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Sometimes, liberals are even better than their conservative counterparts at harboring alternative facts. Call it the Aaron Sorkin effect, the halo that the Bill Clinton fanfic that was The West Wing engendered with the notion that progressives could win any policy battle with a good speech, so much so that Hollywood returns to that well again and again. Often, that has developed in the form of Hillary Clinton fanfic, like the little-seen Political Animals, where Sigourney Weaver played a fictionalized Secretary of State ready to challenge her commander in chief for her party’s nomination with feminist gusto. Even Téa Leoni’s Madam Secretary got a chance to upgrade to the Oval by the end of the show’s run.
A similar bit of wish fulfillment is playing out now among many of those closely watching Wyoming this week, where conservative Rep. Liz Cheney—a former senior aide in the George W. Bush administration, a dispatched member of House Republican Leadership, and the current top Republican on the committee probing the Jan. 6 attacks—seems coasting to defeat in the GOP primary. For liberals in many D.C. circles, Cheney is the most sane of the Republicans available in Washington, a bona fide conservative who didn’t buy the MAGA Kool-Aid. Despite the likelihood of an embarrassing loss in her own state on Tuesday, some of those enamored with Cheney insist she has a bright political future, one that perhaps includes a can’t-lose run for President in 2024.
Hold up. Headline: No, she does not.
On paper, Liz Cheney has a lot going for as a contender for her party’s nomination in two years. She is a member of a GOP dynasty. Her parents are both huge players in Republican politics. At any moment, she could get the top ranks of conservative thought leadership on the line. Based on that record, she shouldn’t struggle with cash, given that her family has been dialing for dollars since the ‘70s. And if she ever lowered herself to do so, she could wipe the floor with any Trump acolyte on policy and history without breaking a sweat.
The problem is this: Liz Cheney crossed Donald Trump. She publicly acknowledged the former President’s conduct on Jan. 6, 2021, was unacceptable, and she signed on to help investigate what led to it and how to prevent it from happening again. It’s not fun work. By accepting the role, she got booted from leadership. Still, she’s showing up, and the work she is doing matters.
In normal times, such a straight-shooter would be favorably compared to past party-bucking figures like John McCain. But these days, there’s a much-reduced threshold for mavericks in the GOP. As much as our friends at brunch are cheering her on and even writing her checks, prospects that she may have a second act as a legitimate primary challenge to Trump in 2024 are far overblown.
Liz Cheney may still have a future in Republican politics, to be sure. She has emerged as a leader of the Jan. 6 investigation. But polling shows her in dire straits among members of her own party in her own state, one where things are so bad that she can’t even hold public events out of fear of violence. Cheney may eventually emerge as some kind of leading conservative, an embodiment of what the Republican Party surrendered for the quick-fix of Trump. But wherever she goes from here, it’s hard to see how it could include successfully swaying many Republican primary voters, not after building a national brand around opposing the most popular figure in their party.
After all, if she can’t weather a primary in Wyoming, it’s tough to credibly build a slide-deck for donors about her path to the nomination on a national scale. She, her folks, and her sister have been in the rooms where these pitches happen, and the former Vice President would probably be the first to say that it’s probably time to think about a new frame, one less leaning on Sorkin and one more grounded in the current environment.
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