Rep. Liz Cheney’s colleagues are set to boot her from House GOP leadership this month. Now Republicans back in her home state of Wyoming are plotting how to remove her from Congress entirely.
There is no shortage of Republicans eager to take on Cheney in a 2022 primary since her vote to impeach President Donald Trump and her subsequent criticism of him tanked her popularity in Wyoming. But the crowded field is also a risk for the anti-Cheney forces, making it more possible for her to win with a plurality.
That might be the only path back to Washington for Cheney, barring a drastic change of fortune: Internal polling conducted for Trump’s PAC in January and, more recently, for the pro-Trump Club for Growth show a majority of Wyoming Republicans disapproving of Cheney and continuing strong support for Trump.
The collapse in support is a remarkable fall from grace for Cheney, who just last year passed on an open Senate seat in her state to remain in House leadership instead. After ascending to GOP conference chair — the same post her father once held — she was touted as a future House speaker. Now, it’s impossible to call her anything other than an underdog in her own congressional seat.
Trump and his orbit have taken a strong interest in the race, and an endorsement could help clarify the field, which already features four Republicans who have filed to run against Cheney. But more contenders are waiting on the sidelines, and Trump’s political team, according to two people familiar with the efforts, has shown early interest in recruiting a pair of Republicans who aren’t already in the race: attorney Darin Smith, who ran for the seat in 2016, and Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Buchanan.
“I think anybody who's a decent Republican is going to get behind whoever Donald Trump eventually endorses,” Smith said in an interview. “He's gonna look under every rock and look over the lay of the land, and he's going to determine who that person that he's going to get behind is.”
He said he’s been approached about entering the race and is seriously considering it. "We need somebody, for sure, that will export Wyoming's values to Washington and not the other way around,” Smith said.
Smith placed fourth in Wyoming’s Republican congressional primary in 2016, when the seat was open, and appears more likely to enter the fray than Buchanan, who would have to forgo reelection as secretary of state to challenge Cheney. The two are unlikely to both jump into the primary, and people close to Buchanan said they think he is leaning against a run.
During the Obama administration, Cheney was a Fox News regular who, as was the fashion at the time, insisted that the president was secretly sympathetic to jihadists. She enthusiastically defended the use of torture, dismissed the constitutional right to due process as an inconvenience, and amplified the Obama-era campaign to portray American Muslims as a national-security threat.
Until the insurrection, she was a loyal Trumpist who frequently denounced the Democratic Party. “They’ve become the party of anti-Semitism; they’ve become the party of infanticide; they’ve become the party of socialism,” she said in 2019. Her critics now, such as Scalise and the buffoonish Representative Matt Gaetz, formerly gushed over her ability to bring, as the Times put it in 2019, “an edge to Republican messaging that was lacking.”
That “edge” was Cheney’s specialty from the moment she emerged as a rising star in the GOP. In 2010, Cheney launched a McCarthyite crusade against seven unnamed attorneys in the Obama-era Justice Department who had previously represented terrorism suspects held in the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay. The Bush administration’s assertions of imperial power in the War on Terror violated the Constitution many times over—the conservative majority on the Supreme Court agreed—and the lawyers who represented detainees were defending the fundamental constitutional right to counsel. They were affirming the integrity of the American legal system; Cheney smeared them as terrorist sympathizers, as The Enemy.
“While embracing or ignoring Trump’s statements might seem attractive to some for fundraising and political purposes, that approach will do profound long-term damage to our party and our country,” Cheney lamented in her Washington Post op-ed. But her colleagues are merely following her example.
“Americans have a right to know the identity of the Al-Qaeda Seven,” a 2010 ad from Cheney’s group, Keep America Safe, intoned ominously, as if it were referring to the actual 9/11 hijackers and not the attorneys who had represented them in court. “Whose values do they share?" The Enemy has no rights, and anyone who imagines otherwise, let alone seeks to uphold them, is also The Enemy.
This is the logic of the War on Terror, and also the logic of the party of Trump. As George W. Bush famously put it, “You are either with us or with the terrorists.” You are Real Americans or The Enemy. And if you are The Enemy, you have no rights. As Spencer Ackerman writes in his forthcoming book, Reign of Terror, the politics of endless war inevitably gives way to this authoritarian logic. Cheney now finds herself on the wrong side of a line she spent much of her political career enforcing. Her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, infamously announced that America might have to employ “the dark side” in its fight against al-Qaeda; forgetting the entire point of Star Wars, which is that the dark side ultimately consumes its adherents. Not until the mob ransacked the Capitol in January, it seems, did she begin to understand that millions of Americans believe the things their leaders tell them.
Cheney, Scalise, Trump, Stefanik, Gaetz, and Taylor Greene: they're all fascists who want complete control of the country by any means necessary. They just have slightly different tolerances for various tactics.
The answer to the Trump problem is not "better Republicans".
The answer is voting them all out of power.