Schmidt is a syndicated columnist and Editorial Board member with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. Following her Republican primary defeat on Aug. 16, Rep. Liz Cheney referenced Lincoln’s words while introducing the establishment of her new leadership PAC, called The Great Task. This great task that Cheney is undertaking is enormous and it will require innovative political tactics.
I propose thinking of the Great Task as a triangle, whose mission is to save our democracy. The three angles are all important on their own, but would yield the greatest benefit if they all work together. The first angle is as Cheney has already laid out: keeping Donald Trump from ever becoming president again. The second is the reminder to all Americans of our shared values and the significance of the freedoms we cherish. The third, and probably the most difficult to accomplish (perhaps even impossible), is addressing the disease ailing the Republican Party.
As a part of her concession speech, Cheney told the crowd gathered in Jackson Hole: “We must be very clear-eyed about the threat we face and about what is required to defeat it. I have said since January 6, that I will do whatever it takes to make sure Donald Trump is never again anywhere near the Oval Office.” Cheney is not afraid to point out Trump’s ongoing efforts to dismantle our democratic system as well as his constant attacks on the foundations and institutions of our republic. Much of that work may come from Cheney’s role as vice chair of the Jan. 6 select committee.
Cheney remains committed to calling out the lies and conspiracies surrounding the 2020 election and has added that she plans to help defeat Republican election deniers during the upcoming midterms. Cheney understands that our elections are foundational to our freedoms and if we do not shutdown election deniers, the United States may never recover.
Cheney might have the most success with The Great Task by working from within the federal government. There is a way. But it is a long shot – a very long shot – on multiple fronts. If the Democrats manage to hold onto their majority in the House of Representatives in the midterms, they should nominate Cheney for speaker of the House. Not as a Democrat but as an independent. This action would be a bold signal that Democrats are more committed to saving our democracy than pushing through an agenda. Cheney has proven she can work as a bipartisan, good faith actor through her work on the Jan. 6 committee.
This unconventional plan would require an extraordinary amount of trust. Then again, our republic is facing an extraordinary crisis. The action would be the ultimate example of putting country over party. As a bonus, it might also help restore some level of trust in our institutions.
According to a recent NBC poll, registered voters in the United States say that the top issue on their minds is the threats facing our democracy. Twenty-one percent of voters ranked "threats to democracy" as the most critical matter facing the country, while 16 percent chose "cost of living." In third was "jobs and the economy," at 14 percent. The same poll also showed that 57 percent of voters believe that the investigations into Trump's alleged misconduct should continue.
The rise in democracy as a voting issue may be due to the televised Jan. 6 hearings. Perhaps they have primed the electorate and reminded us of what our republic stands for and how it works. Cheney seems to know how to use soaring rhetoric to keep this momentum going. Following her defeat, Cheney addressed the crowd with these words: “Let us resolve that we will stand together — Republicans, Democrats, and independents — against those who would destroy our republic. They are angry and they are determined, but they have not seen anything like the power of Americans united in defense of our Constitution and committed to the cause of freedom. There is no greater power on this earth. And with God's help, we will prevail.”
The ills that afflict the Republican Party run deep. There is no quick fix here — it will likely take multiple election cycles before we see a healthier GOP again. A GOP which is based on substance, principles and ideas, and not a cult of personality around one man. This will not be popular with Republican base voters or with Republican elected officials but is a necessary step in our two-party system. Cheney understands that one of the underlying causes of the disorder infecting the Republican Party is constant lies that voters are being fed. This illness, in my opinion, will be the most difficult part of the Great Task.
No matter how you define “great,” Cheney’s mission encompasses all of them. It may also be how we end up defining her.