Liz Cheney Fell in a Forest

No one heard her

Eight weeks ago, Liz Cheney’s colleagues struck her down—and made her more powerful than they could have possibly imagined. They did so, if the media was to be believed, by inadvertently thrusting into her hands a new megaphone to broadcast her anti-Trump message. Around the same time, former Trump administration official Miles Taylor and dissident 2016 presidential candidate Evan McMullin announced a group of disgruntled Republicans who threatened to form a new third party if the GOP failed to expunge the stain of Trumpism.

Despite the hype they received on cable news, neither Cheney’s nor Taylor and McMullin’s efforts have yet to amount to anything. In this as in so many other respects, they are but the latest manifestations of a phenomenon that has arisen again and again over the last six years: The Republican(s) who will save the GOP from itself by saving it from Donald Trump. The only problem is that most Republican voters have no interest in being saved, least of all by anyone the mainstream media would send to their rescue.

Liz Cheney’s defenestration was a long time coming and requires no rehashing here. What she would do after landing on the proverbial dung heap was the question. To hear the media tell it, she had it all planned out. Cheney was playing a “long game” to win control of the Republican Party and banish Donald Trump. Getting booted from her leadership post in the House GOP conference was her opening maneuver.

The Wyoming congressman, CNN reported, planned “to take advantage of her removal as a way to further her fight against Donald Trump’s grip over the GOP and continue hammering the message that got her in trouble in the first place: that Trump’s lies about the 2020 election are damaging for her party and the country.” Cheney, according to the Washington Post, had “drafted plans for increased travel and media appearances.” She put those plans into immediate effect, showing up on CNN, MSNBC, NBC, Fox News Channel, ABC News, and various other outlets within a few days of her ouster. Her goal, claimed the Post, was “to become an even more influential political figure” who could weaken Trump’s hold on and eventually purge him from the GOP. Given that she couldn’t accomplish any of this while remaining in leadership, speculation such as that by Axios’ Alayna Treene that Cheney had “bait[ed] this outcome” was not farfetched.

Journalists, never ones to turn down an opportunity to portray Republicans in disarray, seized this one. Kevin McCarthy, the hapless House minority leader, had blundered in arranging his subordinate’s dismissal, they insisted. CNN’s Gloria Borger exulted that House Republicans “handed her a bigger megaphone. She’s not just a House GOP someone, she’s now a national leader—with national exposure. And so Cheney is now a national story.” Syndicated columnist Froma Harrop, in a display perhaps of sisterly exuberance, proclaimed Cheney as “destined for the history books” and “on the road to becoming a towering American political figure.” MSNBC’s Hayes Brown was positively gleeful that Republicans now have “an unfettered Cheney on their hands.”

The Cheney unleashed narrative received official blessing in the form of a long New York Times article by Jonathan Martin, who wrote that by “excommunicating Cheney” not only did Republican lawmakers grant her “a new platform and a new role as the leader” of the anti-Trump faction of the GOP, they “created a host of new problems for their party.” The internecine conflict around Cheney, contended Martin, threatened to divide the GOP at a time when it should be consolidating in advance of a 2022 midterm in which it is well-positioned to recapture Congress.

Cheney herself described her ambitions in these lofty terms. She told Today host Savannah Guthrie shortly after her dismissal that she intended “to be the leader, one of the leaders, in a fight to help to restore our party, in a fight to bring our party back to substance and principle.” She was even more grandiose in an interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace, telling him that she aspired “to play a very big role” in what she envisioned as “a battle for the soul of the Republican Party, a battle for the soul of our democracy.” She was still characterizing her mission in apocalyptic terms a couple of weeks later. Speaking at an event organized by the Wall Street Journal, Cheney deemed her reelection “a race that will be very important in terms of the future of the party and the future of our republic.”

It’s certainly possible Cheney will enjoy an elevated stature in American politics; time will tell. The problem is that having a megaphone that lets you address the national media means little if you can no longer get a hearing in the Republican Party. Axios’ Jonathan Swan, who recently observed that Cheney is “so unrepresentative” of the GOP that “you may as well just put a ‘D’ next to her name at this point” and therefore dismissed the idea that she can create a new Republican Party as “absurd” and “a fantasy,” has been one of the few political journalists to appreciate this. Another exception was Yahoo! News’ Jon Ward, who noted that “being a regular presence on CNN and MSNBC is not the same thing” as being welcomed by audiences at Republican gatherings.

There’s no guarantee national audiences would be any more receptive, and so far, the opposite seems to be the case. In early June, Cheney was a guest on the podcast of former Obama campaign manager David Axelrod. During her appearance, she compared Trump’s false election claims to Chinese communist propaganda and denounced his goading of the Capitol riot as “the most dangerous thing, the most egregious violation of an oath of office of any president in our history.” Here was the former third-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives likening a former president to Chinese communists and excoriating him as the worst president ever. Yet instead of making a big splash, her comments caused barely a ripple.

Going on the podcast of a former Obama flunky to hurl such imprecations isn’t using your platform and megaphone to fight for the future of the GOP; it’s a sign you’ve already surrendered. A recent New York Times profile of Cheney and her father, Dick, confirmed how quickly she receded into irrelevance. She hadn’t done anything newsworthy to merit it. Published to coincide with Father’s Day, the ostensible news hook—their father-daughter relationship—was a weak one. The story read, rather, like a valiant though futile effort by the Times to keep her in the public eye so she’d remain in the public mind. A newly minted national leader with a national platform ought not to need such help. Given the silence that has already enveloped Liz Cheney, her House GOP colleagues’ decision to exile her to the backbenches seems to have been a sound one.

Donald Trump, Jr. was surely correct when he declared Cheney’s stamp of approval a “kiss of death” for any Republican unfortunate enough to receive it. In one poll, 65 percent of GOP voters approved of getting rid of her. In another, 80 percent did. Cheney herself faced brutal headlines back home and faces an uphill battle to remain in Congress. Losing would consign her to oblivion.

Perhaps Cheney’s appointment to the House committee on the January 6 Capitol riot will finally afford her a platform to wield her megaphone. Her decision to throw her lot in with Nancy Pelosi, however, may not be greeted as warmly in Wyoming as it was on cable news.

The idea that Cheney might be president one day is risible. Perhaps her long game is designed to take her past 2024, as the liberal commentator Bill Scher proposed. But even in 2025, Ron DeSantis, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Nikki Haley, Kristi Noem, and a host of other Republicans would still exist. This is where the entire Cheney conceit falls apart. There are other Republicans besides Donald Trump and Liz Cheney, a fact the media and supporters of both conveniently forget. Whatever the post-Trump future of the Republican Party, Liz Cheney won’t be shaping it.

Nor will Evan McMullin and Miles Taylor. Those two—one an ex-CIA officer and House staffer, the other a former DHS official and author of the infamous “Anonymous” New York Times op-ed—assembled a group of disaffected Republicans with an eye toward forming a third party if Trump remains dominant in the GOP.

There were some recognizable names among the 150 or so former GOP officials and officeholders: Bill Weld and Mark Sanford, ex-GOP governors who ran quixotic primary campaigns against Trump in 2020; former New Jersey governor and George W. Bush EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman; former Pennsylvania governor and first secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge; recent congressmen Denver Riggleman (VA) and Charlie Dent (PA); former Maryland lieutenant governor and Republican National Chairman, Michael Steele.

These figures are more likely to alienate than entice rank-and-file Republicans. A less famous signatory, Susan Del Percio—a “Republican strategist” who hasn’t worked on a GOP campaign in fifteen years—is a regular fixture on MSNBC, as are Dent, Riggleman, and Steele, where all four lament that the GOP isn’t something more to MSNBC viewers’ liking. Richard Painter, who served for a time as the top ethics lawyer in George W. Bush’s White House, also became a cable news regular and part of the legal wing of the Resistance. He even ran for the Democratic nomination for Senate in Minnesota. One signer, ex-California congressman Pete McCloskey, was a Biden elector in 2020 and once gave a speech about the “so-called Holocaust.”

Beyond the ex-pols and cable news Republicans, the names affixed to McMullin and Taylor’s “Call for American Renewal” were ones even political junkies would have been hard-pressed to identify: Jerid Miller, Andrew Sagor, Bobbie Kilberg, David Almacy, Marty Linsky, Jacob Perry, Heath Mayo, Karen Kirksey and Dov Zakheim, to select a few at random. As one Twitter wag deliciously phrased it, “The list is a veritable who’s who of who cares.” 

Five members of the group published an op-ed in the Washington Post expressing their desire to “save the Republican Party from itself,” or, failing that, to help “save America from extremist elements in the Republican Party.” Taylor himself averred that “the current GOP must be repealed – or replaced.” The time had arrived, he added, “for a resistance of the ‘rationals’ against the ‘radicals.’” That he embraced the slogan of one of the GOP’s most ignominious failures of recent years as well as the term adopted by the left to describe its opposition to Trump, which has therefore become toxic to anyone on the right, was, one suspects, emblematic of his political acumen.

Never one to question an anti-Trump gimmick, Jennifer Rubin declared the McMullin-Taylor menagerie the beginning of a “stampede away from the GOP.” As some had become Democrats, one wondered just how they were going to leave what they’d already left. Were they going to rejoin the GOP just so they could threaten to quit again?

The reality is that this farce was but the latest curiosity in the cabinet of third parties and anti-Trump splinter groups. Whatever their past standing, no one who signed has any in the GOP or the conservative movement today. They are as anonymous as their co-founder’s alter ego. The only way these 150 men and women would be “prominent,” as Taylor dubbed them, is if Merriam-Webster redefined yet another word.  

After its mid-May introduction, the McMullin-Taylor group sat moribund until its formal debut last week. According to Bloomberg News, its organizers hope to raise millions of dollars “to support or oppose candidates, regardless of party, to defeat ‘radical Republicans’ who support former President Donald Trump” in a handful of Senate and a couple dozen House races, and to “recruit candidates to run in GOP primaries or as independents under the Renew America Movement banner.” McMullin, echoing Cheney, said their aim was to return the GOP to its “traditional principles” and reiterated that they would start a third party if Republicans failed to see the wisdom of putting him and Taylor in charge.

The group held a town hall to discuss its plans on June 24. It received almost no media attention. Perhaps aware of his partner’s dismal track record, Taylor vowed to run for president as an independent and recruit other conservatives to do the same to stop Trump should he garner the 2024 GOP nod. Most third party candidates are anonymous, so he would fit right in.

Worse than being the Arrested Development “dozens of us” meme brought to life, there is something innately condescending about Taylor and McMullin’s enterprise. When their associates asserted in the Washington Post that “the Republican Party has lost its way,” one couldn’t help but feel that what they meant by this was that the Republican Party was no longer going their way. They sounded like Kipling-esque Europeans trying to impose “civilization” on backwards natives; natives they now find to their horror are revolting.

Journalists, as they repeatedly reminded us over the last few years, take pride in their (self-appointed) role as the nation’s guardians of truth. It’s fascinating, therefore, to see people who insist their duty is to tell the truth attempting to pass off the McMullin-Taylor cabal as a serious challenge, or Liz Cheney as a latter-day Father Merrin trying to exorcise Trumpzuzu from the Republican Party. As if through invocation they can summon into being the GOP civil war which has so far stubbornly refused to exist.

Cheney, Taylor, and McMullin in their own way seek the impossible. There is no undoing Trump. Trying to erase him from the Republican Party is like trying to erase him from the presidency. He will always be part of both. To want either is to want it to be 2014 again. Pretending otherwise is like taking down a Final Four banner. You can act as though it never happened, but everyone saw the game take place.

From the moment he descended the escalator, the press and NeverTrump Republicans have awaited the emergence of a liberator from within the party who would free it from Donald Trump. In recent years neither Larry Hogan nor Mitt Romney proved willing to accept that mantle. Nor did anyone else in the party. The search has now alighted on Liz Cheney, Miles Taylor, and Evan McMullin. What none of these would-be saviors has yet understood is that though they may wish to rescue the party, the GOP is in another castle.