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Liz Cheney for president? Why it could actually matter.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) is now looking far beyond her Republican primary loss and possibly toward the White House. (Video: Michael Cadenhead/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Generally speaking, about the last moment in which you want to discuss running for president is hours after you suffer a crippling defeat. But there was Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), fresh off a 37-point loss in her GOP primary Tuesday, on NBC’s “Today” show floating the possibility of a national 2024 run.

“It is something I’m thinking about, and I’ll make a decision in the coming months,” Cheney said, emphasizing that she’ll be “doing whatever it takes to keep Donald Trump out of the Oval Office.”

Cheney has raised the possibility before, but she suggested Wednesday that she’s not particularly chastened by her party’s historic rebuke. And she quickly converted her House campaign into a leadership committee aimed at thwarting Trump in 2024.

The idea that Cheney would have virtually any shot at winning a national Republican primary after such a loss in her home state is, on its face, laughable. And Cheney is shrewd enough to know that.

Even in the best of circumstances for Cheney — a timeline in which she is smartly playing the long game and banking on Trump’s ultimate downfall — the 2024 campaign is very near. As Cheney noted, the first campaigns are likely to be launched within a few months. There are also few signs of any major anti-Trump shift in the party, despite multiple legal problems for Trump and signs that GOP voters might look elsewhere — such as to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) — for their next nominee. It’s also possible Cheney is merely using this speculation, as many politicians do, to remain politically relevant.

But Cheney has also proved that she’s willing to lean into a lopsided loss to try to prove a point. And a 2024 bid presents an opportunity, at the very least, to do that.

Polls confirm that Cheney would have virtually no shot in a 2024 primary. While she took about 3 in 10 votes in her primary Tuesday, she’s apparently even less popular nationally. A YouGov poll last week showed that 14 percent of Republicans had a favorable view of her, compared with two-thirds who had an unfavorable one.

Cheney’s numbers on Tuesday were buoyed by Democrats — 6 in 10 of whom have a favorable view of her. That’s a stunning number for someone with the last name Cheney, but those voters weren’t enough to make Cheney even remotely competitive in Wyoming’s open primary, and many other states’ primaries are closed. Cheney is also quite unpopular with independents (26 percent favorable vs. 40 percent unfavorable), suggesting even conservative-leaning Trump skeptics might not be enough to make her a contender.

We have limited polling of 2024 matchups with Cheney’s name listed, but one poll last month put her at 3 percent.

That poll shows her huddled in the low single digits with a number of also-rans — including former governors Nikki Haley and Chris Christie — but it also put her in fourth place by virtue of how concentrated the field is. Trump and DeSantis are blocking out the sun, with former vice president Mike Pence generally running third. Beyond that, it’s wide open. And judging from recent years, being in the low single digits could be good enough to put Cheney on the debate stage.

(National Republicans could move to exclude her somehow — and they’ve indicated a desire to exercise control over debates — but if she’s polling on par with or above candidates with a credible claim to the stage, shutting her out won’t be easy.)

Imagine Cheney pressing the case against Trump not just in Jan. 6 committee hearings, but also doing it to his face. It’s unlikely it would ever truly make her a contender, but sometimes candidates run to try to shape the race in other ways. And given how little GOP primary voters are confronted with counterprogramming on Trump — both by virtue of our siloed conservative media and a lack of willingness by DeSantis, Pence, et. al., to truly go after Trump — Cheney might view that as a worthy path if she truly only aims to stop Trump.

There’s also the matter of what Cheney knows about what could lie ahead. The Jan. 6 committee vice chair is privy to all kinds of potential disclosures that could bear significantly on Trump’s political future. You’d think she’d have pushed for getting that stuff out when it still might’ve saved her in her primary, but the evidence-gathering is ongoing, as are law enforcement investigations involving Trump.

Put simply, there’s arguably nobody more studied in making the case against Trump than Cheney, and she might decide that’s her role to play in 2024 — to air all of this very publicly on the biggest political stage possible. Even if it doesn’t prevent Trump from winning the 2024 GOP nomination, it could matter for the general election.

Rep. Liz Cheney vowed to continue her fight against former president Donald Trump after losing Wyoming’s Republican primary on Aug. 16. (Video: AP)

There’s also the possibility of a third-party run — trying to thwart Trump by splitting conservative votes — but Cheney’s numbers suggest that she would actually appeal more to Democratic-leaning voters than to Republican ones.

The drawback, of course, is that it could signal a death blow for Cheney’s political career, if it still has any life in it. If there’s any prospect of truly having a role in the future of the Republican Party beyond 2024, the best course is generally to bide one’s time and wait for the kind of changes that might boost one’s chances at regaining relevance.

And Cheney is so disliked in the GOP that she could prove a beneficial foe for Trump — a bogeywoman who exemplifies the kind of weak-kneed Republicans who would dare to align with Democrats, of all people.

But this is also someone for whom the easy and expedient political play was crystal clear, and she went in the opposite direction. She was the fast-rising No. 3 House Republican and could have become speaker one day if she had just kept her mouth shut or even just talked around the issue, as so many Republicans have chosen to do. We should always be careful in assuming that a politician’s moves are truly a matter of principle over ambition. But if anyone has demonstrated a capacity for self-sacrifice, Cheney has.

So it’s easy — and very likely correct — to dismiss out of hand the possibility that Cheney might win. But contrary to the oft-recycled sports quote, sometimes winning isn’t the only thing.

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