CHEYENNE, Wyoming — It was just over a month before her primary, but Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming was far from among voters weighing her future.
Instead, Ms. Cheney has been huddled with other lawmakers and aides in the Capitol complex, supporting her allies in a cause she says is more important than her seat in the House: ridding American politics of corruption. former President Donald J. Trump and his influence.
“The Nine of Us have done more to prevent Trump from returning to power than any group to date,” she told other panel members investigating Mr. Trump’s involvement in the incident. attack on the Capitol on January 6. “We cannot let go.
The most-watched primary of 2022 hasn’t turned into a race at all. Polls show Ms Cheney losing hard to her rival, Harriet Hageman, Mr Trump’s revenge vehicle, and the congresswoman was all but kicked out of her Trump-loving state, in part because of death threats, according to her desk.
Yet for Ms Cheney, the race stopped being a matter of political survival months ago. Instead, she used the Aug. 16 contest as a sort of high-profile stage for her martyrdom — and a testing ground for her new crusade. She used the debate alone to tell voters to “vote for someone else” if they wanted a politician who would violate their oath of office. Last week, she hired her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, to cut an advertisement calling Mr. Trump a “coward” who poses the greatest threat to America in the history of the republic.
In a state where Mr. Trump won 70% of the vote two years ago, Ms. Cheney might as well ask ranchers to go vegan.
“If the cost of defending the Constitution is losing the House seat, then that’s a price I’m willing to pay,” she said in an interview last week in the room. conference room of a Cheyenne bank.
The 56-year-old daughter of a politician who once had a vision to rise to the top of the House leadership – but landed as vice-president instead – has become arguably the most important grassroots member of the Modern Day Congress. Few others have used the levers of office so aggressively to seek to reorient the course of American politics — but in doing so, she has effectively sacrificed her own future in the institution she grew to revere.
Ms. Cheney’s relentless focus on Mr. Trump has sparked speculation – even among longtime family friends – that she is preparing to run for president. She did little to deter such talk.
At a Thursday night house party in Cheyenne, with the former vice president peering happily under a pair of fitted leather chaps, the host introduced Ms. Cheney by recalling how another Republican woman, Senator Margaret Chase Smith of Maine, confronted Sen. Joseph McCarthy when it was unpopular – and became the first female candidate for president of a major party.
Attendees cheered at the parallel, as Ms. Cheney smiled.
In the interview, she said she was focused on her primary – and her work on the committee. But it’s far from clear that she could be a viable candidate in the current Republican Party, or if she’s interested in the donor-class schemes over a third-party bid, in part because she knows it could simply siphon off the votes of a Democrat opposing Mr. Trump.
Ms Cheney said she had no interest in switching parties: “I’m a Republican.” But when asked if the GOP she grew up in was even salvageable in the short term, she replied, “Maybe it isn’t,” and called her party “very sick.”
Understanding the August 2 primary elections
As the Trump wing of the Republican Party flexed its muscles, voters in dark red Kansas sounded a loud warning to the GOP about abortion rights.
The party, she said, “continues to drive itself into a ditch and I think it’s going to take several cycles if it can be healed.”
Ms. Cheney hinted that she was driven as much by Trumpism as by Mr. Trump himself. She could back a Republican for president in 2024, she said, but her red line is a refusal to make it clear that Mr. Trump has lost a legitimate election in 2020.
Asked if the ranks of banned candidates included Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, whom many Republicans have clung to as an alternative to Trump, she said she “finds it very difficult” to support Mr. DeSantis during the a general election.
“I think Ron DeSantis has aligned himself almost entirely with Donald Trump, and I think that’s very dangerous,” Ms. Cheney said.
It’s easy to hear other sounds of a White House offer in Ms. Cheney’s rhetoric.
In Cheyenne, she channeled the worries of “moms” and what she described as their craving for “someone competent.” Having once largely despised identity politics – Ms Cheney was the only female lawmaker not to pose for a photo of Congresswomen after 2018 – she now freely discusses gender and her perspective as a mother.
“These days, for the most part, men run the world, and it’s really not going so well,” she said in June when speaking at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, in California.
In a sign that Ms. Cheney’s political awakening goes beyond her contempt for Mr. Trump, she said she preferred the ranks of female Democrats with national security backgrounds to her party’s right flank.
“I would much rather serve with Mikie Sherrill and Chrissy Houlahan and Elissa Slotkin than Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert, although on substance I certainly have big disagreements with the female Democrats I just mentioned,” Ms Cheney said. in the interview. “But they love this country, they do their homework and they are people trying to do the right thing for the country.”
Ms. Cheney is more sure of her diagnosis for what ails the GOP than she is of her prescription for reform.
She has no pending post-Congress political organization and has benefited from Democratic donors, whose affections may be fleeting. To the frustration of some allies, she did not expand her inner circle beyond her family and a handful of close advisers. Never very schmoozer, she said she longed for what she recalled as her father’s era of politics-centric politics.
“What the country needs are serious people who are willing to engage in policy debates,” Ms. Cheney said.
It’s a far cry from the Liz Cheney of a decade ago, who had a contract to appear regularly on Fox News and would use her perch as a guest host for Sean Hannity to showcase her steadfast conservative views and savage former President Barack Obama and the Democrats. .
Today, Ms. Cheney concedes no particular regrets for helping to create the atmosphere that resulted in Mr. Trump’s takeover of her party. She did, however, acknowledge a “reflexive partisanship of which I am guilty” and noted that January 6 “demonstrated how dangerous it is”.
Few lawmakers today face those dangers as regularly as Ms. Cheney, who had full-time Capitol Police security duty for nearly a year due to threats against her — protection that she needs. few grassroots legislators are assigned. She no longer provides advance notice of her trip to Wyoming and, being unwelcome at most county and state Republican events, has turned her campaign into a series of invitation-only House parties.
What’s more confusing than her schedule is why Ms. Cheney, who has raised over $13 million, didn’t put more money into the race, especially at the start when she had the opportunity to define Mrs. Hageman. Ms Cheney had spent about half of her war chest by early July, sparking speculation she was saving money for future efforts against Mr Trump.
Ms. Cheney has long since stopped attending House Republican meetings. When she’s on Capitol Hill, she spends much of her time with Democrats on the Jan. 6 panel and often heads to the Lindy Boggs Room, the reception hall for women legislators, rather than upstairs in the House. Room with the male-dominated House GOP conference. Some members of the Jan. 6 panel were struck by how often his Zoom background is his suburban home in Virginia.
In Washington, even some Republicans who also want to leave Mr. Trump are questioning Ms. Cheney’s decision to wage open war against her own party. It limits its future influence, they say.
“It depends on whether you want to go out in a blaze of glory and be ineffective or whether you want to try to be effective,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who has his own future leadership aspirations. “I respect her but I wouldn’t have made the same choice.”
Responding to Mr Cornyn, a spokesman for Ms Cheney, Jeremy Adler, said she was not focusing on politics but rather on the former president: ‘And obviously nothing the senators did to fight effectively against this threat.
Ms Cheney is aware that the January 6 inquest, with its prime-time hearings, is seen by critics as an opportunity to grab attention. She refused certain opportunities that could have been useful to her ambitions, in particular proposals from documentary filmmakers.
Yet for Ms. Cheney’s skeptics at home, her attacks on Mr. Trump have resurrected simmering questions about her ties to the state and raised fears that she may have gone to Washington and joined the opposition, rejecting the political views of voters who gave her and her father their start in electoral politics.
At a parade in Casper last month, held as Ms. Cheney prepared in Washington for a hearing, Ms. Hageman received plaudits from voters who said the incumbent had wandered off.
“His voting record isn’t bad,” Casper resident Julie Hitt said. “But she is so focused on January 6.”
“She’s so in bed with the Democrats, with Pelosi and with all these people,” said Bruce Hitt, Mrs. Hitt’s husband.
Notably, no voters interviewed at the parade mentioned Ms. Cheney’s support for the gun control bill the House passed weeks earlier – the kind of apostasy that would have infuriated Republicans in Wyoming. at a time more dominated by politics than a man’s personality.
“His vote on the gun bill got little publicity,” said Mike Sullivan, a former Democratic governor of Wyoming who intends to vote for Ms. Cheney in the primary, bewildered. (Ms. Cheney is pushing independents and Democrats to re-register as Republicans, at least long enough to vote for her in the primary.)
For Ms Cheney, any sense of bewilderment about that moment – a Cheney, Republican royalty, being effectively read out of the party – has faded in the year and a half since the attack on the Capitol.
When she attended the funeral last year of Mike Enzi, the former senator from Wyoming, Ms. Cheney hosted a delegation of visiting GOP senators. As she greeted them one by one, many praised her bravery and told her to keep fighting Mr. Trump, she recalled.
She did not miss the opportunity to remind them ostensibly: They too could join her.
“There were so many moments like that,” she told the bank, a hint of weariness in her voice.