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Back in 2012, when Liz Cheney was first weighing a congressional bid, she said on Fox News that she was “fed up” with the Democratic Party’s focus on abortion and contraception. It resulted in women being “sidelined” on issues such as national security and the economy, she said:
“It’s completely condescending and really offensive as a woman.”
Ten years later, Cheney is still talking about national security and gender. But now it’s in a way that has earned her respect from Democratic lawmakers and voters and ire from her own party, as she steadfastly refuses to ignore Donald Trump’s role in the attempted U.S. Capitol coup on January 6, 2021.
The Wyoming Republican has weathered condescension and outright misogyny from her GOP colleagues. They ousted her from a leadership position with the House Republican Conference and replaced her with a woman who expressed unchecked fealty to Trump. Seventy percent of Wyoming voters — including Cheney — supported Trump in 2020, giving the former president his largest margin of victory. The state party declared Cheney, the scion of a conservative political family, no longer a Republican.
Now, Cheney is facing the likelihood that she will lose her Republican primary bid next week to Trump-backed Harriet Hageman, a lawyer and former member of the Republican National Committee. Hageman, who initially tried to block Trump’s rise and endorsed Cheney, said last year that Cheney “jumped ship” from the party when she betrayed the former president by voting for his second impeachment and joining the committee investigating the January 6 insurrection.
Through all of the tumult, Cheney, who consistently during her political career criticized what she saw as the reductive “identity politics” of the left, has leaned on her gender, and her view of what it means to be a woman leader, to find allies and make the case that it is women who are brave enough to meet this tenuous moment in our country’s history — even if there is a cost for their courage.
“My fellow Americans, we stand at the edge of an abyss,” Cheney warned during a recent speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute.
“Young women,” she continued, “seem instinctively to understand the peril of this moment for our democracy, and young women who know that it will be up to them to save it.”
The day before, Cheney had presided over a televised hearing at which former Trump White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who is in her mid 20s, provided explosive details about the movements and actions of Trump and his inner circle on the day an angry mob stormed the Capitol at the former president’s urging.
“I have been incredibly moved by young women that I have met and that have come forward to testify in the January 6 committee,” Cheney told the crowd at the Reagan library. “Ms. Cassidy Hutchinson, her superiors — men many years older — a number of them are hiding behind executive privilege, anonymity and intimidation, but her bravery and patriotism yesterday were awesome to behold.”
Cheney has repeatedly over the past eight months used words like “brave” and “patriot” and “courage” — traits society has historically associated with masculinity — to describe the series of women who have been in the spotlight at the hearings held by the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, on which Cheney is one of two Republicans serving.
Then, in an advertisement Cheney’s campaign began airing this week in Wyoming, her father, the vice president to George W. Bush, called on gender to draw a contrast, saying Trump tried to use “lies and violence” to hold onto power after he lost the 2020 election to Democrat Joe Biden. “He’s a coward. A real man wouldn’t lie to his supporters,” Dick Cheney said.
Alyssa Farah Griffin, who was an aide to former Vice President Mike Pence and Trump before being named the youngest-ever press secretary to the Pentagon, said that back when Cheney was ousted from GOP House leadership she noticed that “it seems like it’s women who tend to be more brave in these situations, and [Cheney] has proven that through and through.”
Griffin resigned from the Trump administration in December 2020 and, after the Capitol attack, said the former president should also resign over his role. She testified before the committee voluntarily and has advised other young women to do the same.
“I really have appreciated [Cheney’s] comments highlighting the fact that the boldest and most steadfast voices on January 6, and on holding the former administration accountable, have almost across the board been women,” Griffin said.
Griffin has continued to be an outspoken critic of Trump and others who played a role in January 6. She was recently named a co-host on ABC’s “The View.”
Former Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock, who lost reelection in 2018 in one of the most competitive House races of that cycle, said that both she and Cheney came of political age in a merit-based Republican Party. Now, she said, they have found themselves “in this situation, under Donald Trump, where merit doesn’t matter,” and fidelity to the leader is “the only quality that is rewarded.”
Comstock has likewise been a sounding board for other women who wanted to come forward. She said Cheney is at the center of a “circle of trust” that Republican women have created to support other women willing to testify against Trump and other top aides.
“I’ve heard from so many young women, older women, about how inspiring these hearings have been, to see her take the slings and arrows, knowing the consequences, but just realizing that somebody had to step into this breach, and in this moment … this had to be done, no one else is doing it, and so she just did it, with such grace and class and determinedness,” Comstock said.
Comstock founded the Barbara Comstock Program for Women in Leadership that is now housed at George Mason University. She said her focus on women’s leadership is one of the primary reasons she did not support Trump.
When Cheney ended her speech at the Reagan center, she spoke directly “to the little girls and to the young women who are watching.”
“These days, for the most part, men are running the world, and it’s really not going all that well,” she said.
The statement added to speculation that she would run for president in 2024 as a way to block or diminish Trump’s influence. While she hasn’t ruled it out, Cheney has said she’s focused in the near term on her reelection campaign and her work on the committee, which will include more hearings in the fall.
But, Cheney’s allies say, there is more than one way for her to frustrate Trump’s anticipated 2024 campaign. Cheney has raked in record fundraising hauls, with a lot of money coming from out of state, and even from Democrats who believe supporting her is a way to stop the broader spread of Trumpism. She has more than $7 million in the bank that hasn’t been spent. That money could fund her own campaign, or an outside group that supports other ways to defeat Trump and Trumpism.
“She’s a winner, whatever happens with this,” Comstock said. “I think being in this stifling caucus right now, it doesn’t matter whatever happens on Tuesday, because she has a large role to play.”
Griffin agreed that Cheney “is not going anywhere, whatever happens.”
“I would hope she would run, potentially just to stand next to Donald Trump on stage in a debate and show what a principled Republican who loves this country more than partisan politics looks like. I think the juxtaposition would be incredibly powerful, even if she never makes it to Super Tuesday,” Griffin said.