“I think that’s why it’s so important that the Republicans not be in the majority in 2025. And that’s, again, for me to be sitting here saying that, is a pretty stunning thing,” said the former three-term lawmaker, who served in House GOP leadership, whose father served 12 years as a House Republican and eight years as a GOP vice president and whose mother served two Republican presidents.
Cheney, 57, has grown so disillusioned with her former caucus that she plans to build on a model she tested out last fall after she lost her August 2022 primary for the sin of challenging Trump politically. Then, she stumped for Democrats in key races at both the state and federal levels that could play a role in future presidential elections.
She has spent the past week crisscrossing the media airwaves promoting her new book, “Oath and Honor,” which recounts her story of growing up in Republican politics and rising up the House GOP ranks, only to end up helping Democrats lead the investigation into the Trump-fueled Capitol attack in January 2021.
She recently raised eyebrows with a tease of a potential independent run for president against the incumbent, Joe Biden, and Trump. Every interview leads to more questions about the indomitable GOP leader and his firm grip over the party’s base voters. She’s already suggested that, should he win a second term, Trump will not leave the White House at the end of his constitutionally mandated exit.
But Cheney has held almost as much contempt for her former House colleagues, who vaulted her to the No. 3 leadership post after just one term in Congress. Quickly and decisively, House Republicans fell in line behind Trump, retired or, like Cheney, lost their GOP primary to a Trump-backed firebrand, replaced by political sycophants.
“I don’t think that the people who are in charge on the Republican side in the House of Representatives today can be counted on to stand up against Donald Trump,” she said during a 45-minute interview on Friday in a private club in Georgetown.
That goes for Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who’s resigning this month after the MAGA wing took him down as speaker. And it also goes for Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the Trump ally who refused subpoenas from the select Jan. 6 committee on which Cheney served as vice-chair last year.
“It felt good for the country, that he lost,” Cheney said of Jordan’s bruising defeat in his bid to succeed McCarthy as speaker. “But I think Mike Johnson is just as much of a threat as Jim Jordan would have been.”
Johnson (R-La.), who ultimately won the speakership, is essentially Jordan with a lower profile, eyeglasses and a clipboard under his arm, as Cheney sees it.
When she was first sworn in on Jan. 3, 2017, the House Republican Conference still leaned heavily toward traditional Reagan-Bush ethos. Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) led the House and its top committee chairs came from the old establishment, like Reps. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), at Energy and Commerce, Kevin Brady (R-Tex.), at Ways and Means, and Mac Thornberry (R-Tex.), at Armed Services.
“I do feel, in some ways, like I kind of saw the very end of a situation in which there was responsible functioning of government,” she recalled.
Ryan and those three committee chairs would all soon retire rather than continue to serve in their party’s Trump-dominated era. Every GOP retirement seems to create a coin-toss chance the successor will not be a serious legislator and instead embrace politics as performance.
“I think one of the best examples of what’s happened is the switch of Mac Thornberry for Ronny Jackson,” Cheney said.
Thornberry, a mentor to Republicans and Democrats alike on national security issues, retired at the start of 2021.
Jackson has so far gained attention mostly for getting into a cursing match with state troopers at a rodeo that ended with him in handcuffs. No charges were filed and the former White House physician said he was trying to help a teenager having a seizure.
Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Wis.), a former Ryan aide, was appointed chair of the House Administration Committee and has overseen investigations of the 2021 attack on the Capitol that have shifted blame away from Trump and his allies.
In recent weeks a flood of retirement announcements prompted more concerns about what Cheney calls the “caliber” of people serving, particularly on the GOP side.
Does Cheney even consider herself still a Republican?
“I certainly am not a Trump Republican. And I still believe all the same things that I believed before. But the Republican Party no longer stands for those things in the way that it once did,” she said.
Fixing the GOP — whether it’s working from within to reclaim its Reagan-Bush roots, or breaking off to form a new party — is a “post-’24 cycle” matter, according to Cheney.
For now, she’s focused on key House races for next year. Her leadership PAC, the Great Task, had $3.2 million on hand as of its last federal filing, but Cheney can now also raise unlimited sums for her efforts, freed from House ethics rules.
As Cheney and others ponder independent presidential bids, the chances grow that some third-party contender could win a state or two and deny any candidate the bare minimum of 270 electoral votes needed to secure the presidency.
Or, in 2020, had Trump won Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin — each of which he lost by less than 1 percentage point — he and Biden would have tied at exactly 269 votes and the House would have settled the race.
In these scenarios, the House would vote state by state, with each state counting as one vote.
So Cheney’s Wyoming, with less than 600,000 residents and one lone representative — Rep. Harriet M. Hageman (R), who defeated Cheney last year — would probably cast its one vote for Trump. California, with roughly 39 million residents, would probably cast its one vote for Biden based on its 40-12 split for Democrats in its delegation.
“It’s really going to matter who is in the majority,” Cheney said. “And it’s going to matter a lot who has the majority in each state.”
After the 2022 elections, Republicans held a majority in 26 delegations, Democrats in 22 and two — Minnesota and North Carolina — were tied.
Cheney campaigned in person last year for Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) and endorsed Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), each of whom won close races and have backgrounds in national security like Cheney.
Slotkin is running for Senate next year, while Spanberger runs for Virginia governor in 2025, so expect to see Cheney stumping for the nominees to succeed them in the House to help keep the Democrats’ one-seat edge in the delegations from Michigan and Virginia.
Flipping one currently GOP-majority state, to either a tie or the Democratic column, might leave Trump’s path to power short-circuited, because Republicans would hold just 25 majorities and a candidate must win 26 states to claim the Oval Office.
All of this might seem like preparing for a worst-case scenario that is very unlikely to come. The House last decided a presidential contest 200 years ago. But ever since Jan. 6, 2021, Cheney leaves nothing to chance.
She still despises most Democratic policies — “what’s happening at the border is really irresponsible” — but her foremost focus is blocking Trump.
And Trump’s recent words and actions as the GOP front-runner, embracing authoritarian rhetoric and dire warnings about how he’d govern in a second term, added to her cause.
“It’s not a choice that anyone would ever wish to have. But we can survive bad policy. We can’t survive a leader who’s going to torch the Constitution,” Cheney said.
In early 2020, she had a chance to run for an open Senate seat, from which she would have had a six-year term and still be in the arena. Instead, Cheney preferred the House’s traditional hand-to-hand combat over the Senate’s debate society ways, seeing a path to become the first GOP female elected speaker.
Her true calling was to sacrifice her career in her pursuit of defeating Trump.
“And I think that was exactly the right place for me to be,” she said.