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Liz Cheney Is Able to Lose. But She’s Not Able to Quit.


CHEYENNE, Wyo. — It was just over a month before her primary, but Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming was nowhere near the voters weighing her future.

Ms. Cheney was as an alternative huddled with fellow lawmakers and aides within the Capitol complex, bucking up her allies in a cause she believes is more vital than her House seat: Ridding American politics of former President Donald J Trump and his influence.

“The nine of us have done more to stop Trump from ever regaining power than any group up to now,” she said to fellow members of the panel investigating Mr. Trump’s involvement within the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. “We will’t let up.”

Probably the most closely-watched primary of 2022 has not grow to be much of a race in any respect. Polls show Ms. Cheney losing badly to her rival, Harriet Hageman, Mr. Trump’s vehicle for revenge, and the congresswoman has been all but driven out of her Trump-loving state, partially due to death threats, her office says.

Yet for Ms. Cheney, the race stopped being about political survival months ago. As a substitute, she’s used the Aug. 16 contest as a form of a high-profile stage for her martyrdom — and a proving ground for her latest crusade. She used the one debate to inform voters to “vote for any individual else” in the event that they wanted a politician who would violate their oath of office. Last week, she enlisted her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, to chop an ad calling Mr. Trump a “coward” who represents the best threat to America within the history of the republic.

In a state where Mr. Trump won 70 percent of the vote two years ago, Ms. Cheney might as well be asking ranchers to go vegan.

“If the price of standing up for the Structure is losing the House seat, then that’s a price I’m willing to pay,” she said in an interview this week within the conference room of a Cheyenne bank.

The 56-year-old daughter of a politician who once had visions of rising to the highest of the House leadership — but landed as vp as an alternative — has grow to be arguably essentially the most consequential rank-and-file member of Congress in modern times. Few others have so aggressively used the levers of the office to try and reroute the course of American politics — but, in doing so, she has effectively sacrificed her own future within the institution she grew as much as revere.

Ms. Cheney’s relentless concentrate on Mr. Trump has driven speculation — even amongst longtime family friends — that she is preparing to run for president. She has done little to dissuade such talk.

At a house party Thursday night in Cheyenne, with former Vice President Dick Cheney happily looking on under a pair of mounted leather chaps, the host introduced Ms. Cheney by recalling how one other Republican woman, Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith, confronted Senator Joseph McCarthy when doing so was unpopular — and went on to grow to be the primary female candidate for president from a significant party.

The attendees applauded on the parallel, as Ms. Cheney smiled.

Within the interview, she said she was focused on her primary — and her work on the committee. Nevertheless it’s removed from clear that she could possibly be a viable candidate in the present Republican Party, or whether she has interest within the donor-class schemes a couple of third-party bid, partially because she knows it could just siphon votes from a Democrat opposing Mr. Trump.

Ms. Cheney said she had little interest in changing parties: “I’m a Republican.” But when asked if the G.O.P. she was raised in was even salvageable within the short term, she said: “It is probably not” and called her party “very sick.”

While the Trump wing of the Republican Party flexed its muscle, voters in deep-red Kansas delivered a loud warning to the G.O.P. on abortion rights.

The party, she said, “is constant to drive itself in a ditch and I feel it’s going to take several cycles if it might be healed.”

Ms. Cheney suggested she was animated as much by Trumpism as Mr. Trump himself. She could support a Republican for president in 2024, she said, but her redline is a refusal to state clearly that Mr. Trump lost a legitimate election in 2020.

Asked if the ranks of off-limits candidates included Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, whom many Republicans have latched onto as a Trump alternative, she said she “would find it very difficult” to support Mr. DeSantis in a general election.

“I feel that Ron DeSantis has lined himself up almost entirely with Donald Trump, and I feel that’s very dangerous,” Ms. Cheney said.

It’s easy to listen to other soundings of a White House bid in Ms. Cheney’s rhetoric.

In Cheyenne, she channeled the concerns of “mothers” and what she described as their hunger for “any individual’s who’s competent.” Having once largely scorned identity politics — Ms. Cheney was only the feminine lawmaker who wouldn’t pose for an image of the ladies of Congress after 2018 — she now freely discusses gender and her perspective as a mother.

“Lately, for essentially the most part, men are running the world, and it is admittedly not going that well,” she said in June when she spoke on the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif.

In an indication that Ms. Cheney’s political awakening goes beyond her contempt for Mr. Trump, she said she prefers the ranks of Democratic women with national security backgrounds to her party’s right flank.

“I’d much fairly serve with Mikie Sherrill and Chrissy Houlahan and Elissa Slotkin than Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert, despite the fact that on substance actually I actually have big disagreements with the Democratic women I just mentioned,” Ms. Cheney said within the interview. “But they love this country, they do their homework and so they are those that are attempting to do the appropriate thing for the country.”

Ms. Cheney is surer of her diagnosis for what ails the G.O.P. than she is of her prescription for reform.

She has no post-Congress political organization in waiting and has benefited from Democratic donors, whose affections could also be fleeting. To the frustration of some allies, she has not expanded her inner circle beyond family and a handful of close advisers. Never much of a schmoozer, she said she longed for what she recalled as her father’s era of policy-centric politics.

“What the country needs are serious people who find themselves willing to have interaction in debates about policy,” Ms. Cheney said.

It’s all a far cry from the Liz Cheney of a decade ago, who had a contract to seem repeatedly on Fox News and would use her perch as a guest host for Sean Hannity to present her unswerving conservative views and savage former President Barack Obama and Democrats.

Today, Ms. Cheney doesn’t concede specific regrets about helping to create the atmosphere that gave rise to Mr. Trump’s takeover of her party. She did, nevertheless, acknowledge a “reflexive partisanship that I actually have been guilty of” and noted Jan. 6 “demonstrated how dangerous that’s.”

Few lawmakers today face those dangers as repeatedly as Ms. Cheney, who has had a full-time Capitol Police security detail for nearly a yr due to the threats against her — protection few rank-and-file lawmakers are assigned. She now not provides advance notice about her Wyoming travel and, not welcome at most county and state Republican events, has turned her campaign right into a series of invite-only House parties.

What’s more puzzling than her schedule is why Ms. Cheney, who has raised over $13 million, has not poured extra money into the race, especially early on when she had a chance to define Ms. Hageman. Ms. Cheney had spent roughly half her war chest as of the beginning of July, spurring speculation that she was saving money for future efforts against Mr. Trump.

Ms. Cheney way back stopped attending meetings of House Republicans. When on the Capitol, she spends much of her time with the Democrats on the Jan. 6 panel and infrequently heads to the Lindy Boggs Room, the reception room for female lawmakers, fairly than the House floor with the male-dominated House G.O.P. conference. Some members of the Jan. 6 panel have been struck by how often her Zoom background is her suburban Virginia home.

In Washington, even some Republicans who’re also wanting to move on from Mr. Trump query Ms. Cheney’s decision to wage open war against her own party. She’s limiting her future influence, they argue.

“It is dependent upon if you wish to exit in a blaze of glory and be ineffective or if you wish to attempt to be effective,” said Senator John Cornyn of Texas, who has his own future leadership aspirations. “I respect her but I wouldn’t have made the identical alternative.”

Ms. Cheney is mindful that the Jan. 6 inquiry, with its prime-time hearings, is viewed by critics as an attention-seeking opportunity. She has turned down some opportunities that would have been helpful to her ambitions, most notably proposals from documentary filmmakers.

Still, to her skeptics at home, Ms. Cheney’s attacks on Mr. Trump have resurrected dormant questions on her ties to the state and raised fears that she has gone Washington and brought up with the opposition, dismissing the political beliefs of the voters who gave her and her father their starts in electoral politics.

At a parade in Casper last month, held while Ms. Cheney was in Washington preparing for a hearing, Ms. Hageman received frequent applause from voters who said the incumbent had lost her way.

“Her voting record shouldn’t be bad,” said Julie Hitt, a Casper resident. “But a lot of her focus is on Jan 6.”

“She’s so in bed with the Democrats, with Pelosi and with all them people,” Bruce Hitt, Ms. Hitt’s husband, interjected.

Notably, no voters interviewed on the parade brought up Ms. Cheney’s support for the gun control bill the House passed just weeks earlier — the form of apostasy that might have infuriated Wyoming Republicans in an era more dominated by policy than one man’s persona.

“Her vote on the gun bill hardly got any publicity in anyway,” Mike Sullivan, a former Democratic governor of Wyoming who intends to vote for Ms. Cheney in the first, said, puzzled. (Ms. Cheney is pushing independents and Democrats to re-register as Republicans, as least long enough to vote for her in the first.)

For Ms. Cheney, any sense of bafflement about this moment — a Cheney, Republican royalty, being effectively read out of the party — has faded within the yr and a half for the reason that Capitol attack.

When she attended the funeral last yr for Mike Enzi, the previous Wyoming senator, Ms. Cheney welcomed a visiting delegation of G.O.P. senators. As she greeted them one after the other, several praised her bravery and told her sustain the fight against Mr. Trump, she recalled.

She didn’t miss the chance to pointedly remind them: They, too, could join her.

“There have been so many moments like that,” she said on the bank, a touch of weariness in her voice.

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