CASPER, Wyo – Representative Liz Cheney was hiding in a safe, unknown location in the Dick Cheney Federal Building and told how she received an alarmed phone call from her father on Jan. 6.
Ms. Cheney, a Republican from Wyoming, recalled preparing to speak in plenary to confirm the election of Joseph R. Biden Jr. as president. Mr. Cheney, his daughter’s former vice president and closest political advisor, consulted with her most days, but this time he called as a concerned parent.
He had seen President Donald J. Trump on television that morning at a rally vowing to get rid of “the world’s Liz Cheneys.” Her speech on the floor could create tension, he told her, and he feared for her safety. Was she sure she wanted to keep going?
“Absolutely,” she said to her father. “Nothing could be more important.”
Minutes later, Mr Trump’s supporters broke through the entrance, members of the House of Representatives were evacuated, and Ms. Cheney’s political future, who never delivered her speech, was suddenly jumbled. Her promising rise in the House of Representatives, in which the former Vice President was enthusiastically invested and which he hoped would culminate in the speaker’s office, had been replaced by an entirely different mission.
“This is about being able to tell your children that you got up and did the right thing,” she said.
Ms. Cheney entered Congress in 2017, and her parentage always ensured her an eye-catching profile, if not in the way it has since been blown up. Your campaign to combat the “ongoing threat” and “fundamental toxicity of a president who has lost” has put one of the most Conservative MPs in the House of Representatives in the un-Cheney-like position of resistance leader and Republican outcast. Ms. Cheney has vowed to be a drag on no matter how lonely the persecution may be or where it might lead, including a potential major challenge for Mr Trump if he runs for president in 2024, a prospect she hasn’t ruled out.
Beyond discouraging politics, Ms. Cheney’s predicament is also a father-daughter tale full of dynastic echoes and ironies. Cheney was an unexcused figure of the Prince of Darkness throughout his career and was always prepared for doomsday scenarios and existential threats posed by America’s enemies, be it from Russia during the Cold War, Saddam Hussein after the 9/11 attacks or the general threat from tyrants and terrorists.
Ms. Cheney sees the current circumstances with Mr. Trump in the same apocalyptic terms. The difference is that today’s threat lies within the party of which her family has been king for nearly half a century.
“He is deeply concerned for the country about what we saw President Trump do,” Ms. Cheney said of her father. “He’s studying history. He is a presidency student. He knows the seriousness of these jobs, and when he watched these events unfold, he was surely appalled. “
On the day last month that Ms. Cheney’s housemates ousted her as a third-rate Republican for convicting Mr. Trump, she invited an old family friend, photographer David Hume Kennerly, to record her movements for posterity. After work, they made their way to their parents’ house in McLean, Virginia to pity each other over wine and a steak dinner.
“There may have been a small autopsy, but it didn’t feel like a wake,” said Mr. Kennerly, President Gerald R. Ford’s official photographer while Mr. Cheney was the White House chief of staff. “Most of the time I got a real feeling at that dinner of two parents who were very proud of their child and wanted to be there for them at the end of a bad day.”
Mr. Cheney declined to be interviewed for this article but made a statement: “As a father, I am extremely proud of my daughter. As an American, I am deeply grateful to her for defending our Constitution and the rule of law. “
The Cheneys are a private and isolated breed, if not without tension that has come out in public. Ms. Cheney’s opposition to same-sex marriage during a brief Senate campaign in 2013 enraged her sister Mary Cheney and Mary’s long-time partner, Heather Poe. It was noticeable when Mary gave her sister full support after January 6th.
“As many know, Liz and I have definitely had our disagreements over the years,” she wrote on January 7th in a Facebook post. “But I’m very proud of the way she behaved during the electoral college battle … Good job, Big Sister.”
Her father’s alter ego
In an interview with Casper, Ms. Cheney, 54, spoke in urgent, truncated cadences in an unmarked conference room in the Dick Cheney Federal Building, one of many places that bear her family name in the nation’s poorest, Trump-loving state. Her disposition conveyed both determination and concern, but also the feeling of someone who had endured a contested effort.
Ms. Cheney had recently spent much of her congressional recess in Wyoming and was rarely seen in public. The appearances she made – a visit to the Chamber of Commerce in Casper, a hospital opening (with her father) in Star Valley – were barely publicized before, mostly for security reasons. She has received a spate of death threats, frequent threats among high profile critics from Mr Trump, and is now surrounded by a newly deployed team of plainclothes agents with earplugs.
Her campaign spent $ 58,000 on security from January to March, including three former intelligence officials, according to documents filed with the federal election commission. Ms. Cheney was recently assigned protection by the Capitol Police, an unusual move for a member of the House of Representatives who is not in an executive position. The fortress aura surrounding Ms. Cheney is a reminder of her father’s “safe and secret whereabouts” in the days after the 9/11 attacks.
Ms. Cheney’s temperament is shaped by both parents, particularly her mother, Lynne Cheney, a conservative scholar and commentator who is much more extroverted than her husband. But Mr. Cheney has long been his oldest daughter’s closest professional alter ego, especially after he stepped down in 2009, and Ms. Cheney devoted marathon sessions to collaborating on his memoir, In My Times. Her work coincided with some of Mr. Cheney’s most serious heart ailments, including a time in 2010 when he was near death.
His health stabilized after doctors installed a blood pump device that kept him alive and enabled him to travel. These included driving between Virginia and Wyoming, where Mr. Cheney drove while he was in the passenger seat of Ms. Cheney dictating stories that his words typed into a laptop. In 2012 he received his heart transplant.
The father and daughter jointly promoted the memoir, with Ms. Cheney interviewing her father in locations across the country. “She was basically there with her father to help him get back to health on the public scene,” said former Senator Alan K. Simpson, a Wyoming Republican and longtime family friend.
By 2016, Ms. Cheney was elected to Congress and quickly rose to third-tier Republican, an office her father also held. As powerful as Cheney was as a Vice President, he had always viewed himself as a product of the House of Representatives in which he served as the Wyoming Congressman from 1979 to 1989.
Neither father nor daughter are natural politicians in the traditional sense. Mr. Cheney was a conspirator and a bureaucratic bully, ambitious but in a quiet, mysterious and, in many eyes, devious way. Ms. Cheney mainly focused on strategic planning and restrictive policies.
After graduating from Colorado College (her thesis was The Evolution of Presidential War Powers), Ms. Cheney worked for the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development while her father was Secretary of Defense. She attended the University of Chicago Law School and practiced with the White & Case law firm before returning to the State Department while her father was a vice president. She wasn’t embarrassed or dispassionate like her father – she was a cheerleader at McLean High School – but ran for office well into her 40s.
Once in the House of Representatives, Ms. Cheney was seen as a potential speaker – a mixture of established background, tough conservatism, and partisan instincts. While she had reservations about Mr Trump, she was picky about her criticism, voting with him and against his first impeachment 93 percent of the time.
As for Mr Cheney, his concerns about the Trump administration initially centered on foreign policy, though he eventually found the 45th President’s performance overall pathetic.
“I had a few conversations with the vice president last summer that really worried him,” said Eric S. Edelman, a former US ambassador to Turkey, a Pentagon official in the George W. Bush administration and friend of the Family.
As a transplant recipient whose weakened immune system put him at serious risk of Covid-19, Mr Cheney noted that his disdain for Trump’s White House only grew during the pandemic. He also knew and admired Dr. Anthony S. Fauci for many years.
At the same time, Ms. Cheney publicly supported Dr. Fauci and appeared to be trolling the White House last June when She tweeted “Dick Cheney Says WEAR A MASK” above a photo of her father – who looks like a stoic Westerner – with face covering and cowboy hat (hashtag “#realmenwearmasks”).
She has received notable support in her otherwise solitary endeavors from a number of high-profile figures in the Republican establishment, including many of her father’s old colleagues in the White House. Former President George W. Bush – through a spokesman – thanked Mr. Cheney “for the service of his daughter” in a phone call to his former Vice President on his 80th birthday in January.
Ms. Cheney voted for Mr. Trump in November but immediately regretted it. In their view, Mr Trump’s behavior after the election went irreversibly outside the box. “For Liz it was like that, I just can’t do it anymore,” said former Republican MP Barbara Comstock, Virginia.
A presidential run in 2024?
Ms. Cheney returned to Washington last week, where she had minimal interaction with her former leadership cohorts and was less inhibited to share her somber views on certain Republican counterparts. On Tuesday she criticized Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar for repeating “gross and despicable lies” about the actions of the Capitol Police on January 6th.
“We have people we have entrusted with maintaining the republic who don’t know what the rule of law is,” she said. “We’ll likely need to do constitutional boot camps for newly sworn members of Congress. Clear.”
She said her primary responsibility is now to teach basic civics to voters who have been misinformed by Mr. Trump and other Republicans who should know better. “I’m not naive about the training that needs to take place here,” said Ms. Cheney. “It’s dangerous. It’s not complicated. I think Trump has a plan.”
Ms. Cheney’s own scheme has been the subject of considerable speculation. Although she was re-elected with 44 percentage points in 2020, a potentially treacherous path lies ahead in 2022. Several Wyoming Republicans have already announced plans to crack down on Ms. Cheney, and her race is sure to become some of the most haunted in the country over the next year. It will also provide a visible platform for their campaign to ensure Mr. Trump “never gets anywhere near the Oval Office” – a company that could plausibly include a long-term major bid against him in 2024.
Friends say that at one point – January 6 – events had overcome all church political concerns for Ms. Cheney. “Maybe I’m a little Pollyanna here, but I think Liz is playing the long game,” said Matt Micheli, a Cheyenne attorney and former chairman of the Wyoming Republican Party. Ms. Cheney has confirmed this.
“This is something that determines the future of this republic,” she said. “Well, I really don’t know how long that will take.”