Can complicit Republicans' change of heart on Donald Trump be trusted?

Democrats don't need Liz Cheney's offer of assistance — but should they take it anyway?

By Heather Digby Parton


Published August 19, 2022 9:30AM (EDT)

Liz Cheney and Donald Trump | The Maricopa County audit (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Liz Cheney and Donald Trump | The Maricopa County audit (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Back in 2019, I saw Liz Cheney as the most dangerous woman in America. I was referring at the time to her grotesque insistence that Democrats supported "infanticide" and the absurd threat to shut down the government unless Congress paid for Trump's stupid wall. And she was more than happy to be a Trumpish attack dog, going after Democrats like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with undisguised glee. Cheney wasn't just the daughter of one of the primary architects of the Iraq war debacle, she worked in the State Department and helped with its execution. As a member of GOP House leadership, she was a rising star in GOP politics and a likely presidential candidate who had a good shot at becoming the first woman president as the successor to Donald Trump. I sounded the alarm again in 2021.

A lot has certainly changed since then, hasn't it?

Cheney may have been a good little Trumper for most of his tenure, demeaning Democrats and voting in lockstep but she decided that staging a coup was a bridge too far and we all know where she has landed since then. She was stripped of her leadership post, censured by her state party and lost her re-election bid this week by nearly 40 points. She is, however, now one of the most famous politicians in the country and will no doubt be mentioned in the history books for her bold stand against the undisputed leader of her own party. And, as I predicted years ago, she is being actively discussed as a presidential candidate and appears to be seriously considering it. The reasons for her ascent may be different than I thought they would be but there was always something about Liz that suggested she was aiming for the top job.

Cheney knew she was going to lose her congressional seat and I would guess that she knew that from the moment she spoke out about Trump after the 2020 election. There may have been a moment or two that the GOP leadership thought they were finally finished with him but Cheney is a savvy operator and almost certainly understood that being a strong critic of the man who won her state by 44 points would cost her politically. Once she made the decision to go all-in and join the January 6 committee the die was cast and it was clear her political future was not going to be in the House of Representatives.

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In her concession speech on Tuesday night, Cheney announced what appears to be a new movement she's calling "The Great Task" which was taken from the last sentence of the Gettysburg Address and refers to her crusade to deny Donald Trump the presidency in 2024 and restore the democratic norms that preceded his Big Lie and attempted coup. She converted her fat war chest (consisting mainly of money collected from Democrats) into a leadership PAC and told the media that she is considering a presidential run as a means to accomplishing her goal.

I wish I believed that no Democrats would ever vote for a hardcore rightwinger like Cheney, but I don't.

The question is: How that's supposed to work? In the last few days, analysts have offered up a plethora of punditry on the subject. Needless to say, nobody thinks she can actually win the GOP nomination. Trump is still in the driver's seat and Cheney is the single most hated person in politics among his supporters who make up a majority of the party. But there are other ways to deny Trump his revenge.

The American Prospect's Robert Kuttner did make the point that if she runs as an Independent in the general election there is an inherent risk. "Cheney is a widely admired figure at a time when voters are hostile to both parties. In a true three-way, almost anything could happen. Cheney might even win." But his real concern is one that I share: Cheney could split the anti-Trump vote with the Democrat and inadvertently hand the White House back to Trump.

I wish I believed that no Democrats would ever vote for a hardcore rightwinger like Cheney, but I don't. She is being deified by the mainstream media as a patriotic hero and I'm sure there are some Biden voters who see her as the savior of the Republic. Looking back at the 2000 and 2016 elections should remind us that it only takes a small number of third party defectors to give the White House to the GOP.

Kuttner's colleague Harold Meyerson disagreed with Kuttner's premise entirely, asserting that Cheney understands the political arithmetic very well and will run in the Republican primaries with the intention of trying to save the party from itself and Donald Trump. He points to this line from her concession speech:

We have candidates for Secretary of State who may refuse to report the actual results of the popular vote in future elections …No American should support election deniers for any position of genuine responsibility, where their refusal to follow the rule of law will corrupt our future.

Meyerson thinks Cheney is going to make a pitch for Republicans to back Democrats in these positions and will herself vote for the Democrat in the general election. If she's serious about saving democracy she will do that but I won't be surprised if she pulls one of those fatuous "I'm writing in Mitt Romney" or some other "good Republican" but we'll see.

The Atlantic's Ron Brownstein says her run would be unprecedented because "there aren't any clear examples of a candidate running a true kamikaze campaign." He looks at all the roadblocks to her even getting on the primary ballot or being included in the debates but points out that some strategists think she might open up a lane for another candidate to take the nomination from Trump. I'm not exactly sure how that's supposed to work but unless that candidate is someone who is willing to admit that the 2020 election wasn't stolen and repudiates Trumpism I don't see what good it would do. In fact, Cheney herself doesn't think she can back Florida Governor Ron DeSantis because he's an election denier.

Brownstein says that most Republican strategists he speaks to believe that Cheney needs to run as an Independent and potentially "loosen his hold on the party, this thinking goes, if she persuades enough centrist and white-collar voters to reject him and ensure his defeat in a general election." Once again, I have to say that I think that's tremendously risky because there are a whole lot of centrist, white-collar Democrats who might stupidly vote for her too. She's certainly not going to tell them not to.

The answer to this question is for her not to run. This is exactly the kind of move that could blow up in the Democrats' faces and hand the White House back to Trump. Cheney can use her platform, money and influence in some other way to defeat Donald Trump, perhaps by encouraging those centrist GOP voters not to put Trump accomplices in important electoral positions in the states. The Democrats beat him in 2020, they can beat him again. 

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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