Stick with me here. At 53, Cheney is in her political prime. She also has a coveted perch as House GOP conference chair. She used to work at the State Department. And as a former regular on Fox News’s Special Report “All Stars” panel, she has ample experience doing battle on television. It would be premature to get too excited about her (we’ve had our political hearts crushed multiple times by rising-star conservatives). But if the primary goal is to revive the Republican Party in the post-Trump era, who would be better?
By my count, the short list of potential heroes include Mitt Romney, 73, and Justin Amash, 40. The problem with Amash is that he’s no longer a Republican (and will soon no longer be a congressman).
It’s true that in a different world I might view Cheney as both too hawkish and privileged. But desperate times call for desperate measures. And let’s face it: Beggars can’t be choosers. She’s conservative but not crazy, and, in this milieu, her privilege is a feature, not a bug.
Can you imagine growing up in a household with Dick and Lynne Cheney? That special brand of training seems to have instilled a preternatural confidence that is essential when going head-to-head with other well-heeled children (see Donald Trump Jr., and for that matter Senior, as well as Rep. Matt Gaetz).
Speaking of which, Cheney is making all the right enemies, and employing sharp elbows in the process. Politico’s Melanie Zanona summed up the contentious GOP conference meeting this week: Cheney defended Dr. Anthony Fauci, told Gaetz she looks forward to seeing his HBO documentary, told Rep. Thomas Massie his issue is with Trump rather than her (Trump famously wanted Massie thrown out of the Republican Party for forcing members of Congress to travel back to Washington during a pandemic)], and told Rep. Jim Jordan (a thorn in the side of Speakers Boehner and Ryan) that she looks forward to him being a team player when Republicans regain the majority.
When Donald Trump, Jr. tweeted on Tuesday that Republicans “already have one Mitt Romney, we don’t need another,” she pointed out that he doesn’t really have a say in the matter. “Donald Trump, Jr., is not a member of the House Republican Conference,” she said. And when his dad, the president, accused her on Twitter of supporting “Endless Wars,” she vowed to “continue to speak out on these issues.” (Personally, I think they could use an army of Mitt Romneys, but that’s just me.) The point is, she’s tough.
Like a sheriff hired to clean up an Old West town, whoever saves the Republican Party will have to be tough enough to take on its most ornery outlaws before making any peace. This presents a Catch-22 of sorts, since most of the decent and honorable folks (again, think Romney) are usually not as equipped as the scoundrels are for the bare-knuckle brawls and shootouts. That’s why I think Cheney—a genetically engineered scrappy pugilist—could have a bright future, possibly as a House speaker or more.
Indeed, the future might come sooner than we think. The attacks on Cheney are a tacit admission that a new sheriff is coming to clean up the town. As Brendan Buck, formerly a senior aide to Paul Ryan, told CNN, the pushback against Cheney stems from House Republicans recognizing two things: that “Trump is losing” and that “she’s planning a post-Trump world that they don’t like.”
Trump’s imminent departure, which seems likelier by the day, and the sense that others will rush in to fill the vacuum are not ideas limited to the House GOP conference. This week, Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity, Fox News colleagues who are both rumored to be eyeing a 2024 White House bid, had a tense on-air moment. Hannity seemed to disagree with Carlson’s critique of Amazon boss Jeff Bezos for profiting off the pandemic while others suffer, and Carlson was visibly astonished and disgusted.
Was this a simple miscommunication or instead an example of Hannity staking out the free-market capitalist terrain against a decidedly more populist Carlson?
A clearer example of this jockeying for position occurred at a private lunch for Republican senators and White House emissaries. Tom Cotton reportedly suggested that it would be politically sagacious for Republicans to keep spending money on coronavirus relief, because doing otherwise would hurt them at the ballot box and lead to even more spending when Democrats are elected. But Ted Cruz, staking out the fiscally conservative “budget hawk” terrain, objected and asked, “What in the hell are we doing?”
Both men are laying the groundwork for presidential bids and, as The Washington Post’s James Hohmann notes, “The dueling stances…offer an early taste of the ideological battles we can expect as Republicans increasingly vie to take the torch from President Trump.”
This should serve as a reminder that Trump was an interloper who interrupted what was already a contentious GOP civil war. Absent Trump, would Jeb Bush have fared better? Maybe Marco Rubio would have won, tapping Nikki Haley as his running mate. Had they defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016, the GOP would have been on a dramatically different trajectory. Or maybe Ted Cruz would have prevailed. It’s a shame that we’ll never know how it would have played out.
The fight between the governing wing and the entertainment wing had no resolution.
If Trump goes down big, that fight will resume. And when it comes to insider fights, there’s a good rule of thumb that will rarely let you down: Don’t bet against a Cheney.