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Sometimes liberals do better at holding alternative facts than their conservative counterparts. You can call it the Aaron Sorkin Effect, or the Bill Clinton fanfic halo. The West WingHollywood was so convinced that progressives can win any policy battle by delivering a great speech that it is almost a cliché that they return to this well over and over again. That has resulted in Hillary Clinton fanfic. Political Animals, where Sigourney Weaver played a fictionalized Secretary of State ready to challenge her commander in chief for her party’s nomination with feminist gusto. Even Téa Leoni’s Madam Secretary got a chance to upgrade to the Oval by the end of the show’s run.
A similar bit of wish fulfillment is playing out now among many of those closely watching Wyoming this week, where conservative Rep. Liz Cheney—a former senior aide in the George W. Bush administration, a dispatched member of House Republican Leadership, and the current top Republican on the committee probing the Jan. 6 attacks—seems coasting to defeat in the GOP primary. For liberals in many D.C. circles, Cheney is the most sane of the Republicans available in Washington, a bona fide conservative who didn’t buy the MAGA Kool-Aid. Despite the likelihood of an embarrassing loss in her own state on Tuesday, some of those enamored with Cheney insist she has a bright political future, one that perhaps includes a can’t-lose run for President in 2024.
Keep calm. Headline: She doesn’t.
On paper, Liz Cheney has a lot going for as a contender for her party’s nomination in two years. Her family is part of the GOP dynasty. Both her parents have been major players in Republican politics. She could be in the forefront of conservative thought leadership at any time. Based on that record, she shouldn’t struggle with cash, given that her family has been dialing for dollars since the ‘70s. If she were to lower her standards, she would be able to wipe the floors with Trump-acolytes about policy and history.
Problem is that Liz Cheney has crossed Donald Trump. She publicly acknowledged the former President’s conduct on Jan. 6, 2021, was unacceptable, and she signed on to help investigate what led to it and how to prevent it from happening again. It’s not fun work. She accepted the position and was fired from her leadership role. Still, she’s showing up, and the work she is doing matters.
This straight-shooter is a good choice for past party-bucking leaders like John McCain. But these days, there’s a much-reduced threshold for mavericks in the GOP. While her friends at brunch cheer her on and send her check, it’s far more likely that she will be able to challenge Trump as the primary challenger in 2024.
Liz Cheney might still be able to make it as a Republican politician. As the leader of Jan. 6, she has been elected. But polling shows her in dire straits among members of her own party in her own state, one where things are so bad that she can’t even hold public events out of fear of violence. Cheney could become a leading conservative and the embodiment of the Republican Party’s surrender to Trump. But wherever she goes from here, it’s hard to see how it could include successfully swaying many Republican primary voters, not after building a national brand around opposing the most popular figure in their party.
After all, if she can’t weather a primary in Wyoming, it’s tough to credibly build a slide-deck for donors about her path to the nomination on a national scale. She, her folks, and her sister have been in the rooms where these pitches happen, and the former Vice President would probably be the first to say that it’s probably time to think about a new frame, one less leaning on Sorkin and one more grounded in the current environment.
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