House Republican Conference Chair Rep. Liz Cheney departs a news conference with House Republicans on March 11, 2021 in Washington.
Drew Angerer—Getty Images
May 7, 2021 1:35 PM EDT

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When Liz Cheney voted to impeach then-President Donald Trump back in January, her fellow Republicans were able to set that aside as a vote of conscience. Cheney, the No. 3 Republican in the House and a mainstay of conservative politics for decades, told her colleagues that she’d never apologize for sticking with her convictions. Even her critics admired the swagger. The attempt to remove her from the post failed by a 61-to-145 margin. If that’s what Cheney believed to be true, so be it.

But that vote was in February, when it wasn’t entirely clear just how much power Trump would wield in his post-White House days. Fast-forward to May, when it’s now obvious that many see Trump as the most dominant person in GOP politics, a force of fury and potential fundraising that some in the party believe is indispensable to winning back majorities in the House and Senate next year. And Cheney’s continued rejection of Trump’s false assertions that he is the rightful President in the Oval Office appears on course to cost her the job she successfully defended just three months ago.

Conviction is fine inside the Republican conference. Just as long as it doesn’t cost your colleagues any political capital, cash or chagrin.

To be sure, Cheney may yet pull off another bankshot and keep her job, officially known as the House Republican Conference Chair and a gig her dad had back in the 1980s. It’s a bad bet in Washington to vote against a Cheney. After months of heavy lobbying by then-Vice President Dick Cheney, President George W. Bush commuted the sentence of Cheney’s chief of staff on a conviction of lying to the feds. His wife, Lynne Cheney, can have sharp elbows, especially when it comes to her daughters. Liz’s sister, Mary Cheney, silently mouthed the words “go f— yourself” to Dick Cheney’s rival at the 2004 V.P. debate, John Edwards.

Still, the odds are against Liz Cheney. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Republican Whip Steve Scalise both have backed away from Cheney. Trump wants New York Rep. Elise Stefanik in the role even if his base has issues with her record. Cheney has stopped keeping a head-count of supporters. And there are no shortage of Republicans preparing to run against her in a 2022 primary. Outside groups are prepared to take Cheney out and Trump’s allies are positively gleeful about the prospect of exacting revenge for Cheney’s unwillingness to go along with Trump’s Big Lie about the 2020 presidential election.

Rather than try to soft-pedal a walkback like most other politicians would do given the situation, Cheney is doing it her way. When she published an op-ed this week in the Washington Post, doubling-down on her fact-based belief that Trump had lost the election and remains dangerous for the GOP, no one doubted she was the daughter of a man who shot a friend in the face — and the friend later apologized for stopping the buckshot.

Republicans think their moves to boot Cheney from Leadership may help them win favor with Trump. After all, they’re reenforcing Trump’s wrong claim of victory. But as veteran Republican strategist Scott Jennings argues, they’re actually elevating Cheney to the status of martyr for the cause of moving the GOP back to, well, the days when her father had not one but two coveted office suites in the West Wing — first as chief of staff to Gerald Ford and as Vice President to George W. Bush. Cheney may become liberals’ favorite conservative — a credible counter to Trump from the right. “Yes, she may end up out of leadership for now, but given what is certain to be newfound attention to her statements and maneuvers, did she really give up anything useful?” Jennings writes for CNN.

The fact that Democrats are finding even the faintest hint of empathy for a member of the Cheney family should have Washington taking stock of just how far it’s chugged from the stein of partisanship. Democrats — and a few Republicans — for years likened Dick Cheney to the Darth Vader of GOP politics. Liz Cheney for years had been a fixture in conservative circles, dipping into think tanks and super PACs and the State Department with a deeply conservative agenda. Her arrival in Congress brought with it a reliably rightwing vote, so much so that she voted with Trump 93% of the time over those four years. Still, she’s about to be swapped for someone who voted with Trump 78% of the time.

Which tells us this truth: allyship in Washington is only as strong as its ability to withstand external pressures. It’s the childhood adage that it’s always easy to do the right thing when nobody’s watching. Well, all eyes are on Liz Cheney. And she’s doing what she thinks is right, no matter the audience. It’s costing her friends right and further right, as they fear blowback from Trump. On the left, it’s earning her begrudging respect from Democrats who can’t help but start every comment on her by saying they find her politics only slightly less offensive than the GOP’s treatment of her.

It’s that final point that will be worth keeping an eye on. Wyoming’s election law allows voters to switch party affiliations up until the moment they take a primary ballot. That opens the door for Democrats, who know they stand no real shot at winning Cheney’s seat, to meddle in Republican politics. Joe Biden won only 27% of the vote last year but that number could swing a Republican primary. For those die-hard Democrats, wouldn’t it be fun to keep one of the most vocal anti-Trump Republicans in Congress? Dick Cheney may well be Darth Vader. Liz Cheney may yet be his Leia — a general who ultimately leads the successful Resistance.

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Write to Philip Elliott at philip.elliott@time.com.

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