How Liz Cheney was defeated by the very extremism she once promoted: journalist
In a GOP congressional primary election held in Wyoming on Tuesday, August 16, Rep. Liz Cheney suffered a landslide defeat when Harriet Hagemen — who was backed by former President Donald Trump — won by around 38 percent. The election results didn’t come as a major surprise, as MAGA Republicans vehemently resented Cheney for pushing for Trump’s second impeachment and playing a prominent role on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s January 6 select committee.
Cheney has drawn a great deal of praise, even from many liberals and progressives, for pushing back against the Big Lie and blaming Trump for the violence that rocked the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6, 2021. But journalist Tim Murphy, in an article published by Mother Jones after Cheney lost that primary, argues that the congresswoman was defeated in Wyoming by the type of extremism that she spent much of her political career encouraging.
“In the run-up to the 2016 election, Liz Cheney issued a dire warning,” Murphy recalls. “The future of American democracy, and the nation’s place as a symbol of freedom to the world, was on the ballot. If voters chose poorly, she told Rush Limbaugh, the next president ‘would be the most corrupt individual ever to sit in the Oval Office.’ She was referring, of course, to Hillary Clinton.”
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Murphy emphasizes that Cheney was far from a Never Trumper back in 2016.
“She was a Bush Administration veteran who was willing to go to the mat for President Donald Trump, no matter what the naysayers said,” Murphy remembers. “They both had a use for each other. By the start of her second term, she was chair of the House Republican Conference. When Trump ran for reelection, she offered her endorsement. But on Tuesday, Cheney’s career in Congress came to an abrupt end, when she lost her Republican primary to conservative challenger Harriet Hageman.”
Murphy continues, “The election itself was mostly a formality. After voting to impeach President Donald Trump for his role in the January 6 insurrection and vowing to push back against his ‘crusade to undermine our democracy,’ Cheney was stripped last year of her House leadership position. The Wyoming GOP censured her, and later voted to no longer recognize her as a Republican.”
The Mother Jones reporter goes on to note how hard-right Cheney was during the Barack Obama years, pointing out that she was a “regular on Fox News” who accused then-President Obama of being “so reluctant to defend the nation overseas.”
“That she was wrong about Obama then and right about Trump now is obvious,” Murphy writes, “but it was the willingness to play in the mud that made her a rising star and a member of Congress in the first place, just as it was the breakdown of public trust and civic guardrails during the (George W.) Bush era that made possible Trump’s MAGA ascent. By the time she decided that orange man, in fact, (was) bad, the damage had long since been done…. Perhaps her fate might also be a lesson to the aspiring public servants out there — that the movement you cynically stoke might someday come for you, too.”
Where Cheney will go from here now that her days in the U.S. House of Representatives are numbered has been the subject of much speculation among pundits and reporters. Axios’ Mike Allen, in an article published on August 17, reported that Cheney’s allies “expect her to start a super PAC” that “would attract lots of wealthy, anti-Trump Republican donors.”
Allen reports, “Forming a national group would signal a run in the '24 GOP primaries, giving a real voice to anti-Trump Republicans…. It sure looked like a presidential-campaign stage when Cheney — vice chair of the House January 6 committee — conceded…. She immediately teased a '24 presidential run.”
But Never Trump conservative and Washington Post opinion writer Jennifer Rubin, in an August 17 column, is skeptical about Cheney’s ability to have an impact in the 2024 presidential election. Rubin praises Cheney for being “the rare Republican willing these days to sacrifice her own career on principles,” but she doubts that there will be a large audience for her message in a party where Trump remains incredibly influential. As Rubin sees it, the Trumpified GOP is likely beyond redemption.
“No one should doubt Cheney’s determination to protect our democracy and to keep the defeated former president out of the Oval Office,” Rubin writes. “How she will do so going forward is an open question…. Cheney has left little doubt that her effort to dethrone Trump and pull her party back from the abyss might entail a presidential run. Certainly, running for president would allow Cheney to use free media as effectively as Trump did in 2016, challenge Trump to debate and make her case directly to voters.”
Rubin continues, “But here is the rub: How can she appeal to voters within a party so deeply in thrall to a delusional and narcissistic habitual liar? If Republicans in the state that knows her best rejected her, her prospects in presidential primaries look remote.”
For her column, Rubin interviewed GOP strategist Sarah Longwell, a Never Trump conservative and founder of the Republican Accountability Project (formerly Republican Voters Against Trump). Longwell agrees that Cheney’s chances of winning a Republican presidential primary in 2024 are slim; nonetheless, Longwell thinks that a Cheney run could help derail a 2024 Trump campaign if he runs.
Longwell told Rubin, “Listening to so many voters in the focus groups, I think her potential lane is narrow…. (But) she may be the only person who won’t wilt under his attacks in a Republican primary. And even if she can’t win, she can be the most decisive person in making Trump lose.”
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