Liz Cheney is ready to lose. But she’s not ready to stop.

CHEYENNE, Wyoming — It was just over a month before her primary, but Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming was far from among voters weighing her future.

Ms. Cheney has instead been huddled with other lawmakers and aides in the Capitol complex, backing her allies in a cause she believes is more important than her House seat: ridding US politics of former President Donald J Trump. and its influence.

“The Nine of Us have done more to prevent Trump from returning to power than any group to date,” she told other panel members investigating Mr. Trump’s involvement in the incident. attack on the Capitol on January 6. “We cannot let go.

The most-watched primary of 2022 hasn’t turned into a race at all. Polls show Ms Cheney losing hard to her rival, Harriet Hageman, Mr Trump’s revenge vehicle, and the congresswoman was all but kicked out of her Trump-loving state, in part because of death threats, according to her desk.

Yet for Ms Cheney, the race stopped being a matter of political survival months ago. Instead, she used the Aug. 16 pageant as a kind of high-profile stage for her martyrdom — and a testing ground for her new crusade. She used the debate alone to tell voters to “vote for someone else” if they wanted a politician who would violate their oath of office. Last week, she hired her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, to cut an advertisement calling Mr. Trump a “coward” who poses the greatest threat to America in the history of the republic.

In a state where Mr. Trump won 70% of the vote two years ago, Ms. Cheney might as well ask ranchers to go vegan.

“If the cost of defending the Constitution is losing the House seat, then that’s a price I’m willing to pay,” she said in an interview this week in the courtroom. Cheyenne bank conference.

The 56-year-old daughter of a politician who once had a vision to rise to the top of the House leadership – but landed as vice-president instead – has become arguably the most important grassroots member of the modern day Congress. Few others have used the levers of office so aggressively to try to reorient the course of American politics — but in doing so, she has effectively sacrificed her own future in the institution she grew to revere.

Ms. Cheney’s relentless focus on Mr. Trump has sparked speculation – even among longtime family friends – that she is preparing to run for president. She did little to deter such talk.

At a Thursday night house party in Cheyenne, with former Vice President Dick Cheney peering happily under a pair of fitted leather chaps, the host introduced Mrs. Cheney by recalling how another Republican woman, Senator of Maine Margaret Chase Smith, confronted Senator Joseph McCarthy when it was unpopular – and became the first female candidate for president of a major party.

Attendees cheered at the parallel, as Ms. Cheney smiled.

In the interview, she said she was focused on her primary – and her work on the committee. But it’s far from clear that she could be a viable candidate in the current Republican Party, or whether she cares about the donor class’s schemes for a third-party offer, in part because she knows it could simply siphon off the votes of a Democrat opposing Mr. Trump.

Ms Cheney said she had no interest in switching parties: “I’m a Republican.” But when asked if the GOP she grew up in was even salvageable in the short term, she replied, “Maybe it isn’t,” and called her party “very sick.”

The party, she said, “continues to drive itself into a ditch and I think it’s going to take several cycles if it can be healed.”

Ms Cheney suggested she was as driven by Trumpism as Mr Trump himself. She could back a Republican for president in 2024, she said, but her red line is a refusal to make it clear that Mr. Trump has lost a legitimate election in 2020.

Asked if the ranks of banned candidates included Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, whom many Republicans have clung to as an alternative to Trump, she said she “finds it very difficult” to support Mr. DeSantis during the a general election.

“I think Ron DeSantis has aligned himself almost entirely with Donald Trump, and I think that’s very dangerous,” Ms. Cheney said.

It’s easy to hear other sounds of a White House offer in Ms. Cheney’s rhetoric.

In Cheyenne, she channeled the worries of “moms” and what she described as their craving for “someone who is competent.” Having once widely despised identity politics – Ms Cheney was just the lawmaker who wouldn’t pose for a photo of congresswomen after 2018 — she now freely discusses gender and her perspective as a mother.

“These days, for the most part, men run the world, and it’s really not going so well,” she said in June during a speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. .

In a sign that Ms Cheney’s political awakening goes beyond her contempt for Mr Trump, she said she preferred the ranks of female Democrats with national security backgrounds to her party’s right flank.

“I would much rather serve with Mikie Sherrill and Chrissy Houlahan and Elissa Slotkin than Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert, although on substance I certainly have big disagreements with the female Democrats I just mentioned,” Ms Cheney said. in the interview. “But they love this country, they do their homework and they are people trying to do the right thing for the country.”

Ms. Cheney is more sure of her diagnosis for what ails the GOP than she is of her prescription for reform.

She has no pending post-Congress political organization and has benefited from Democratic donors, whose affections may be transient. To the frustration of some allies, she did not expand her inner circle beyond her family and a handful of close advisers. Never very schmoozer, she said she longed for what she recalled as her father’s era of politics-centric politics.

“What the country needs are serious people who are willing to engage in policy debates,” Ms. Cheney said.

It’s a far cry from the Liz Cheney of a decade ago, who had a contract to appear regularly on Fox News and would use her perch as a guest host for Sean Hannity to showcase her steadfast conservative views and savage former President Barack Obama and the Democrats. .

Today, Ms. Cheney concedes no particular regrets for helping to create the atmosphere that resulted in Mr. Trump’s takeover of her party. She did, however, acknowledge a “reflexive partisanship of which I am guilty” and noted that January 6 “demonstrated how dangerous it is”.

Few lawmakers today face those dangers as regularly as Ms. Cheney, who had full-time Capitol Police security duty for nearly a year due to threats against her — protection that she needs. few grassroots legislators are assigned. She no longer provides advance notice of her trip to Wyoming and, unwelcome at most county and state Republican events, has turned her campaign into a series of invitation-only House parties.

What’s more confusing than her schedule is why Ms. Cheney, who has raised more than $13 million, didn’t put more money into the race, especially at the start when she had the opportunity to define Mrs. Hageman. Ms Cheney had spent about half of her war chest by early July, sparking speculation she was saving money for future efforts against Mr Trump.

Ms. Cheney has long since stopped attending House Republican meetings. When she’s on Capitol Hill, she spends much of her time with Democrats on the Jan. 6 panel and often goes to the Lindy Boggs Room, the reception hall for women legislators, rather than upstairs. the House with the male-dominated House GOP conference. Some members of the Jan. 6 panel were struck by how often his Zoom background is his suburban Virginia home.

In Washington, even some Republicans who also want to leave Mr. Trump are questioning Ms. Cheney’s decision to wage open war against her own party. It limits its future influence, they say.

“It depends on whether you want to come out in a blaze of glory and be ineffective or whether you want to try to be effective,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who has his own future leadership aspirations. “I respect her but I wouldn’t have made the same choice.”

Ms Cheney is aware that the January 6 inquest, with its prime-time hearings, is seen by critics as an opportunity to grab attention. She refused certain opportunities that could have been useful to her ambitions, in particular proposals from documentary filmmakers.

Yet for her skeptics at home, Ms. Cheney’s attacks on Mr. Trump have resurrected outstanding issues about her ties to the state and raised fears that she had gone to Washington and become involved in opposition, dismissing the political views of voters who gave her and her father their early days in the electoral politics.

At a parade in Casper last month, held as Ms. Cheney prepared in Washington for an audience, Ms. Hageman received plaudits from voters who said the incumbent had wandered off.

“His voting record isn’t bad,” Casper resident Julie Hitt said. “But she is so focused on January 6.”

“She’s so in bed with the Democrats, with Pelosi and with all these people,” said Bruce Hitt, Mrs. Hitt’s husband.

Notably, no voters interviewed at the parade mentioned Ms. Cheney’s support for the gun control bill the House passed just weeks earlier – the kind of apostasy that would have infuriated Republicans in Wyoming. at a time more dominated by politics than a man’s personality.

“His vote on the gun bill got virtually no publicity,” said Mike Sullivan, a former Democratic governor of Wyoming who intends to vote for Ms. Cheney in the primary, bewildered. (Ms. Cheney is pushing independents and Democrats re-register as Republicans, at least long enough to vote for her in the primary.)

For Ms Cheney, any sense of bewilderment about that moment – ​​a Cheney, Republican royalty, being effectively read out of the party – has faded in the year and a half since the attack on the Capitol.

When she attended the funeral last year of Mike Enzi, the former senator from Wyoming, Ms. Cheney hosted a delegation of visiting GOP senators. As she greeted them one by one, many praised her bravery and told her to keep fighting Mr. Trump, she recalled.

She did not miss the opportunity to remind them ostensibly: They too could join her.

“There were so many moments like that,” she told the bank, a hint of weariness in her voice.

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