Liz Cheney had long expected to lose the Republican primary race in Wyoming — and with it her seat in the US House of Representatives — to Donald Trump-backed challenger Harriet Hageman.
So when the moment arrived on Tuesday night, she was prepared to quickly shift to a new political mission for herself and others who have been purged from the party for daring to antagonise the former president.
Cheney is planning to launch a political movement — likely called “The Great Task” — whose primary purpose will be to prevent Trump from winning the White House again in 2024 at a time when he still remains the dominant frontrunner.
“I’m going to make sure people all around this country understand the stakes of what we’re facing, [and] understand the extent to which we’ve now got one majority political party — my party — which has really become a cult of personality,” she told NBC on Wednesday.
Cheney — the daughter of former vice-president Dick Cheney — appears to be facing a lonely battle within the Republican party to achieve that goal, as the vast majority of its lawmakers either staunchly support Trump or simply refrain from criticising him.
“Cheney will continue to identify as a Republican, sure, but she would definitely be on the fringes of her party: what was once fringe is now centre and the centre is on the fringe,” said Matt Continetti, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
It is also unclear if traditional Republicanism has sufficient grassroots support nationwide to succeed in mobilising large numbers of conservative voters to turn their backs on Trump — or even provide a launch pad for Cheney’s own, hinted-at rival presidential run in 2024.
But Cheney, who established herself as the most prominent Republican critic of Trump as vice-chair of the congressional panel probing the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol, has acquired a standing in US politics that will be hard to ignore.
In September, she will preside over new public hearings of the committee delving into the insurrection, which will put her back at the centre of the political debate. Meanwhile, there is an array of conservative donors in American finance and business willing to bankroll her efforts as part of a last-ditch effort to restore the party’s institutionalist roots.
“This is not the last you’ve heard of Liz Cheney, and frankly, this is not the last you’ve heard of us,” said Peter Kellner, the founder and managing partner of investment firm Richmond Global, who donated to Cheney as well as David McCormick and Jaime Herrera Beutler this year — all Republicans who lost primary races to Trump-endorsed rivals.
“We are an angry group, but we have more pride than we have anger, in terms of our patriotism,” he added. “If I were Liz, I would feel very good about myself. And I would sleep comfortably knowing there are many of us who look to her as one of the most important Americans of our generation.”
Doug Heye, a Republican strategist, said Cheney’s effort may not be entirely quixotic. Primary races have shown that while in her home state of Wyoming the grip of Trumpism remains tight, in some swing states, such as Pennsylvania, Trump-backed candidates prevailed but not by huge margins.
Yet her path is still likely to be narrow. Cheney’s familial association with the George W Bush administration, as well as her staunchly rightwing positions on issues such as abortion, may alienate some voters on the centre-left, even though respect for her among liberals has grown as she has fought to hold Trump to account.
Meanwhile, if she runs for president, the wrath against her from the right will only intensify, whether she pits herself against Trump for the Republican nomination or runs as an independent.
“Cheney’s most successful avenue is maintaining platforms by which she can continue to be outspoken in her criticism of Trump and in her opposition to his restoration. That may be more immediate than a political campaign,” said Continetti at the American Enterprise Institute.
“If she decides to run for president, she probably would be tempted to run in the Republican party only for the chance to appear on stage with Donald Trump in one of the debates,” he added. “I also believe that the institutional Republican party, should Donald Trump run, will do everything in its power to prevent that from happening.”
Republican strategist Heye said that although Cheney has signalled she wants to keep the fight against Trump alive, she still needs to refine her plan and her goals.
“We don’t know what the strategy behind it will be. Last night, she said that she was not going to stop in her efforts to prevent Donald Trump from being president again. That’s very different than wanting to become the next president,” Heye said on Wednesday. “And a lot of people who run for president aren’t running with the expectation that they’re going to be president.”