The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Cheney wants to stop the MAGA GOP. Another Republican just wants out.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) addresses supporters in Jackson Hole, Wyo., on Aug. 16. (Jae C. Hong/AP)
4 min

When she was running for reelection, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) faced an unspoken contradiction. She had made clear that she considered House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) unfit for the speakership, yet her presence in the general election would make that outcome more likely, not less. Her primary defeat last week solved that problem but raised another.

During a weekend interview with ABC News’s Jonathan Karl, she explained that she is going after election deniers in Congress:…

Cheney: I’m going to be very focused on working to ensure that we do everything we can not to elect election deniers. … And I’m going to work against those people, I’m going to work to support their opponents; I think it matters that much.
Karl: Will you be getting involved in campaigns against those Republican candidates that are challenging or denying of the results of the election?
Cheney: Yes.
Karl: Including your Republican colleagues here in Congress?
Cheney: Yes.

We live in a binary political system, so it follows that if McCarthy — Cheney says “he’s been completely unfaithful to the Constitution and demonstrated a total lack of understanding of the significance and the importance of the role of speaker” — and his party are a menace to our democracy, then democracy defenders must beat them. And Cheney intends to help them do so, in federal and state races.

In short, she’s apparently reached the inevitable conclusion for pro-democracy Americans: You have to make sure Republicans lose and Democrats win until the stench of Trumpism is dissipated.

Follow Jennifer Rubin's opinionsFollow

That means that, like Democrats, independents and pro-democratic Republicans, she’ll be rooting for Democrats to sweep races in which they face Republican election liars. That is a large percentage of the races for Congress, Senate, and even governorships and other statewide elections.

As for 2024, she’s got a list of the unqualified for president:

Karl: So you said you’re going to work against election deniers.
If it’s not Trump and if it’s — if it’s somebody like Ron DeSantis, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, these are all people that have tied themselves very closely to Trump, will you oppose them? Could you see yourself supporting any of them?
Cheney: It would be very difficult. When you look at somebody like Josh Hawley or somebody like Ted Cruz, both of whom know better — both of whom know exactly what the role of Congress is in terms of our constitutional obligations with respect to presidential elections — and yet, both of whom took steps that fundamentally threatened the constitutional order and structure in the aftermath of the last election.
So, in my view, they both have made themselves unfit for future office.
Karl: What about DeSantis?
Cheney: DeSantis is somebody who is, right now, campaigning for election deniers. And I think that, you know, that is something that I think people have got to have real pause about. You know, either you fundamentally believe in and will support our constitutional structure, or you don’t.

That leaves Cheney, and others who still identify with the Republican Party, in a quandary. Who is she supposed root for in 2024?

She plainly is considering her own run. However, after campaigning against the large majority of elected Republicans (who are election deniers), a 2024 run logically would be a search-and-destroy candidacy rather than one aimed at getting the party she has aimed at obliterating (in the short term) to give her the nomination.

The other alternative would be to get behind someone who has not embraced the “big lie” such as Maryland’s Gov. Larry Hogan. Cheney has praised former vice president Mike Pence (for the bare minimum required of an elected official: not participating in a coup), so perhaps she would back him.

For all intents and purposes, Cheney is running against the MAGA GOP to save the republic — and lay the groundwork for the resurgence of something that looks like the GOP of a bygone era. This makes sense if one thinks the MAGA movement is an alien force that has overtaken the party Cheney was raised in and supported.

But as Trump’s grip becomes complete, the gap between the GOP and the MAGA movement disappears, and the chance for a revived, normal GOP becomes slimmer.

Another Republican had a different idea. The Denver Post reports: “Colorado Sen. Kevin Priola, a Henderson Republican, announced Monday morning that he is changing his party affiliation to Democrat.” The moderate Republican imagined “the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol would make the Republican Party distance itself from Donald Trump and 'the political environment he created.” No such luck. So he did the most logical thing: “He said he could no longer support a party that was OK with ‘a violent attempt to overturn a free and fair election and continues to peddle claims that the 2020 election was stolen’ and one where his GOP colleagues ‘would rather deny the existence of human-caused climate change than take action.’ ”

Perhaps it is easier for Priola, who ideologically is closer to the Democratic Party, to make the switch. Nevertheless, at some point, you have to recognize the obvious. “Even if there will continue to be issues that I disagree with the Democratic Party on, there is too much at stake right now for Republicans to be in charge,” Priola wrote. “Coloradans cannot afford for their leaders to give credence to election conspiracies and climate denialism. Simply put, we need Democrats in charge because our planet and our democracy depend on it.”

Cheney thinks she can blow up the MAGA GOP of election liars, conspiratorialists and violent demagogues. Priola says there is no GOP but a Trumpized GOP, so he better sign up with the Democrats, the only reality-based, pro-democracy party.

The latter seems more realistic, but all Americans should root for Cheney’s success since at some point we need some other party, be it the Old Republican Party or a New-And-Improved Republican Party. There is room for both approaches — for now.