was particularly competent, though she is considered something of a heavyweight by those who share her worldview. No, her career was launched by capitalizing on the reverence held for her father Dick Cheney, in his (not so much her) native Wyoming. The man who came to be reviled by the left was royalty at home, and a Washington fixture for decades who landed one heartbeat away from the presidency. And his daughter’s meteoric rise to prominence has now reached completion with her ubiquitous calls for Trump to be all but excommunicated from the Republican Party. This leads to a question that begs an answer right about now.
Who died and left Liz Cheney in charge?
After first winning her seat in the same year that Donald Trump won the presidency, Cheney opted to go along to get along with the new chief executive, though one suspects she was always sour on the bombastic billionaire. After all, Trump the candidate had attacked the Bush administration, in which her father wielded arguably more power than any vice president in American history. And in the first of many instances of leveraging her obvious, shall we say, familial credentials, Ms. Cheney herself landed as a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs in 2002 – at age 36. It was a position allegedly created just for her. Cashing in on her name recognition and gender afresh nearly two decades later, she was fast-tracked to the third-ranking position in the House GOP leadership in 2019 – an extraordinary rise for someone who had only been elected to the House two years earlier.
Urban Cowgirl Rides the Anti-Trump Chuckwagon
From that perch, in the wake of the disastrous 2020 election and aftermath, Liz Cheney saw opportunity in crisis. She came charging out of the Never-Trump closet with her vote to impeach the 45th president, and then launched a media soap box tour, her voice only growing louder. True to her Never-Trump credentials, she has ingratiated herself with the elite media, appearing in recent weeks on the virulently anti-Trump CNN and NBC, among other Trump-hating outlets.
One word in particular has haunted Cheney in her quest for power: carpetbagger. She is for all intents and purposes a product of the Swamp, spending only parts of her childhood in Wyoming before moving on with her family to the corridors of power inside the beltway. In fact, she didn’t even live in Wyoming for more than 30 years as an adult, until she took a home in the fashionable city of Jackson to establish residency and run for the U.S. Senate in 2014.
During that failed campaign, New Republic columnist Jon Ward wrote about his encounter with Cheney: “she talked up her Wyoming roots and dressed in boots. But when I chatted with her at one stop, her jeans were so new that her hands were stained blue from touching them.” Wyoming resident James Crestwell told The New York Times: “She seems like she’s more for Washington than Wyoming — like she’s trying to impress her powerful friends there.”
And her support across the Cowboy State has now tanked – not surprising given that Trump garnered almost 70% of the vote there in 2020. Six people have already announced their intention to primary her in 2022 – and the Trump team is reportedly seeking additional candidates. She might try to limit the damage by citing her long-standing conservative credentials – and more than 90% support of Trump policies in Congress – but the intra-party war launched by Cheney is not about policy. It is deeply personal.
Or is it? Is Trump’s persona simply the rationale offered by Cheney and her fellow Never-Trumpers for returning the GOP to its Bush-era neoconservative identity, which stands in stark contrast to Trump’s America First movement? It is hardly a secret that the Washington defense establishment was wary at best, worried at worst, about what they termed Trump’s isolationist views. Cheney has become – intentionally or not – a martyr for the neoconservative cause.
Swimming Against the Tide
The problem for Cheney and her fellow Trump haters is basic. How many actual Republican voters favor a return to the days of foreign entanglements designed to forcibly expand American democracy? The contrast between the visions of Trump and the Bush 43 remnant could hardly be more stark.
Nor could the results. Bush pushed an ever-so-reluctant nation into a disastrous, counter-productive war in Iraq – ostensibly for oil. Trump was the first president in recent memory not to engage in fresh foreign conflicts, while nailing down four separate Mideast peace treaties and achieving the hard-won and long-cherished goal of energy independence, meaning no more wars for oil.
A recent poll by the pro-Trump Club for Growth confirms the brewing anger at Cheney not just nationally, but in her own district (the entire land mass of Wyoming, which holds but one seat in the House). It reveals that a majority of Wyoming Republicans disapprove of Cheney, with more than half saying they would not back her regardless of who ran against her. Her lone pathway to re-election may be a vote split many ways in a field crowded with anti-Cheney candidates, allowing her to survive with a slim plurality. And yet, in what some might call self-delusion, she has pointedly refused to rule out a presidential run of her own.
Whether it is for the purposes of power, prestige or a desperate attempt to return the GOP to her familiar neoconservative agenda, Liz Cheney has made her bed, and now she will have to sleep in it. To use a poker analogy, she has boldly, blindly thrown all her chips to the middle of the table – trying to take down a man and a movement which has for half a decade held the trump card in the Republican Party. Which hand would you rather hold?
Read more from Tim Donner.