Back in the before times, Democrats loved to hate former Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, partly because of their pointed political disagreements with her but also because she was actually a damn good messenger.
But Cheney’s politics aside, her messaging prowess worked to Democrats' advantage during the Jan. 6 select committee hearings last year: Cheney was always mission-driven, on point, and in command of the facts. The committee she helped lead as vice chair proved to be the most consequential congressional spectacle in decades, arguably helping to deal Republicans a blow at the ballot box last November and spurring a Justice Department inquiry into Donald Trump's role in the insurrection.
Now Cheney is taking up a new role as we barrel toward another election in which Trump appears poised to top the GOP ticket. Instead of littering the Republican primary with another doomed Trump detractor, Cheney is dropping incisive anti-Trump messages into the political ether.
Cheney's latest addition to the political landscape came Tuesday, when she sought to separate old-guard Republican defense hawks from newfangled MAGA isolationists.
"Putin has now officially endorsed the Putin-wing of the Republican Party," Cheney tweeted over an AP News article about Russian President Vladimir Putin blasting the criminal indictments of Trump as "rotten" politically motivated prosecutions.
"Putin Republicans & their enablers will end up on the ash heap of history," continued Cheney. "Patriotic Americans in both parties who believe in the values of liberal democracy will make sure of it."
Cheney's rallying cry against "Putin Republicans" seeks to make common cause among a politically divergent group of establishment Republicans and Democrats who are united in their support for Ukraine, rejection of Trump, and disdain for Putin.
Rhetorically speaking, "Putin Republicans" and "Putin wing" of the Republican Party are also sticky phrases that could potentially catch on, helping to create a definitive us (democracy stalwarts) versus them (Trump/Putin backers) dynamic.
MAGA Republicans hate Cheney with a white-hot rage and reveled along with Trump in throwing her out on her ear last year. But her name still holds political sway with a very narrow slice of the Republican Party—perhaps some 5% or so—and that's still a meaningful chunk of voters in a general election, even if it's a pittance in the primary.
Democrats would be smart to take note of Cheney's messaging and even take it up, reinforcing it. It skillfully creates a permission structure for old-guard Republicans to help reelect Joe Biden next year, even if they don't particularly like him.
That’s a device Biden loves, as he has routinely shied away from painting Republican voters with such a broad brush that he alienates all of them.
Some of those conventional Republican voters could very well be the difference between a one-term presidency and Biden's successful reelection next year.