How Liz Cheney’s Book Makes the Case for a Potential Presidential Run

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When a prominent political figure debuts a new book, it often leads to speculation about a subsequent run for office. In Liz Cheney’s case, she’s made that possibility explicit.

As the former GOP congresswoman promotes her new memoir, “Oath and Honor,” she has made it no secret that she is mulling a presidential bid as a third-party candidate to prevent Donald Trump from returning to the White House. “I think that the situation that we’re in is so grave, and the politics of the moment require independents and Republicans and Democrats coming together in a way that can help form a new coalition, so that may well be a third-party option,” Cheney told USA TODAY on Monday, the day before her memoir arrived on bookshelves.

One of the most vocal critics of Trump within the Republican party, Cheney was one of just 10 Republicans to back the former President’s second impeachment in 2021 and became one of two Republicans on the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol—a deadly day for which she blamed Trump. Being an outspoken critic of the 45th President made her an outcast in her own party and led her to lose her primary in Wyoming last year.

But in her new memoir, Cheney makes a case for her potential presidential run, reflecting on her political journey as a conservative and crafting an argument for why the direction of her party is at odds with the health of democracy. She argues that Trump's influence has led the Republican party astray, describing it as caught in the "cult of personality" as Trump holds a significant lead in the Republican primary in another run for the Oval Office.

“Every American should understand what his enablers in Congress and in the leadership of the Republican Party were willing to do to help Trump seize power in the months after he lost the 2020 presidential election—and what they continue to do to this day,” she wrote. “So strong is the lure of power that men and women who had once seemed reasonable and responsible were suddenly willing to violate their oath to the Constitution out of political expediency and loyalty to Donald Trump.”

Drawing on text messages and personal conversations with other Republicans, Cheney’s memoir provides a rare and damning look inside the Republican party in the days before and after Jan. 6, when Trump and his allies sought to remain in office after losing the 2020 election. She argues that Trump poses a threat to American democracy and could turn the nation into a dictatorship if reelected. “This is more important than partisan politics,” she writes in the epilogue. “Every one of us — Republican, Democrat, Independent — must work and vote together to ensure that Donald Trump and those who have appeased, enabled, and collaborated with him are defeated. This is the cause of our time.”

Cheney also argues the GOP is lacking other credible leaders. In the memoir, Cheney reserves particular condemnation for former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and his successor, House Speaker Mike Johnson, accusing them of compromising principles in their pursuit of Trump's favor. She reveals for the first time that McCarthy told her just two days after the 2020 election that he had talked to Trump and that the President had admitted defeat, a revelation that contradicted McCarthy’s subsequent public statements. “He knows it’s over,” McCarthy said of Trump, according to Cheney. “He needs to go through all the stages of grief.” Later that day, McCarthy went on Fox News and said that Trump won the election, and three weeks later paid a visit to Trump at his Florida property. “McCarthy knew that what he was saying was not true,” she wrote.

Trump responded to Cheney’s book in a post on Truth Social on Monday, calling it “boring,” saying Cheney is “crazy,” and writing that McCarthy visited him at Mar-a-Lago after the 2020 election “to get my support, and to bring the Republican Party together - Only good intentions.”

Cheney also offered a critical assessment of Johnson, portraying him as particularly susceptible to flattery from Trump and ambitious in seeking proximity to the former President. She recounts how Johnson allegedly pressured Republican members to support an amicus brief aimed at challenging the election results in four states that Trump had lost, even when faced with criticisms of the legal arguments.

“When I confronted him with the flaws in his legal arguments,” Cheney wrote, “Johnson would often concede, or say something to the effect of, ‘We just need to do this one last thing for Trump.’” She adds: “He would then continue championing his arguments in public or with our colleagues. Worse, he was telling our colleagues he was a constitutional law expert, while advocating positions that were constitutionally infirm.”

Cheney's narrative underscores her belief that Johnson, among other so-called Trump "enablers" in the House, pose a significant threat to the democratic process. (She even quotes Rep. Mark Green, a Tennessee Republican, allegedly calling Trump “the Orange Jesus,” a comment he denies making).

While Cheney is yet to formally declare her candidacy, there is a long history of presidents as authors. Nearly all of the past and current presidential candidates have published some kind of text, from memoirs to political manifestos. Books have, in many ways, become the telltale sign that someone in Washington is serious about running for office. Cheney's memoir not only adds to this trend but positions itself as a pivotal component in a potential bid for the White House, inviting readers to delve into her reflections on the Trump presidency while laying out her vision for the future.

The 2024 race has already garnered a few third-party challengers, including Cornel West and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who trail frontrunners President Joe Biden and Trump significantly in polls. But Cheney would potentially face even more significant hurdles if she decides to run. Not only do many Republicans view her actions against Trump as traitorous, but the process for getting on state ballots for an election less than a year out would be enormously expensive and difficult. Small parties often work for years to get ballot access, and Cheney would need to run on the ticket for a third party that already has ballot access or petition for her own place on state ballots. A super PAC backing Kennedy Jr.’s independent presidential candidacy, for example, is planning to spend $10 million to $15 million to get him on the ballot in 10 states.

Cheney, who faced a defeat in the Wyoming Republican primary last year, told The Washington Post on Monday that in years past she would not have contemplated a third-party candidacy, but expressed concern over the influence of Trump on the Republican party, stating, "I happen to think democracy is at risk at home, obviously, as a result of Donald Trump’s continued grip on the Republican Party, and I think democracy is at risk internationally as well." But Cheney underscored that she would not take any actions that might take votes away from Biden and aid Trump's return to power. 

However unlikely the prospects for Cheney’s potential third-party run, her book offers hints about how she’d govern and attempt to realign the Republican party without Trump.

“At some point, a genuinely conservative Republican Party—a party that stands for limited government, a strong national defense, and the rule of law—can reemerge and win the presidency,” she writes. “But if Donald Trump is the Republican nominee in 2024, we must do everything we can to defeat him. If Trump is on the ballot, the 2024 presidential election will not just be about inflation, or budget deficits, or national security, or any of the many critical issues we Americans normally face. We will be voting on whether to preserve our republic.”

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