WASHINGTON — The Republican National Committee, which hates Liz Cheney so much that it excommunicated her from the party earlier this year, nonetheless seems powerless to stop her from running for the 2024 GOP nomination in its quest to keep Donald Trump out. to return to power.
Party rules require neutrality in presidential contests when there is no incumbent – which the RNC itself has cited as reason it should stop paying the former president’s legal fees to the when he announces his candidacy.
“The party has clearly stated that we will be neutral in the 24 presidential primary,” said Henry Barbour, a prominent RNC member from Mississippi.
Since Cheney’s loss on Tuesday in her bid to retain her House seat in Wyoming, she has said she intends to focus on her work on the committee from Jan. 6 until the end of 2022. , then to decide what’s next in early 2023. She declined to comment for this story.
A Republican strategist says while pro-Trump members of the RNC can try to rig debate rules to prevent him from participating, there is little they can do to change ballot access rules and laws of State. “If she wants to run as a Republican, there’s nothing they can do to stop her from voting.”
And while Trump and his allies rejoice in her lopsided loss to a challenger willing to spread Trump’s campaign lies, Cheney’s new free time in January could end up making them wish she was still in Congress.
From her own remarks already, it’s clear that Cheney is less interested in becoming president than she is in making sure Trump can’t do it again.
“I will do whatever it takes to ensure that Donald Trump is never anywhere near the Oval Office, and I mean it,” she said in her concession speech Tuesday night.
“It means she’s someone who has nothing to lose and holds people accountable,” said Fergus Cullen, former New Hampshire state chairman of the Republican Party. “It’s a role she can play. There are other reasons to run for president than to win.
Running as a Republican — rather than an independent, which could siphon anti-Trump votes in the general election if he were to liquidate the GOP nominee — would give her access to media and voters in the leading GOP candidate states, allowing him to take his specific anti-Trump message to those voters day in and day out.
“I think she’s leading a kamikaze democracy mission as a GOP candidate and challenging them to exclude her from the polls or the debates,” said Republican anti-Trump consultant Sarah Longwell. “She’s looking to keep Trump out of the White House, not in it.”
“There are other reasons to run for president than to win.”
– Fergus Cullen, former chairman of the New Hampshire State Republican Party
Whether that would diminish Trump’s standing is unclear, but it would create an entirely different situation than he enjoyed in 2015.
That year, most candidates ignored him completely, thinking his support would fade as the primary election approached. Others actively praised him – hoping to win over his supporters when he inevitably gave up.
By the time his rivals finally started attacking him in early 2016, it was too late and Trump had a sizable lead that carried him through the primaries.
It’s clear from Trump’s personal attacks on Cheney, which intensified with the start of the Jan. 6 committee’s public hearings in June, that his criticism of his behavior to date has been surprisingly effective. As vice president, she played a key role in every committee hearing and often delivered the most devastating critiques of Trump’s incitement to storm the Capitol, the culmination of the attempted coup. of Trump to stay in power.
“I take it that with the very big loss of Liz Cheney, much bigger than expected, the January 6 Political Hacks and Thugs Committee will quickly begin the beautiful process of DISSOLUTION?” Trump posted on his social media network the day after Cheney’s election defeat. “It was a referendum on the endless witch hunt. The people have spoken!
In Trump’s corner are many of the 168-member RNC, who have previously punished Cheney and Illinois Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger for their attendance on the Jan. 6 committee and their vocal criticism of Trump. The RNC pushed through a resolution at its winter meeting censuring them, opening the door for the Wyoming state party and the National Republican Congressional Committee to support Cheney’s challenger.
If Cheney chose to run for the GOP nomination in 2024, those same Trump loyalists could try to rig party rules to ensure, for example, that Cheney would not be allowed to participate in primary debates.
“They would probably force every candidate who wants to debate to agree to support the candidate, whoever it is. Liz won’t,” said Joe Walsh, a former GOP congressman from Illinois who ran against Trump in the 2020 primaries.
“There’s no way she’ll ever make it to a debate stage with Trump,” said a top GOP consultant from Iowa who spoke on condition of anonymity. “It’s a resistance fantasy to think she can take on Trump and actually engage him…. She won’t commit to voting for the candidate if it’s Trump, so they’re excluding her. It’s a way. There are other regimes.”
An RNC spokesperson declined to discuss how the party might react to a Cheney candidacy and instead offered the standard boilerplate on upcoming midterms. “The Republican National Committee is focused on all of our great Republican candidates who have won their primaries and will tackle the issues that matter to their constituents, which is why we will resume the House and Senate in November,” she said. declared.
An RNC member who spoke on condition of anonymity agreed the party could try to impose a pledge requirement that requires candidates to pledge to support the prospective nominee in order to keep Cheney out.
Such a commitment, in fact, was demanded of Trump in 2015, when in August’s first debate he said he didn’t feel obligated to support the candidate if it wasn’t him. He signed a ‘commitment’ at the request of then-president Reince Priebus on September 3 – but within hours he said he would not be bound by it if the RNC did not deal with it kindly.
In December, Trump was already bragging that “68% of my supporters would vote for me if I left the GOP and ran as an independent.” And in March 2016, Trump explicitly said he didn’t feel obligated to support the candidate if it turned out it wasn’t him. “I was treated very unfairly,” he complained.
Trump’s statements at the time, the RNC member said, would make it difficult to keep Cheney at a higher level. “I definitely think our various candidates should support whoever the candidate is,” the RNC member said. “But I think we learned in 2016 that it’s unenforceable.”