Rep. Liz Cheney’s (R-Wyo.) strong signal that she may run for president has Democrats talking about what a pro-democracy, anti-Trump conservative candidate could do to President Biden’s political future.
Cheney, who lost the same House bid she easily won last time, delivered an impassioned concession speech about the dangers of reelecting the former Republican president in 2024. The next morning, she previewed her own possible prospects in a televised interview that added to the speculation that she may seek a White House term herself.
“It is something I’m thinking about, and I’ll make a decision in the coming months,” she told the Today show.
For Cheney, former President Trump and his strain of MAGA culture, as well as his defiance of the nation’s basic principles, is something she will do “whatever it takes” to stop, she told the network. For Democrats, however, her insistence offers something else: a big unknown to what’s already expected to be an unpredictable election cycle.
“I greatly admire what Liz has done. She’s sacrificed her congressional career to stand up to Trump,” Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) told The Hill on Thursday. “As for 2024, it’s unclear to me if she ran as an independent that it would hurt Trump. There’s a danger she might inadvertently help Trump more than hurt him.”
Over at the White House, Biden reportedly called to congratulate the No. 3 Republican in the lower chamber after her double-digit defeat, an act of bipartisanship that’s second nature to the president but that has become rare in an increasingly polarized nation.
While many in the Democratic Party admire her service — the idea of “country over party” has been central to Biden’s own political life and what inspired much of his successful presidential bid — there’s no clear consensus on how a Cheney candidacy could shake out.
Some Democrats see the conservative congresswoman splitting the Republican vote, effectively breaking up the coalition around Trump and weakening him. In that scenario, these voices hope Cheney would hypothetically make Biden a stronger general election candidate, and her presence in the race would help make Trump a one-term president.
Others, however, like Boyle, have questions. They think she may chip off votes from Biden, who enjoyed a portion of support in 2020 from voters who disliked Trump and voted Democrat by default.
With another GOP or independent option, that choice may be complicated.
“If she actually wants to run and try to win — either a Republican primary or in the general as an independent — the people telling her to do this are delusional and/or handcuffed to a green room installed on an Acela train,” said Eddie Vale, a Democratic strategist. “The inevitable end result is her pulling anti-Trump votes from Biden.”
Democrats have seen Biden’s 2024 prospects as rocky through much of his first term. For months, his standing within his own party had sunk so low that many were all but calling the midterms a lost cause, and pinning the blame on the president who they viewed as incapable of following through on campaign promises and his bigger legislative agenda.
That sentiment started to shift this month, when he signed a historic tax, climate and health care bill after negotiations with two of his party’s most stubborn moderate senators, Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.). The White House touted a high jobs number in August, and he also had a victory abroad, killing a major al Qaeda leader in Afghanistan. That comes on top of the earlier bipartisan infrastructure bill and COVID-19 improvements that the administration marked earlier in his term.
As a result, Biden’s previously anemic poll numbers have begun to tick upward.
The idea that Cheney could somehow deflate Biden’s momentum and put doubt into voters’ minds about reelecting him when presented with the possibility of another option has put some Democrats on edge.
But progressives, who remember the Cheney brand from her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney and his integral role in the Iraq War under George W. Bush, are taking her words less seriously. Some are even scornful of what they see as hubris.
“Some Democrats would rather see Liz Cheney in the Party than progressives,” Nina Turner, the former co-chair of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) presidential campaign and former House candidate in Cleveland, wrote on Twitter. “Shameful.”
Not only would many not vote for her, but others see her as essentially a nonfactor in a race that already has major figures like Biden and Trump in the conversation, and other Republicans and even some Democrats considering tossing their names into the mix. Some Republicans are already suggesting that Cheney would run as a Democrat.
“Liz Cheney has no chance at winning either party’s primary,” said Sean McElwee, who founded and runs the left-wing polling firm Data for Progress. “I’m happy to make a bet with anyone who disagrees.”
Asked for comment on the possibility of a 2024 run, Cheney’s spokesperson pointed to a portion of the concession speech she delivered in Wyoming on Tuesday night.
“So, I ask you tonight to join me,” Cheney said in part. “As we leave here, let us resolve that we will stand together — Republicans, Democrats, and Independents — against those who would destroy our Republic.”
Cheney has received national attention for her high visibility on the Jan. 6 committee, where the House has been investigating the insurrection on the U.S. Capitol, moving her away from the legacy of her family’s name and closer to her own brand of a principled conservative in a Republican Party that still considers Trump its leader.
Democrats see Trump’s moves, campaigning and endorsing down-ballot candidates and maintaining a war chest, as signs that he is looking to mount another bid. He essentially previewed that to New York Magazine last month, talking about the timing of a possible announcement instead of the overall idea of running.
The FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago residence has added another undetermined element to the election that is still two years away. Taken in context, Cheney’s moves — including the $15 million this cycle she built up during her made-for-TV House bid and a newly announced political action committee focused on stopping Trump — have some gaming out possible best- and worst-case scenarios.
“If her goal is to stop Trump, and is running to be a human wrecking ball every day to his dishonesty and assault on Democracy while in the primary, that is of course helpful,” Vale said, with a caveat: “If she then encourages anyone who doesn’t support Trump to vote for Biden in the general election.”