Liz Cheney: My primary election will be important to the future of the party -- and the country

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

I mean, she’s not wrong. We may never get a clearer referendum on whether conservatism or blind loyalty to Trump is the true litmus test to be a Republican member of Congress than her primary next year. Even Cheney’s critics wouldn’t deny that she’s solidly right-wing on the issues, one of the most reliable ideologues in the House. But she won’t stop criticizing Trump for trying to overturn the election or for galvanizing the group that stormed the Capitol on January 6. That’s the choice for Wyoming. Is her view of Trump and “stop the steal” disqualifying despite her ideological merits?

She welcomes that referendum, she told the WSJ today. It’ll be clarifying.

It will be. It’s just that, uh, I’ve got a bad feeling about how it’ll turn out.

A new Quinnipiac national poll out today finds two-thirds of Republicans hope Trump runs for president again in 2024 and 85 percent believe GOP elected officials should stand with him. In a state as red as Wyoming, I’d guess those numbers are even higher. I think Cheney’s at peace with the prospect of losing, though, the same way she was with being tossed out of the House leadership. She’s out to diminish Trump’s influence over the GOP by hook or by crook. If she survives her primary despite his best efforts to punish her with a defeat, great. It’ll be a blow to his prestige and stunning proof that his hold over Republican voters isn’t as tight as everyone assumed.

If she loses, that’s fine too. Her consolation prize in losing her leadership seat and potentially losing her House seat is demonstrating to the Trump-skeptical faction of the party in gory detail just how far gone it is, potentially forcing them to wonder if there’s still a place for them in it too. No more than 20 percent of the GOP is wary of Trump, but if even a smallish fraction of that share punished the party by refusing to vote Republican until it’s less beholden to his whims, the GOP would have a tough time winning close races. That’s Cheney’s “strategy” in this war with Trump, such as it is. If she can damage the viability of an increasingly authoritarian party that’s willing to meddle with the electoral process to hold onto power by sacrificing her own career, she’ll do it. If her being purged in Wyoming next year scares or outrages a bunch of moderate Republican voters into ditching the GOP, she’ll make that sacrifice.

And if it doesn’t then it was all for nothing. She’ll have lost the war.

Here’s her latest counter to Trump and the House GOP:

“Gladys” is Gladys Sicknick, mother of Brian Sicknick. She wants to meet with Senate Republicans to lobby them to support the January 6 commission, which looks set to be nuked via filibuster tomorrow. I assume Democrats quietly enlisted Sicknick for that, knowing what bad press it’ll be for the GOP if they refuse to meet with her and/or vote no. “Not having a January 6 Commission to look into exactly what occurred is a slap in the faces of all the officers who did their jobs that day,” Sicknick said in a statement. “I suggest that all Congressmen and Senators who are against this Bill visit my son’s grave in Arlington National Cemetery and, while there, think about what their hurtful decisions will do to those officers who will be there for them going forward.”

Rough stuff. I doubt it’s going to work, although Susan Collins is doing her best at the eleventh hour to get to yes. Or at least to appear to be trying to get to yes:

Collins said today that she’ll vote yes to open debate on the House’s commission bill, then try to get Schumer to agree to her procedural tweaks. Romney and Murkowski also plan to vote yes, and Rob Portman and Bill Cassidy are interested. That’s five votes. Schumer needs five more Republicans and I can’t see where he’ll get them, especially with McConnell quietly urging the caucus to kill the bill:

McConnell warned Republicans at a closed-door meeting on Tuesday that regardless of tweaks to the bill that approving the commission could hurt the party’s midterm election message, according to attendees. He left that room and promptly told reporters that while Democrats want to talk about Trump, voters who’ll determine control of Congress next fall “ought to focus on what this administration is doing to the country.”

“It’s a purely political exercise that adds nothing to the sum total of information” known about the insurrection, McConnell told reporters Tuesday of the Jan. 6 commission.

Told of that, a disgusted Joe Manchin called it “extremely frustrating and disturbing. I know he’s an institutionalist. I would like to think he loves this institution. There’s a time when you rise above. And I’m hoping this would be the time he would do that. What I’m hearing is, he hasn’t.”

Well, McConnell doesn’t have to. Manchin said as recently as yesterday that he won’t take the filibuster away from Republicans even if they nuke the commission bill. If there’s no penalty to using the filibuster, they’ll use it.

Slate writer Will Saletan is right about McConnell’s true thinking about the commission. He’s not worried about it being a “purely political exercise,” he’s worried about it not being a purely political exercise. “The point of killing the 1/6 commission is so Republicans can portray the congressional investigations as partisan,” he tweeted, referring to Pelosi’s threat to form a select committee in the House if the Senate GOP blocks the commission. “The whole game is to persuade half the country to ignore whatever comes out of these investigations. Tribalism over evidence. And it will probably work.” That’s entirely correct. McConnell wants to be able to discredit or dismiss whatever comes out of the probe and that’s easier to do if it’s a partisan Democratic-run House operation, not a bipartisan commission of people drawn from outside elected office. He wants a purely political exercise, or at least something that can be plausibly characterized as one to swing voters. And it looks like he’s going to get it.