Former Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming may have virtually no chance of winning the 2024 GOP nomination, but she remains the only Republican capable of claiming the moral and intellectual clarity to denounce Donald Trump as a completely unacceptable and unworthy candidate for president.
The development is simultaneously as unremarkable as it is a stunning indictment of the moral rot that has penetrated the core of the Republican Party.
Over successive weeks, nearly every GOP hopeful but Cheney who might have laid claim to the lonely lane of indicting Trump's fitfulness to be commander in chief has readily surrendered that opportunity.
The latest among them is former Vice President Mike Pence, whose lawyers last week filed a legal challenge to a subpoena issued by Jack Smith, the special counsel investigating Trump's role in Jan. 6 and the broader effort to subvert the 2020 election results.
Pence's squirrely legal argument makes it transparently obvious that his main motivation for fighting the subpoena is political, which is frankly, laughable. The notion that fighting the subpoena might somehow earn Pence brownie points with the MAGA crowd that sought to publicly execute him on live television is delusional. There's simply no world in which Pence manages to win over even a sliver of Trump's some 30% of the GOP base.
So why not just accept that and own the lane he established on Jan. 6, 2021, when he refused to bow to Trump, remained in the Capitol, and ultimately certified the 2020 vote less than 24 hours after Trump's insurrectionists sought to obstruct the proceeding and assassinate Pence.
Pence has actual pictures of him looking presidential and in command in the midst of a dire emergency that threatened his personal safety, his family's safety, and the stability of the country.
Why Pence wouldn't capitalize on that, write off the MAGA 30%, and separate himself from the rest of the spineless GOP pack is dumbfounding. It would fit perfectly within the boy scout image Pence has worked hard to establish on the national stage.
And yet, instead of betting on himself and his brand of moral rectitude, Pence opted to fall in line with every other weaselly Republican who might have laid claim to that lane—which is also exactly why he will never be president.
A couple of weeks ago, New Hampshire Republican Gov. Chris Sununu also took a pass on denouncing Trump as unfit, saying that he would support him or whoever won the nomination. Sununu's move was particularly notable after he stole the hearts of GOP anti-Trumpers at last year's D.C. insidery Gridiron Club dinner by declaring Trump “fucking crazy.”
"I don't think he's so crazy that you could put him in a mental institution. But I think if he were in one, he ain't getting out!" Sununu quipped.
Ah, yes, Sununu helming the good ship Clarity right up until the siren song of 2024 drew him to its treacherous reefs.
Less than two weeks Sununu backtracked on his 'crazy' declaration, he told CBS News' Face the Nation that, although he hasn't formally declared, running for president would be "an opportunity to change things" in D.C.
On Monday, a New York Times headline declared Sununu was eyeing the GOP's “normal” lane in 2024, before musing, “Does it exist?”
Sununu obviously doesn't think so, or he wouldn't be trying to backpedal on the most normal thing one can say about Trump—that something obviously ain't right about him.
But Sununu isn't the only popular Republican governor who recently sacrificed himself at the altar of Trump's MAGA base. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan went through his own contortionist exercise after telling right-wing commentator Hugh Hewitt that he would support the GOP nominee even if it were Trump.
In the Feb. 2 interview, Hogan danced around the issue a bit before this exchange:
Hewitt: If Trump is the nominee, does Larry Hogan support him?
Hogan: Yeah, I just don’t think he’s going to be the nominee, but I’ll support the nominee.
Later that day, Hewitt asked Trump if he would back the GOP nominee if he didn't win, and Trump quickly made a chump of everyone, saying, "It would have to depend on who the nominee was."
After the interview, Hogan took to Twitter to walk back his statement, saying, "Trump won't commit to supporting the Republican nominee, and I won't commit to supporting him. As I have repeatedly said, I fully expect to support the Republican nominee — who I don't believe will be Trump."
Hogan has since evolved to saying Sunday on Meet The Press that he would consider not entering the 2024 ring if his candidacy would help Trump by splintering the primary vote among his rivals.
“That’d be a pretty good reason to consider not running. Absolutely," Hogan said, adding, "I don’t care that much about my future in the Republican Party. I care about making sure we have a future for the Republican Party."
Hogan also came back around to saying that even though he would like to support the Republican nominee, he definitively "wouldn't support Trump."
The Pence-Sununu-Hogan follies are symptomatic of a longstanding problem in the Republican Party—even those who believe Trump is a millstone around the GOP's neck don't have the guts to take a stand against him. Several recent stories have suggested a broad movement of GOP operatives, donors, and strategists are scheming to defeat Trump, but their plans amount to little more than a bunch of politicos lighting candles and meditating on The Secret.
Over the past couple of years, however, one person has repeatedly made both a moral and legal argument against Trump ever entering the Oval Office again.
On May 15, 2021, shortly after being ousted from House Republican leadership, Cheney immediately stepped before cameras to declare: "I will do everything I can to ensure that the former president never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office."
Later that month, Cheney warned her Republican colleagues in a Washington Post op-ed that history was watching, the party was at a turning point, and "Republicans must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution."
In Dec. 2021, as the Jan. 6 select committee was just getting underway, Cheney began introducing the idea that Trump had violated felony statute 18 U.S. Code § 1512, corruptly obstructing and impeding an official government proceeding.
In June 2022, Cheney described Trump as "a domestic threat that we have never faced before."
So while other 2024 GOP hopefuls keep calibrating and recalibrating their positions on Trump, Cheney won't. Her own political future is meaningless to her so long as Trump is still the de facto leader of the Republican Party.
In weighing a 2024 birth, Cheney's sole determination for such a decision will be what she deems the most effective way to neutralize Trump.
And if Cheney decides to run, her Republican counterparts have left the lane of unshakable clarity regarding Trump wide open for her to take.
No matter what, Cheney will be dedicating the whole of her efforts throughout the Republican Primary to unmasking Trump as a liar, a traitor, and a criminal. And all those who refused to do so will be indicted in the process.