The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion A Cheney presidential run would be a herculean task in a party beyond redemption

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) speaks on Aug. 16 at a primary election day gathering at Mead Ranch in Jackson, Wyo. (Jae C. Hong/AP)

Rep. Liz Cheney’s stoicism and even optimism in the face of an electoral drubbing should set an example for all elected officials: There are worse things than losing your job. As she said Tuesday night after her Republican primary loss, she could have gone along with the “big lie” to keep her House seat. But she declared: “No office in this land is more important than the principles that we are all sworn to protect.” She simply could not join the mob of sniveling Republicans willing to lie to voters and defend an insurrection leader.

Liz Cheney loses Wyoming primary while vowing effort to keep Trump from White House

Cheney denounced those who still insist that President Biden did not win the 2020 election and staunchly condemned the recent incitement of the MAGA base against the FBI. “Our great nation must not be ruled by a mob provoked over social media,” she said. She vowed once more to “do whatever it takes” to keep defeated former president Donald Trump from regaining power. “Now the real work begins,” she said.

Cheney remains the rare Republican willing these days to sacrifice her own career on principles. Indeed, she stands out in a party with members content to lie, tear down democracy and even incite violence simply to stay in office. She loves her party, Cheney said, but: “I love my country more.”

How very small she makes other Republicans look.

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No one should doubt Cheney’s determination to protect our democracy and to keep the defeated former president out of the Oval Office. How she will do so going forward is an open question.

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Certainly, her work on the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack has laid out a powerful case against Donald Trump’s betrayal of his office and utter unfitness to hold power. When the committee resumes public hearings in September, and when it issues its report, we’ll be able to fully appreciate Cheney’s contribution toward educating those Americans still capable of being educated. As conservative Bill Kristol, director of Defending Democracy Together and editor at large at the Bulwark, observed to me, “I’m confident she’ll be fully focused on the Jan. 6 Committee until the end of her term.” He added: “That committee’s already made a real difference, and there will be more hearings, I believe, and a report — and she’s central to all that. And that’s important.”

To the extent that the committee’s work has lit a fire under the Justice Department’s own investigation, and possible indictment, of the defeated former president, Cheney deserves credit for holding Trump accountable for the most egregious betrayal by a president in history (though goodness knows his party is nutty enough to nominate an indicted candidate).

Until the midterm elections, Cheney also can defend our democracy by taking on the egregious election deniers — whom she has already broadly denounced — in state races for governor, attorney general and secretary of state (e.g., Arizona, Maryland, Michigan and Pennsylvania). She declared on Tuesday, “No American should support election deniers for any position of genuine responsibility, where their refusal to follow the rule of law will corrupt our future.” Now she can go on the campaign trail and on the air to take on specific candidates who might sabotage future elections.

The Post's View: The country needs more Liz Cheneys

Cheney has left little doubt that her effort to dethrone Trump and pull her party back from the abyss might entail a presidential run. Certainly, running for president would allow Cheney to use free media as effectively as Trump did in 2016, challenge Trump to debate and make her case directly to voters.

But here is the rub: How can she appeal to voters within a party so deeply in thrall to a delusional and narcissistic habitual liar? If Republicans in the state that knows her best rejected her, her prospects in presidential primaries look remote.

Yet what seems like a quixotic mission might not be, if you consider Cheney’s mind-set. Her highest goal is not keeping or winning office; it is protecting our democracy, rousing the country from its slumber and preventing Trump from again holding office. Her role would be to hammer home Trump’s unfitness for public office and how incompatible the MAGA lie-based, authoritarian movement is with U.S. democracy.

Sarah Longwell, founder of the Republican Accountability Project and publisher of the Bulwark, tells me, “I think she’s going to fight for the soul of the Republican Party and by extension the country.” She urges Cheney to run for president. “She very likely can’t win a Republican primary,” Longwell said of Cheney, “although depending on the field and the many known unknowns surrounding Trump, who knows how this insane political environment might shift.”

Longwell has conducted hundreds of focus groups with Republican voters. She tells me that “listening to so many voters in the focus groups, I think her potential lane is narrow.” But that’s about winning. Longwell also said of Cheney: “She may be the only person who won’t wilt under his attacks in a Republican primary. And even if she can’t win, she can be the most decisive person in making Trump lose.”

In declaring, “Freedom must not, cannot and will not die here,” Cheney asked Americans of all parties to join her defense of democracy. It’s a request no patriotic American should decline.