Liz Cheney teases a White House run, but her biggest impact on GOP could come through other paths

·9 min read

JACKSON, Wyo. – Even after a blowout loss in her home state Republican primary Tuesday, Liz Cheney vowed to fight Donald Trump and his influence within the GOP – to the point of a long-shot presidential bid in 2024, if necessary.

A presidential candidacy "is something I’m thinking about, and I’ll make a decision in the coming months," Cheney said on NBC’s Today show Wednesday morning.

While Cheney hinted at a White House run, her team announced Wednesday that she would soon launch "an organization to educate the American people about the ongoing threat to our Republic, and to mobilize a unified effort to oppose any Donald Trump campaign for president."

A presidential run could give Cheney a megaphone unlike any she’s had so far, even as the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney and the vice chair of the House committee investigating Donald Trump and the Capitol attack of Jan. 6, 2021.

But given the magnitude of her primary loss on Tuesday and the grip Donald Trump has on the GOP, voters and analysts alike said a White House run is highly unlikely to give Cheney the Republican nomination, much less the Oval Office.

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Instead, that could give her the opportunity to use her considerable war chest to bash Trump and boost other anti-Trump candidates nationwide, particularly female Republicans, as well as growing her new organization – even as she risks the kind of backlash Trump has been eager to exploit to stoke his followers.

Alan Simpson, the former Republican senator from Wyoming and a long-time friend of the family that wielded major influence until Trump came along, said he doesn't know exactly what Liz Cheney will do now – only that "she will be in the public eye" and "this is not the end" for her.

"I know that she will not go suck her thumb in the corner," Simpson said. "She's good for the long run."

Timeline: Liz Cheney is weighing a 2024 presidential bid. Here's how the Wyoming Republican got here.

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., speaks Aug. 16, 2022, at a primary Election Day gathering in Jackson, Wyoming. Cheney lost to Republican opponent Harriet Hageman in the primary.
Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., speaks Aug. 16, 2022, at a primary Election Day gathering in Jackson, Wyoming. Cheney lost to Republican opponent Harriet Hageman in the primary.

‘Riding for the brand’

As the primary approached, Cheney's rising number of Republican critics in Wyoming said that her zeal to go after Trump worked against her. Some said Cheney appeared obsessed with Trump and uninterested in Wyoming issues affecting real people,.

Horton Spitzer, 89, a retired rancher in Jackson who voted for Trump-backed candidate Harriet Hageman, used a cattle drive term to describe Cheney's estrangement from Republicans: "You ride for the brand," a reference to the markings singed onto livestock by owners.

In other words, he said, people should be team players. Spitzer said Cheney wasn't, and is now being told to "take your saddle" and "ride off into the sunset."

Hageman beat Cheney in a landslide, leading by 66% to 29%, with 95% of the vote counted. Trump himself said Cheney’s trouncing will consign her to "the depths of political oblivion."

Wyoming Republican congressional candidate Harriet Hageman waves as she takes a picture with children during a primary election night party on August 16, 2022 in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Wyoming Republican congressional candidate Harriet Hageman waves as she takes a picture with children during a primary election night party on August 16, 2022 in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

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After her victory, Hageman said the primary proved that "we can dislodge entrenched politicians who believe they’ve risen above the people they’re supposed to represent."

After voting for Hageman at the Teton County administration building, Spizter said of Cheney "She thinks she is more informed than the people who put her in office."

A Trump-themed "Keep America Great" cap atop his head, Spitzer expressed disdain for the concept of Cheney 2024: "Run for president? She doesn't have a prayer in Wyoming."

Cheney and her supporters might think she is riding with another brand: the Republican Party. The soon-to-be-ex-congresswoman and her backers say the GOP brand has been badly tarnished by Trump and is danger of disappearing completely if it continues down this trail.

As they awaited Cheney's speech at the ranch, munching on hors d'oeuvres and sipping wine, Cheney backers said someone needs to take on Trump, and it might as well be her. They listed an array of concerns about the state of things, from the nasty tone of political discourse to the fears that democracy itself is at risk.

"Our country has to change its thinking," said Mary Kay Turner, 80, a rancher and long-time Cheney friend.

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Denying the election deniers

In another sign of her potential future shifts, Cheney filed Wednesday morning with the Federal Election Commission to revamp her campaign account. The account, which had about $7 million in it at the end of July, is now a leadership PAC called “The Great Task.”

The Great Task was the name of the final ad in Cheney’s failed primary campaign and a phrase from former President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, which she referenced in her concession speech Tuesday night.

Cheney can use that money to run ads against Trump or his endorsed candidates. She hinted at one such group Tuesday night, when she said she planned to oppose Trump-loving "election deniers" who are running for state offices this year.

Already, several such election denying candidates have won GOP contests for secretary of state races, the offices that typically administer state elections. Republican candidates in places like Arizona and Michigan, though, have made much more partisan arguments for that role, repeating debunked claim of election fraud.

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Who run the world?

And while she is setting herself against some candidates, Cheney has also signaled that she plans to go out of her way to help another set of hopefuls: promoting women in politics, presumably conservative women.

During an address at the Ronald Reagan library in June, Cheney praised Cassidy Hutchinson, the former White House aide who gave the Jan. 6 committee damaging testimony about Trump. Cheney called Hutchinson an inspiration to little girls across the country.

"These days, for the most part, men are running the world," Cheney famously said. "And it’s really not going all that well."

Cassidy Hutchinson, former aide to Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, hugs vice chair Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., after testifying to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Cassidy Hutchinson, former aide to Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, hugs vice chair Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., after testifying to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Last week, she told USA TODAY “how moved and impressed I am with the young women who have testified” before the Jan. 6 committee. Those witnesses stand in "stark contrast to men who are their seniors and hiding behind executive privilege."

At her concession speech in Wyoming on Tuesday night, some volunteers – some near tears – wore t-shirts that said: "Girls Rule/Team Cheney."

A woman in the White House… maybe

And of course, there is the question of a Cheney run herself. Some Wyoming Republicans scoffed at the notion.

A successful presidential candidacy in 2024? "Not in a million years," said Sue Kolbas, 59, a businesswoman who voted for Hageman at the Teton County parks and recreation building. "She's not qualified.".

Cheney's path in a Republican presidential campaign feels particularly hazardous given Trump's dominance, analysts said.

"She could never ever ever ever win a Republican primary,” said former Rep. Joe Walsh, who served in the House as a Republican from Illinois before Trumpism prompted him to leave the party. The base has become “radicalized” and “there’s no room for Liz Cheney in the party.”

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However, she could also try an independent bid, though the organizational challenges would be formidable.

Asked if she would rule out running as a third party candidate in 2024, Cheney told Politico, "I really am not at all focused on that kind of specifics."

Backlash?

One concern among Cheney supporters: They don't want a campaign that could actually help Trump by taking away votes from other anti-Trump candidates.

That would potentially undermine her goal of keeping the former president from getting back into the Oval Office, said Casey Burgat, director of the legislative affairs program at George Washington University.

“Running as an independent is formidable for any candidate, especially for someone who’s spent most of her career as a diehard conservative,” he said.

A Cheney candidacy could also could also drive a backlash from Trump supporters, energizing them into turning out in even greater numbers, Burgat said.

Above all, Burgat urged caution: “There’s a lot of time between now and 2024, and most forecasts assume Trump runs and say nothing about the criminal investigations. He hasn’t even announced yet.”

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The long road

Cheney hasn't announced concrete plans, of course, and she doesn't have to be in a hurry. The Republican presidential primaries are only a year and a half away, but that still leaves her and her allies plenty of time.

And Cheney will be busy in the meantime. For one thing, her congressional career doesn't expire until the end of the year.

That includes her prominent role on the special committee investigating the insurrection of Jan. 6, 2021, and Trump's role in allegedly inciting the assault of the U.S. Capitol.

Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., speaks as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol holds a hearing at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, July 21, 2022. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., listens at left.
Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., speaks as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol holds a hearing at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, July 21, 2022. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., listens at left.

The committee is holding more hearings in September, and Cheney is expected to continue in her role preparing witnesses, asking questions and making her case that Trump's improper efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss inspired the rioters to attack.

A polished television guest, Cheney can be counted on to make numerous media appearances even after she leaves Congress. She could also write books or use her new organization as a platform for high-profile speeches.

'I won't back down'

After Liz Cheney vowed to keep fighting Donald Trump, the rugged Teton mountains as her backdrop, the sound system at her ranch rally began blaring Tom Petty's anthem of defiance, "I Won't Back Down."

Seconds later, the music cut off.

As she left the podium festooned with hay bales and American flags, Cheney began the task of keeping her music going.

As the sun set below the Tetons, Cheney told backers she is "a conservative Republican" who believes "deeply in the principles and the ideals" that are now under assault by Trump and others.

U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) departs after speaking to supporters during a primary night event on August 16, 2022 in Jackson, Wyoming.
U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) departs after speaking to supporters during a primary night event on August 16, 2022 in Jackson, Wyoming.

"I love its history and I love what our party has stood for," Cheney said. "But I love my country more."

Some Cheney backers expressed skepticism that she can remain relevant among Republicans. They also noted that this is a volatile political age and circumstances can change quickly.

Janice Harris, 79, a retired professor of English at the University of Wyoming who now lives in Jackson, said any number of future events could change the dynamic, from the results of criminal investigations into Trump to a big international incident.

"Things can change so dramatically, and so quickly," Harris said. "I thing the voting public can change in a minute."

Contributing: Dylan Wells

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Liz Cheney teases White House run, even as her GOP future is uncertain