Her methodical recounting of a series of texts to Mark Meadows from lawmakers, reporters, Fox News hosts and even Trump family members underscored what Cheney called Trump’s “supreme dereliction of duty” to heed the calls to condemn the ongoing violence at the US Capitol.
But the Wyoming Republican’s central performance at the high-profile meeting of the House select committee investigating the January 6 riot also highlights how she has trod a distinct path among Republicans over the last year. She remains committed to her uphill battle to keep both her political future and her anti-Trump vision for the Republican Party alive.
“Last December, Liz Cheney was one of a large number of Republicans who had sort of acquiesced to Trump but kept their distance,” said Bill Kristol, the conservative writer and director of Defending Democracy Together. “Now she is the leader of the ‘we-need-to-repudiate-Trump’ Republicans.”
That may also mean calling out the pro-Trump personalities on Fox News. Among the texts to Meadows Cheney read aloud were those from Fox hosts Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity and Brian Kilmeade. Their messages urging Meadows to get Trump to call off his supporters storming the Capitol contrasted with their on-air comments downplaying the riot.
But naming Fox hosts as part of an ongoing effort to target Trump could have negative consequences for Cheney’s political career. The last time Cheney appeared on the channel was November 7 with “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace, who this week departed for CNN.
“I think that’s actually, for her, a pretty courageous thing, because a Republican politician has to be able to go on Fox,” said one person close to her. “To me it was like sending up a smoke signal to Paul Ryan,” the former House speaker who sits on the board of the network’s parent company, Fox Corp.
Cheney declined to comment for this story.
‘Her own lane’
It’s a lonely perch for the three-term congresswoman.
She’s just one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump last January, as well as one of the two lone Republicans, along with retiring Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, on the January 6 committee.
Her outspokenness about Trump prompted her ouster from GOP leadership earlier this year, ostracized by much of the House Republican conference. The Wyoming Republican Party even voted last month to no longer recognize Cheney as a member of the GOP.
Alongside all this, she has incurred the political wrath of the former President, who has backed a GOP primary challenger — onetime Cheney adviser Harriet Hageman — and made her defeat next year a top priority.
To help her retain her House seat, Cheney is marshaling the forces of the pre-Trump GOP establishment. Among those who have helped her raise money at recent fundraisers are former President George W. Bush, longtime Bush advisers Karen Hughes and Karl Rove, former US Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and former Republican House Speakers John Boehner and Ryan.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sens. Lindsey Graham and Mitt Romney have all donated to Cheney through their respective political action committees.
Her fundraising hauls have been impressive for the standards of Wyoming’s at-large district — more than $1.5 million in the first quarter of 2021, nearly $1.9 million in the second and $1.7 million in the third. Cheney ended September with more than $3.6 million in the bank, compared with her Republican opponent Hageman’s $245,000.
And beyond her House race, Cheney’s political schedule is drawing attention. She said earlier this year that she would do “whatever it takes” to prevent Trump from becoming president again and has not closed the door on running for the White House herself.
On November 9, she traveled to New Hampshire, the home of the nation’s first presidential primary, to speak at St. Anselm College’s Institute of Politics. The event was sponsored by the Loeb School of Communications, whose president, Joe McQuaid, is also the conservative publisher of the Manchester newspaper, the New Hampshire Union Leader, and a gatekeeper for Republican White House hopefuls.
In her remarks in New Hampshire, Cheney lambasted Trump for claiming the “real insurrection” was on Election Day 2020 and dismissing the January 6 riot as a “protest.”
“I know this nation needs a Republican Party that is based on truth, one that puts forward our ideals and our policies based on substance,” she said. “One that is willing to reject the former President’s lies. One that is willing to tell the truth: that millions of Americans have been tragically misled by former President Trump, who continues to this day to use language that he knows provoked violence on January 6.”
Whether or not her quest to prevent Trump’s return to the White House involves a presidential run of her own, Cheney is operating under the idea that enough Republican voters might be willing to hear an explicitly anti-Trump message.
“She’s now in her own lane,” said Kristol.