Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) is going out with a bang, ramping up her attacks on the pro-Trump forces in her own party with a highly public exit tour designed to prevent the same GOP leaders she once embraced from winning power next year.
The Wyoming conservative was clobbered in her August primary after lambasting former President Trump for his role in last year’s attack on the U.S. Capitol — a single-minded crusade that made her a pariah in the ruby-red Cowboy State, where Trump remains a revered figure.
Now, in the waning weeks of her congressional career, Cheney has launched an extraordinary campaign, stumping for once-rival Democrats in battleground districts and assailing fellow Republicans as an existential threat to America’s most basic democratic foundations — a role reversal unlike anything seen on Capitol Hill in modern memory.
As an opening act, Cheney was in central Michigan on Tuesday to promote one of the most vulnerable Democrats this midterm cycle, Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a former Pentagon official whose GOP opponent, state Senator Tom Barrett, has said the legitimacy of the 2020 election remains “an unknowable thing.”
Cheney and Slotkin don’t see eye-to-eye on countless policy positions, but the notion that Congress might soon be controlled by a party unwilling to accept election results has united them in a last-ditch effort to convince voters that preserving democracy should trump everything else — even economic concerns — when they go to the polls on Tuesday.
“If we want to ensure the survival of the republic, we have to walk away from politics as usual,” Cheney said to a packed gymnasium in East Lansing. “We have to stand up — every one of us — and say we’re going to do what’s right for this country and we’re going to look beyond partisan politics.”
On the same day, during an event at Cleveland State University, Cheney also endorsed another Democrat, Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, who is squaring off against J.D. Vance, a Republican investor, to replace retiring GOP Sen. Rob Portman in the Buckeye State. Vance, who rose to fame as the author of the wildly popular “Hillbilly Elegy” memoir, was endorsed by Trump and continues to cast doubt on President Biden’s 2020 victory.
“We have to have elected officials who are responsible, who are going to do the right thing, with whom you might disagree but whom you know have the best interest of the nation at heart and in mind,” Cheney told PBS’s Judy Woodruff in Cleveland.
Most recently, Cheney on Saturday endorsed Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), a former CIA official, who is vying for a third term against Republican Yesli Vega, a local county official who has won Trump’s endorsement.
Biden won the district by six points in 2020, but the race has tightened in the final weeks, giving Republicans new hope that they can pick up a seat the sprawling district encompassing parts of both the Richmond and Washington suburbs.
Cheney noted that she and Spanberger “don’t agree on every policy.” But Spanberger, she added, is “dedicated to serving this country … and defending our Constitution.”
“Abigail’s opponent is promoting conspiracy theories, denying election outcomes she disagrees with, and defending the indefensible,” Cheney said in a statement. “We need our elected leaders to be honest, serious, and responsible.”
It’s unclear if more endorsements are forthcoming.
One factor behind that uncertainty is the lingering question of whether Cheney’s presence in any specific battleground district would be a benefit, or a liability, for incumbent Democrats.
Cheney has won widespread praise among Trump critics of all parties, who view her denunciation of the former president as a principled stand in support of democratic traditions. And voters of that persuasion might be newly energized by an 11th-hour Cheney visit to their districts.
But Cheney’s anti-Trump activism has also infuriated the former president’s most ardent supporters, creating risks for Democrats who might accept her public backing. Privately, some vulnerable lawmakers acknowledge the difficulty of weighing those competing factors, particularly given the scarcity of public opinion polls in many House districts.
Trump is not sitting on the sidelines of that debate. On Wednesday, his Save America PAC blasted out an email highlighting a report in The Federalist, a conservative outlet, warning that a Cheney endorsement “is the political kiss of death.”
A second factor pertains to voter priorities, as a host of recent surveys reveal that the state of the country’s democracy has been overshadowed by inflation, gas prices and other economic anxieties when it comes to the issue voters deem most important as they head to the polls.
Trump has weighed in there, as well. Another Save America PAC email linked to a headline in The Washington Examiner: “It was the economy, stupid.”
Slotkin, for one, has acknowledged the odd nature of her alliance with a former adversary, but is quick to add that the fight against election denialism is worth any political backlash.
“The last time that she was doing media in my media market she was disagreeing with me vehemently on a point of policy,” Slotkin told CNN on Tuesday, shortly before the East Lansing event. “But we agree on one really big thing and that’s that there has to be a democratic system in order for our system to function.”
Ryan has also welcomed Cheney’s support, suggesting it would prove to be a net asset even in Ohio, where Trump defeated Biden two years ago by 8 percentage points.
“There are a lot of Republicans here in Ohio that are tired of the extremism,” Ryan told MSNBC on Tuesday.
The idea that Cheney, the eldest daughter of the staunchly conservative former vice president, would be battling for Democrats in the midterms’ home stretch was unthinkable even 18 months ago, when she was still the third-ranking House Republican vying to flip control of the lower chamber this midterm cycle.
But the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol was a transformative event for the three-term conservative, who quickly blamed Trump for provoking the violence and later became the most outspoken GOP critic of his false claims of a “stolen” election.
Cheney’s message directly contradicted that of Rep. Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and other top Republican leaders — who voted just hours after the rampage to undo Trump’s defeat in two states — and it led the GOP conference to boot Cheney from its leadership ranks four months later.
Shortly afterwards, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) tapped Cheney to become the second in command of the select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, giving her even greater voice to denounce Trump’s role in the rampage — and intensifying the backlash from Trump’s conservative base. By the time of the Wyoming primary in August, there was no contest: Cheney lost to her Trump-backed challenger, Harriet Hageman, by 37 points.
She’s not going out quietly, however. And her campaign to help Democrats appears to be fueled by a certain personal disdain for McCarthy, who’s in line to be Speaker if the House flips — and has bent over backwards to stay in Trump’s good graces to help him secure the gavel.
McCarthy’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
“He’s been completely unfaithful to the Constitution and demonstrated a total lack of understanding of the significance and the importance of the role of Speaker, so I don’t believe he should be Speaker of the House,” Cheney said earlier this year. “I think that’s been very clear.”
Mychael Schnell contributed.