Children can be measured, in some respect, by how far they wander from home—emotionally, physically, or both. Liz Cheney never traveled far in any respect. At McLean High School, in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, she was a cheerleader like her baton-twirling mom, Lynne, was back in Wyoming. Liz went to Colorado College like her mom. And after college, she continued to live just over Chain Bridge in Virginia, climbing the GOP ladder like her father, Dick. The patriarch’s ascendence is famous and infamous, as a young aide to Donald Rumsfeld, the youngest White House chief of staff, Wyoming congressman, defense secretary, vice president, and, of course, warlord. Liz scrambled up the conservative ranks without the same ferocious success but remarkably far, to the number three position among House Republicans.
Her rise echoed his. Liz and Dick even wrote books together. She was a CPAC speaker before the annual conservative lovefest became a Trump cult. Like her father, she pushed a pro–Iraq War agenda at the State Department under George W. Bush. Later, in exile during the Obama years, she formed hawkish groups with Bill Kristol, another Republican horrified by Donald Trump. As a congressman, Dick had staked out the farthest right field turf he could find. In the 1980s, he didn’t just use his House seat to back the Reagan administration. Cheney got to its right, voting against sanctions on apartheid South Africa and the creation of a national Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. When Liz, like Trump, was sworn into office in January 2017, she voted with the president with near-perfect regularity. Dick and Lynne Cheney never had a son, but they had Liz, who carried the family name. (At 56, Liz has never taken the name of her husband of nearly 30 years, Philip Perry, a conservative player in his own right. Their five children bear his name.)
Dick Cheney never lost an election, which leaves Liz, now defeated in her reelection bid, without a role model. But in a larger sense, she’s without any lodestar. “Now the real work begins,” she said in front of a majestic backdrop on Tuesday night, following her drubbing by Harriet Hageman, soon to join the House Sycophant Caucus. “It has been said that the long arc of history bends toward justice and freedom,” Cheney told the crowd. “That’s true. But only if we make it bend.”
Can she make it bend? I do not doubt that CAA agents and network executives are wooing her. Penguin–Random House–Simon & Schuster will surely come her way, offering seven figures for a memoir that’s part “Growing Up Cheney” and part “Fuck Trump.” But her goal is not a bigger house in McLean or one in Jackson Hole. She said on Tuesday it is to “ensure Donald Trump is never again anywhere near the Oval Office. And I mean this is a fight for all of us together.”
Let’s look at her Crush Trump options with the cold precision her father would bring to the problem. She can run for president in two years as a Republican, but she’s unlikely to get very far and will likely have to contend with other Never Trumpers such as Maryland Governor Larry Hogan. She can run for president as an independent, but that’s a kamikaze mission. Third parties are where oddballs go to die. George Wallace was the last third-party candidate to get a single electoral vote, 54 years ago. Most third-party bids run the route of Gary Johnson and Bill Weld, two GOP governors out of sync with their party. In 2016, they followed a socially liberal, fiscally conservative path to the John Anderson graveyard of campaigns.
Yes, there are other options for a failed politician with national ambitions. Joe Biden would probably give Liz something safe, some commission, perhaps an ambassadorship to a vital ally like Palau where she couldn’t give Secretary of State Anthony Blinken an ulcer by claiming weapons of mass destruction in Tahiti. But an ambassadorship didn’t do much for John Huntsman, the former Republican governor of Utah whom Barack Obama made our envoy to Beijing, or Henry Cabot Lodge, whom John F. Kennedy made our ambassador to Vietnam. Cheney could get an MSNBC or CNN gig (not Fox) and write some books and deposit advance checks, but it’s hard to parlay that into her ambition to drive a wooden stake into the heart of Nosfer-a-toupee.
Recently, I’ve heard from people nursing a fantasy that Biden could dump Kamala Harris and pick Cheney as his running mate on a national unity ticket. But that would be a ticket to national disunion. Dumping Harris for a Caucasian, anti–legal abortion, pro–Iraq War Republican is a declaration of war on the Democratic base, no matter how much liberals may admire Cheney’s steely resolve against Trump. The number of Republicans who would vote for the Biden-Cheney ticket over Trump-Whoever could fit at Christine Todd Whitman’s dinner table.
Ironically, Cheney could take a page from Charles Lindbergh’s America First movement, a popular uprising led by the famed aviator that galvanized antiwar sentiment (and antisemitism) in America leading up to the U.S. entry into World War II. In both name and spirit, today’s America First zombies echo the 20th-century ones that Lindbergh led. Perhaps Cheney can forge some kind of virtuous analog, a “Truth Now” movement, with placards, a logo, and rallies. That’s hard but possible. The Lincoln Project had the right idea, and Cheney could make it less sophomoric.
Cheney’s best shot at taking down Trump may come between now and January in her guise as the vice chairman of the January 6 Committee. The panel has elevated Cheney and wounded Trump with killer anecdotes. It’s impossible to put the ketchup back in the bottle, but the revelations haven’t slayed the beast nor convinced Republican voters and officeholders to jettison him. To get Cheney’s white whale, she’ll need a legal harpoon to jam into the hungry, pale monster. As a University of Chicago Law School graduate, Cheney wants to hand Merrick Garland findings so lethal that the mild-mannered attorney general will not only indict Trump but also convict him. Making the committee stronger is her last, best chance to take out Trump. Trump ended the Clinton, Bush, and Cheney electoral dynasties, but Liz’s turn in public life isn’t over. Even if she were to return to private life in McLean, she has honored herself in a way that’s rare in life, let alone politics.