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Opinion Liz Cheney should consider alternatives to the GOP

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) speaks at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., on Nov. 9. (Mary Schwalm/AP)
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Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) remains a lonely — almost solitary — figure in national Republican politics. She refuses to humiliate herself by lying about her party’s complicity in the Jan. 6 insurrection. She continues to stand up for the integrity of elections. In doing so, she serves as a reminder that the 99.9 percent of elected Republicans who refuse to denounce the former president could have chosen another route; they simply lacked the courage.

Now, the MAGA party has struck back. The Post reports that on Saturday, Wyoming Republicans “disavowed” Cheney and "called on their national counterparts to excommunicate her from the party entirely.” This does not prevent her from running in the GOP primary, nor does it keep her from continuing to caucus with House Republicans (so long as they don’t kick her out of that, as well). But perhaps it’s time for Cheney to think of other options.

Cheney’s spokesman told The Post: "She is bound by her oath to the Constitution. Sadly, a portion of the Wyoming GOP leadership has abandoned that fundamental principle, and instead allowed themselves to be held hostage to the lies of a dangerous and irrational man.” Considering the degree to which Donald Trump still controls the GOP, the vote in Wyoming to boot her out of the party was surprisingly close (31-29).

Cheney wants to stay in her party on the assumption that there is a pro-democracy, conservative base willing to accept a non-MAGA leader. She insists the party can renounce the politics of self-delusion that has become the party’s default setting, whether the issue is vaccines or the 2020 election outcome. She may well lose her primary, although she is raising mounds of money.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) spoke to reporters on May 12 after the House Republican Conference voted to oust her as conference chair. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Wyoming election law provides, “An unsuccessful candidate for office at a primary election, whose name is printed on any party ballot, may not seek nomination by petition for the same office at the next general election.” Such “sore-loser” laws exist in a handful of states, and to date, they have survived constitutional challenges.

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That means Wyoming’s law would exclude Cheney from running as an independent (qualifying for the ballot by petition) should she fail to get the GOP nomination. But she might still be able to run as a write-in or the candidate in one of the three other recognized parties in the state. Alternatively, she could form a new “minor party” and qualify for the general election by a convention, if time and logistics allow.

To recap, Cheney and other non-MAGA Republicans have several choices. Some, such as Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), have chosen not to run. Others, such as Utah Senate candidate Evan McMullin, are trying to forge a path as independent conservatives. Faced with sore-loser laws, dissident Republicans might want to plan ahead. They might consider setting up third parties now or positioning themselves to get another existing party’s nomination. That would preserve their viability, but also serve another purpose.

The prospect of a high-profile conservative running under another party or forming a new conservative party could incentivize Republican incumbents and challengers not to abandon establishment conservatives altogether. Plus, the potential for a general-election showdown might prompt some Republicans to distance themselves from the MAGA cult leader. That kind of innovation may be just what is needed to preserve some competition on the right between MAGA extremists and more mainstream conservatives.

Cheney and others surely can try to win primaries in today’s MAGA-intoxicated GOP. But both to preserve their own careers and to give MAGA Republicans greater reason to reject the craziest elements in the party, dissident Republicans should keep in mind creative alternatives to running under the GOP banner. If Republicans under the sway of Trump had to compete with another conservative party or a big-name conservative running on, say, the Libertarian ticket, perhaps they might think twice about whitewashing the Jan. 6 insurrection or condoning political violence.