Cheney on Election Day: This isn't the end, it's the beginning

“Nobody would piss off the entire state of Wyoming without another plan,” said one local Republican official to NBC about the last 18 months of Cheney’s career. It’s not quite the entire state that’s pissed off…

…but close enough:

CBS caught up to her outside her polling place today in Wyoming, a few hours before she pays the price for defying a demagogue. It’s unclear what this moment is the “beginning” of, precisely, but it does feel more like a beginning than an ending.

“This race is the first battle in a much larger and longer war that Liz is going to win because the future of the country depends on it,” one ally told Axios. “Regardless of what the results in this election turn out to be, she is going to lead a broad coalition going forward of Americans across the political spectrum who will stand up for freedom and restore the foundational principles that Donald Trump continues to dangerously undermine.”

I was thinking today that there are precious few American politicians who can plausibly claim to lead a faction of their own party. Biden and Trump can, obviously, but I mean besides the reigning presidential nominees. Bernie Sanders can credibly claim to be the de facto leader of progressive Democrats. And inasmuch as anti-Trump Republicans are a cohesive “faction” of the right, the way Cheney has done her duty on the January 6 committee and insisted on going down swinging in her primary has made her the de facto leader of that group.

Not a big group, granted. But the latest polls from YouGov and Morning Consult each find 17 percent of GOPers rating Trump somewhat or very unfavorably. How many members of Congress can credibly say that 10-20 percent of a major party looks to them for political leadership more so than to the leader of their party?

It’s the beginning of something. But what?

Proposals for Cheney’s next act have been flying on social media over the last 48 hours. Biden should give her the Presidential Medal of Freedom! He should put her in the cabinet! She should should start a third party! She should run for president! None of those are great idea for various reasons. (Well, the first one is fine.) Cheney’s great asset is her willingness to calmly and consistently make the case against returning Trump to power and those roles wouldn’t give her much of a soapbox to do so. Even doing something for CNN or MSNBC wouldn’t be optimal, as it would reduce her to just another Never Trump pundit preaching to the choir on non-Fox cable news.

And she’s not just another Never Trumper.

Every day, Cheney has had to withstand attacks and efforts to demean her will. Her former allies scorn her. Trump insults her. She is regularly mocked on Fox News and conservative talk radio. Her state party has twice rebuked her. Her physical safety has been threatened.

Yet through it all, Cheney has stood rock solid. She has acted out of publicly and resolutely avowed conviction. Once she joined the January 6th Committee, she no longer had any place to hide—whether politically or from the public eye. Fortunately for us, that means we can witness her steely defiance, rising above party, in the clear light of day.

Cheney’s determination to put her constitutional fortitude on display has not been common in the history of American politics. Few political figures have so openly taken the risk of betting their offices and careers against their party’s orthodoxy or bucking its leaders as she has done so publicly. Few have faced with greater equanimity the costs and dangers that have come their way.

She could do what Adam Kinzinger’s done and start a PAC aimed at electing “country first” candidates to office. Given all of her new connections among the Democratic donor class (and lingering connections to some in the GOP donor class via her father), she really might be able to raise big bucks for that. But I wonder if it would do GOP candidates more harm than good to have Cheney’s PAC promoting them: Her unpopularity in Trump’s party is such that any association with her in a primary might be fatal.

But in a general election? I don’t know. A Democrat who’s endorsed by Cheney’s group in a tight race against a MAGA Republican might get a few more crossover votes from anti-Trump righties than expected. Whether she’s willing to make that sort of cross-party endorsement is unclear — but if she’s willing to ask for Democratic votes in Wyoming in her own race, presumably she wouldn’t consider it too much of a leap.

I think Biden will try to bring her into the administration somehow even if he has to invent a position for her. “Advisor on protecting democracy” or whatever. That topic has been on his mind lately, after all. And as a matter of pure electoral politics, he’d be a fool not to try to woo Republican anti-Trumpers by making nice with their leader ahead of 2024. He got six percent of the GOP vote against Trump in 2020; with Cheney on his team in a government role that would give her an official reason to be back out in front of the cameras regularly, making the case against authoritarianism, he might do better. And he might need to, given how some formerly Democratic working-class voters have begun to drift right.

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