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Liz Cheney is the Republican party's most prominent Trump opponent. Now, she's lost out on the chance to return to Congress next year after a decisive primary loss to a MAGA-backed rival.

But she's not planning on going away quietly: she'll feature prominently in the fall's January 6th congressional hearings. And she says she might run for president.

This episode: congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell, congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh, and senior political editor and correspondent Ron Elving.

Learn more about upcoming live shows of The NPR Politics Podcast at nprpresents.org.

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The Liz Cheney Show Has Just Begun

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ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hey there. It's Asma with some exciting news. We are getting ready to take the show back on the road. And Houston - you all are up first. Join Tamara Keith, Susan Davis, Ashley Lopez, Domenico Montanaro and me at Zilkha Hall on Thursday, September 15. You can find more information about tickets, including student ones, at nprpresents.org. And thanks to our partners at Houston Public Media. We hope to see you all there.

PEREZ: Hi. This is Perez (ph) in Columbus, Ohio. I'm part of a group of Stanford students biking from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., and teaching Steam workshops in cities along the way. We are currently on day 62 of 70 and will reach D.C. at the end of August. Wish us luck.

KELSEY SNELL, HOST:

Oh, my God.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Wow.

PEREZ: This podcast was recorded at...

SNELL: 2:06 p.m. on Wednesday, August 17.

PEREZ: Things may have changed by the time you hear it. OK. Here's the show. (Imitating "Teeter Board: Folies Bergere (March And Two-Step)").

SNELL: (Laughter) That's a pretty good impression.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

WALSH: Wow - safe travels. That's a long trip.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Better than getting here the 1 of August.

WALSH: (Laughter).

SNELL: That's true. Well, hopefully you make it here safe and sound.

Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Kelsey Snell. I cover Congress.

WALSH: I'm Deirdre Walsh. I also cover Congress.

ELVING: And I'm Ron Elving, editor correspondent.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LIZ CHENEY: This primary election is over, but now the real work begins.

(APPLAUSE)

SNELL: That's Wyoming Republican Liz Cheney in her concession speech. She lost her primary last night for the single House seat in Wyoming.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHENEY: Our nation is barreling once again towards crisis, lawlessness and violence. No American should support election deniers for any position of genuine responsibility.

SNELL: Now she's laying out her future political plans, including a possible run against Donald Trump in 2024. So, Deirdre, you have been covering all of this, and you've been covering Cheney very closely over the past couple of months. But this loss was not a surprise, right?

WALSH: No, not at all.

SNELL: You know, we know what her political brand has been for the past two years. But the campaign accomplished something else, including raising a ton of money - and a ton of money from outside of Wyoming - and building a political network. So what do we know about her plans going forward?

WALSH: I mean, she hasn't been shy sort of laying out hints over the last few months about continuing on this quest of hers to make sure - she says over and over again - to make sure Donald Trump never gets in the Oval Office again. She did an interview with the "Today" show this morning, and she admitted and she acknowledged that she's thinking about running for president in 2024. Overnight, she transformed her campaign committee, where she raised over $14 million - has about 7 million left in it - and she transformed it into a political action committee called The Great Task. I'm sure Ron can tell us a little bit more...

(LAUGHTER)

WALSH: ...About the reference to The Great Task, which she actually made in her concession speech last night when she talked about Lincoln.

ELVING: So she's been using this phrase. It's an Abraham Lincoln phrase, of course. She likes to name-check Abraham Lincoln. And she also brought up U.S. Grant, Ulysses S. Grant, who was the next president elected after Abraham Lincoln and, of course, the great hero of the Union side of the Civil War. So all this talk about the Civil War just contributes a little bit more to the sense of there being a sort of incendiary divide in America today.

WALSH: Right. And I thought it was interesting in her speech last night and also in her appearance on the "Today" show this morning - and she had talked about this coalition of Republicans, Democrats and independents - sort of leaving the door open that she could make a 2024 bid as an independent.

SNELL: Right.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHENEY: I believe that Donald Trump continues to pose a very grave threat and risk to our republic. And I think that defeating him is going to require a broad and united front of Republicans, Democrats and independents. And that's what I intend to be part of.

SNELL: I'm glad you brought up this comment that she made because, you know, this idea of, you know, having a broad and unified front, that was kind of the way she was kind of pitching her path forward, if one ever existed here - right? - was that she was going to recruit people who weren't just regular Republican voters. But how real was that?

WALSH: Not very real. I mean, in Wyoming, the rules allow voters to register for the Republican primary. And she did have crossover votes, but those were mostly in her home county in the Jackson Hole area in Wyoming in last night's primary.

SNELL: Yeah.

WALSH: But she just got pretty much blown out.

ELVING: There just aren't that many Democrats, of course, in Wyoming. The question, I suppose, going forward is how many Democrats would cross over to vote for her in 2024 if she were running as a Republican candidate, or how many would desert their party to vote for her as an independent?

SNELL: She is a really traditional conservative from a big, conservative family in kind of the definition of Republicans that we were used to maybe 5, 10 years ago. But it's not been so long since Republican voters nominated folks like her, people like, you know, John McCain or Mitt Romney as presidential nominees. But is that where the party is right now, Ron?

ELVING: Liz Cheney is a representative of the pre-Trump party, then the Never-Trump group from 2016, who initially opposed him. And of course, she did support him in the fall when he had the nomination. And that mostly is what happened to most of the Republicans who had preferred another candidate in 2016, although there was a cadre of Never-Trumpers, largely in the media - perhaps conservatives who never signed on for Donald Trump.

And now she wants to move on to a post-Trump era, which, obviously, some other people in the party would like to do as well. Maybe not publicly, but they are privately hoping that they can get there in 2024. The problem is that all of those folks are out of step with the folks showing up in primaries and especially in Western states such as Arizona and Wyoming, where the influence of Donald Trump seems to be as strong as ever.

SNELL: Right. And I'm glad you bring that up because it's not just primaries in these Western states. I'm thinking about a Republican primary in general. The idea that you would have a bunch of independents and Democrats volunteering to start participating in a Republican presidential primary just to boost Liz Cheney just - that seems not particularly likely to me.

WALSH: I don't think it is. I mean, Cheney's camp sort of touts this big, broad, out-of-state donor network that she built up. And she has raised a lot of money, but those were people giving to her to help her keep her seat in the House. I don't think they're the same kind of voters that are going to vote for her in a presidential primary. I mean, a lot of them were Democrats. And they're certainly more interested in, you know, potentially reelecting Joe Biden or another Democrat to stay in the White House. I mean, it's pretty clear that the Trump base has a firm grip on the party. I talked to Republican strategist Alice Stewart about this. Let's listen to her.

ALICE STEWART: When we're talking about a primary, the base is king. And right now, the base of the Republican Party supports Donald Trump.

WALSH: I also think Cheney launching this political organization hours after she's beaten by almost 40 points is not moving from a position of strength. I'm really skeptical in terms of, like, who the people are who would get behind a possible presidential campaign. I mean, she does have this big national platform. We're still going to see a lot of her in the coming months. But, you know, maybe she's giving herself some time to build an organization.

SNELL: Ron, part of that, that I kind of wonder about is, A, how effective is a political organization like that in this situation and how likely is it that - you know, one thing we hear often is that it's just important for someone sometimes to be the spoiler. Is that a real potential threat that she could pose?

ELVING: Most of our experience with third parties in American history has been that they mess things up for whichever party they come out of. So when Teddy Roosevelt decided to go on contesting the Republican nomination on into the fall as the Bull Moose independent party progressive nominee, that's what did in William Howard Taft and gave us President Woodrow Wilson. That's the classic case, and there have been others as well. Some people think in 1992, it was Ross Perot that did in George H.W. Bush trying to run for reelection.

So it's hard to see someone as closely identified with Republicanism as Liz Cheney is - even as an anti-Trumper - it's hard to see her really running anywhere but as a Republican and hurting anybody but the Republican Party if she were to run as an independent. But we don't really know what 2024 looks like. And perhaps her ideal scenario would be for there to be multiple Trump-like candidates but not Donald Trump in 2024. And she might have a lane to herself as the anti-Trump candidate in a field of Trump acolytes.

WALSH: I thought it was really interesting in her interview this morning that she talked about her party, the Republican Party, being in very bad shape. And she said it could take several election cycles to sort of bring her party back to where she thought it should be in terms of its original principles. I think that's an acknowledgment that she, you know, doesn't think that this is going to happen overnight.

ELVING: Or in 2024 - and that's why she seems so much like a woman without a country today politically and a woman without an immediate - and I should say immediate - electoral future. But as you said earlier, Deirdre, she still has this extraordinary opportunity to reach the American people in the months ahead as the vice chair and, in many people's minds, the leading voice of the January 6 investigation committee.

SNELL: All right. There's a lot to dig into here. And we're going to talk more about Liz Cheney after we take a quick break. More in a second.

And we're back. We'll hear more from Cheney soon. You know, political plans aside, the January 6 committee - which she is the vice chair of, and, you know, she's a very, very visible presence on that committee - they're planning to hold more hearings in the fall, and there's still a report coming. Isn't that right, Deirdre?

WALSH: Right. We do expect more public hearings this fall. Cheney, as vice chair, has a very prominent role. She often opens and closes these hearings and drops sort of newsy bombshells along the way. She really, I think, knows how to keep the spotlight on herself. And, I mean, she said that in her speech last night and in her comments this morning that she considers that to be an important part of the job she still has to do in the remaining months in office.

SNELL: Ron, can you kind of take us through a little bit of the way Liz Cheney has been approaching her political brand lately? I know I mentioned earlier that she is of - you know, a type of Republican of an era that maybe has passed, but can you talk more about what it is exactly she has done to define herself?

ELVING: Liz Cheney has always defined herself, in a sense, in terms of national politics. Born in Wisconsin, grew up in Virginia, very briefly lived in Wyoming and really only came back to the state after college in Colorado and law school in Illinois and State Department service and working in Washington. She came back there because her dad had had a congressional seat there for roughly a decade in the '80s. And he was a big hero in the state, and certainly himself not a native of the state, but somebody who is known there first, and her mother as well - a major figure, really, in Wyoming politics.

But Liz Cheney was always somebody who was operating more on a national stage. And that came back to really hurt her in this primary, of course. But, down the road, she can see herself in other terms. The question is, how does that intersect with actual electoral politics? I can see her becoming all but ubiquitous on television. I mean, she could be a major media figure going forward, and that could, in a sense, translate forward into some sort of a political career down the road. It's just hard to fit it into partisan politics as we know it.

WALSH: Right. I mean, and Kelsey, you know this, too. It's not too long ago that people on Capitol Hill - Republicans on Capitol Hill - were talking about Cheney's path as possibly the first female Republican speaker of the House...

SNELL: Yes.

WALSH: ...Or potentially running for this open Senate seat heading into the 2020 election, which would set her up for a national campaign. I remember talking to one senior House Republican right when she was making that choice, and he was such a fan of Liz Cheney and talked about her potential and thought she would be a good face as a Republican woman running for president and was sort of torn with - should she stay in the House, should she go to the Senate? But wow, what a turn of events. I mean, her political arc has just really changed in a pretty short amount of time.

SNELL: And you mentioned her being a kind of important Republican woman. And I wonder if she's talking about that lately. Is that still part of her brand?

WALSH: I don't remember her talking about it sort of when she first came to Capitol Hill, but she has really made it a regular theme in her public remarks during the hearings. Sometimes I feel like it's trolling, where she talks about the bravery of young Republican women who've come forward and sort of put it out there that, you know, other senior Republican officials were dodging the committee's requests for interviews. She made a quip about this when she spoke at the Reagan Library earlier this summer.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHENEY: And let me also say this to the little girls and to the young women who are watching tonight - these days, for the most part, men are running the world. And it is really not going that well.

(LAUGHTER)

WALSH: I felt like she was sort of starting to lean into her gender and possibly this new role for herself, and I'm just going to be interested to see if she continues to do that.

ELVING: There probably is not a political figure in our country today who more perfectly defines the change that Donald Trump has caused on the national stage, particularly on the Republican Party side. Many people's careers - the arc of many people's rise has been bent or destroyed by Donald Trump. And people who we had counted on, I think, for a long time as being major figures in the future now, to some degree, have been booted out of the party entirely and are, as I said earlier, you know, in this case, a woman without a country - a woman trying to find another political identity. How all this is going to sort out, there's no precedent for this in American politics, so we're discovering it all one election at a time.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

SNELL: Yeah, that's absolutely something we're going to be watching in the coming months. But let's leave it there for today.

I'm Kelsey Snell. I cover Congress.

WALSH: I'm Deirdre Walsh. I also cover Congress.

ELVING: And I'm Ron Elving, editor correspondent.

SNELL: And thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

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