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Opinion Why Republicans don’t want to join Liz Cheney on her kamikaze mission

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) appears at an event at the Mead Ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyo., on Aug. 16. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Whatever you think of Liz Cheney, give her credit for courage: She knew that relentlessly pursuing Donald Trump meant the end of her congressional career, and she did it anyway. It was an act of bravery, akin to kamikaze pilots who intentionally crashed their planes into the deck of an aircraft carrier.

The problem for Cheney is: Most Republicans are not interested in kamikaze missions.

Cheney believes that Trump is the greatest threat facing our country today, greater than the serial disasters President Biden has unleashed since taking office — among them, the worst inflation in 40 years, the highest gas prices in decades, the worst border crisis in U.S. history and the worst crime wave in many cities since the 1990s. She thinks stopping Trump is more important than stopping Democrats from spending trillions of our tax dollars, hiring an army of IRS agents to harass hard-working Americans, raising taxes on businesses struggling in this economy, projecting weakness on the world stage and pursuing a radical climate agenda at the expense of U.S. energy independence.

The vast majority of Republicans disagree. If the Democratic alternative was the benign, centrist party of Bill Clinton — who told us the “era of big government is over” — things might be different. But Republicans know that the Democratic Party has been taken over by its radical progressive wing. Were it not for Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), they would have followed Biden’s $1.9 trillion inflation-inducing “American Rescue Plan” with his $3.5 trillion “Build Back Better” boondoggle. They would have gotten rid of the filibuster, packed the Supreme Court, packed the Senate by giving statehood to the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, and enacted their radical agenda by simple majority vote. Republicans understand that we are just two votes away from a one-party state. And if in November the Democrats somehow hold on to the House, and extend their Senate majority, they will use their expanded powers to irreversibly transform the country. That, Republicans believe, is a far bigger threat than Trump.

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Cheney says the Republican Party is “very sick,” and in many ways she is right. But as her father’s mentor, Donald H. Rumsfeld, famously said: You go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might wish you have. Well, today conservatives have to go to war with the Republican Party they have.

That party needs good leaders inside the fold, not people blowing themselves up on suicide missions. Cheney said this week that winning reelection “would have required that I go along with President Trump’s lie about the 2020 election.” That’s not true. Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, also rejected the “big lie.” Like Cheney, Kemp faced a Trump-backed effort to defeat him in a Republican primary. But unlike Cheney, Kemp won. Why? Because he did not spend the past two years rehashing the 2020 election; he focused on the concerns of Georgia voters. He spent his time fighting his Democratic opponent, not Trump. “Stacey Abrams wants her woke politics to be the law of the land and the lesson plan in our classrooms,” Kemp warned after his primary win. “Well, you know what? Not on my watch.” If your concern is the future of the Republican Party, you know the GOP is better off with leaders such as Kemp still in it.

In Wyoming, Cheney lost because her constituents saw that she cared more about fighting Trump than fighting Biden. She was more concerned with waging a civil war within the Republican Party than the inflation that is forcing her voters to choose between staples such as gas and food.

Now, Cheney is reportedly considering a presidential run. She had a better chance of keeping her House seat than she does of winning the Republican nomination. The GOP is not going to nominate someone from the “Never Trump” wing. If the party is going to move past Trump in 2024, the nominee will almost certainly have to be someone such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who offers to continue Trump’s policies, minus the political baggage. But this is not good enough for Cheney. “Ron DeSantis has lined himself up almost entirely with Donald Trump, and I think that’s very dangerous,” she told the New York Times recently. A Cheney run would divide the not-Trump vote in the GOP primaries and make it more likely that Trump wins.

What Cheney does not seem to understand is that relentless pursuit of Trump only empowers him. Until recently, support for another Trump presidential run was fading among Republicans. In October 2021, a Quinnipiac poll found that 78 percent of GOP voters wanted to see Trump run again. By July, that share had dropped to just 49 percent, a New York Times-Siena College poll found. But the one-two punch of the Cheney-led Jan. 6 committee hearings and the Merrick Garland-approved FBI search of Mar-a-Lago is causing Republicans to rally around the former president.

The way to persuade GOP voters to move beyond Trump is not to attack him but to convince them that he is the candidate most likely to lose in 2024. Republican voters’ top priority is to defeat Joe Biden. That’s not Liz Cheney’s top priority — which is why no one wants to join her on her suicide run.

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