WASHINGTON (AFP) — Liz Cheney’s dogged pursuit of Donald Trump over last year’s riot at the US Capitol has cemented her status as the sole Republican to gamble her career as she breaks ranks with her party in the fight for US democracy.
And it is looking like a near-certain losing bet for the 56-year-old congresswoman — for now, at least — as she is set to relinquish her seat representing Wyoming in the House of Representatives to a Trump-endorsed conspiracy theorist.
A daughter of former US vice president Dick Cheney — and once seen as the tax-cutting, gun-loving, God-fearing, small-government apotheosis of American conservatism — Liz Cheney has become a pariah in her own party.
Her refusal to accept Trump’s false claims of a stolen 2020 election put her on a collision course with modern Republicans, who booted her out of the leadership and have disowned her at home in the “Cowboy State.”
Cheney was one of just 10 Republicans in the House to vote to impeach the former president for inciting the January 6, 2021 insurrection.
Yet Washington-watchers are speculating that her widely expected defeat to Harriet Hageman in Tuesday’s Wyoming Republican primary will mark a beginning rather than an end.
Cheney hasn’t ruled out the possibility of a tilt at the presidency in 2024, either by taking on Trump in the race for the Republican nomination or by running as an independent.
“I haven’t made a decision about that yet. I’m obviously very focused on my reelection. I’m very focused on the January 6 committee. I’m very focused on my obligations to do the job that I have now,” she said during an interview with ABC News.
In her closing argument for the primary campaign, she sounded like someone looking beyond Wyoming to a bigger stage.
“The lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen is insidious. It preys on those who love their country… This is Donald Trump’s legacy, but it cannot be the future of our nation,” she said in a video posted online last week.
“History has shown us over and over again how these types of poisonous lies destroy free nations.”
Despite being defeated by Joe Biden, Trump retains an iron grip on the Republican Party, which in February adopted as part of its official policy platform the falsehood that the mayhem at the Capitol constituted “legitimate political discourse.”
“They say January 6 won’t be much of a voting issue in 2022. Perhaps,” conservative US political commentator Bill Kristol tweeted on Monday.
“But it was in fact a defining moment for the country, and whether we take it seriously or not, today remains a defining question for us as a country. Liz Cheney takes it seriously. We all should.”
Only one other Republican, Adam Kinzinger, has joined Cheney’s rebellion — but the young Illinois congressman has chosen to retire rather than fight for reelection.
Both have been tarred as “RINOs” — “Republicans in name only” — by colleagues with far less conservative voting records.
Other Republican lawmakers have tried to walk a fine line between condemning Trump’s role in the bid to overthrow the 2020 election — including the storming of the Capitol — and staying in his good graces.
“The president of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack,” she said as she explained why Trump deserved blame for the insurrection — reprising word-for-word a withering assessment she first deployed during Trump’s second impeachment.
Wyoming political royalty
Cheney, the elder of Dick Cheney’s two daughters, comes from a family that is the equivalent of political royalty in staunchly conservative Wyoming.
From 1979 to 1989, her now 81-year-old father held the House seat that she now occupies.
Dick Cheney resigned from Congress to become defense secretary under former US president George H.W. Bush and went on to serve for eight years as vice president under US president George W. Bush.
After graduating from University of Chicago law school, Liz Cheney worked for the International Finance Corporation and served in various State Department posts.
She made an abortive bid for a US Senate seat from Wyoming in 2014 before winning election to the House in 2016.
She easily won re-election in 2018 and 2020, defeating her Democratic opponents by more than 40 points each time.
But the self-described “proud rodeo mom” of five children faces suffering the first defeat for a Cheney in Wyoming.
Hageman has built up a substantial lead and has alleged that her opponent has done “nothing to fight for the people who are suffering, instead playing a central role in the illegitimate January 6 committee designed to distract people from the miserable record of President Biden.”