Liz Cheney is, at the moment, a Republican. But over the weekend, she held open the possibility that she might not always be.
“I’m going to make sure Donald Trump, I’m going to do everything I can to make sure he is not the nominee,” Cheney said during an interview at the Texas Tribune Festival. “And if he is the nominee, I won’t be a Republican.”
Which is interesting!
Cheney, of course, has already lost her battle for reelection – ousted in an August GOP primary in Wyoming’s lone House district by Harriet Hageman, who had the backing of not just Trump, but House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Last year, she was removed as the third-ranking Republican in House leadership after being openly critical of Trump and voting to impeach him for his conduct on January 6, 2021.
It’s been clear for months now – and has come into even sharper relief since her primary loss last month – that Cheney has an eye on a national bid. In her concession speech, she invoked Ulysses S. Grant and Abraham Lincoln, noting that she took the honorable path, not the easy one.
“The path was clear,” said Cheney. “But, it would have required that I go along with President Trump’s lie about the 2020 election. It would have required that I enable his ongoing efforts to unravel our democratic system and attack the foundations of our republic.”
That’s the sort of speech someone gives who a) isn’t done with politics and b) is actively considering running for national office.
To this point, the assumption – or at least my assumption – has been that Cheney will run what amounts to a kamikaze mission against Trump in the 2024 primary, making her goal not to win herself, but keep the former President from becoming the nominee again.
Which, honestly, has a relatively low chance of succeeding. The simple fact is that Trump is very, very popular within the base of the Republican Party. And Cheney, well, isn’t.
Now, it’s hard to judge how much a candidacy entirely aimed not at winning, but disqualifying another candidate might have since we don’t have much of a historical record of those sorts of candidacies to draw on. It’s possible that Cheney could get enough under Trump’s (decidedly thin) skin to do some actual damage.
But what’s most interesting is that in the interview with the Texas Tribune, Cheney is floating a “what’s next” for her if/when she loses a potential presidential bid. The idea that she would leave the Republican Party if Trump, as appears likely, is the nominee for president in 2024 means that she could well be considering a run as a third-party candidate for president that same year.
The logistical challenges to qualifying as an independent on all 50 states’ ballots are substantial, but it’s possible that Cheney could link up with the Forward Party – founded by Andrew Yang, former Florida Rep. David Jolly and former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman – which is organizing for broad ballot access by 2024.
If Cheney’s ultimate goal is keeping Trump out of the White House, a third-party bid might be the best way to do so. Cheney is conservative on most issues that aren’t Trump-related and would, presumably, pull more Republican votes than Democratic ones. And given Trump’s demonstrated struggles in the past to win 50% of the national vote, well, Cheney would be a major complicating factor.
Will she do it? Who knows! But, her quote suggests she’s at least open to the idea.