Liz Cheney's plea: 'Our focus has got to be on defeating Donald Trump' in 2024

Al Drago/ABC

Former Republican Rep. Liz Cheney has issued a stark warning to the nation not to reelect Donald Trump to the presidency, arguing that thwarting the former commander in chief's comeback bid must be the "focus" across the political spectrum.

"There's a lot that has to be done to begin to rebuild the Republican Party, potentially to build a new conservative party," Cheney told ABC "This Week" co-anchor Jonathan Karl in an interview that aired Sunday. "But in my view, that has to wait until after the 2024 election because our focus has got to be on defeating Donald Trump."

Cheney, author of the new book "Oath and Honor: A Memoir and a Warning," said she hasn't "ruled anything out" when asked if running as a third-party candidate next year is a possibility, but she stressed that she would not "do something that has the impact of helping Donald Trump."

Democrats have contended that third-party candidates would only hurt President Joe Biden and benefit Trump in the general election, if he is the Republican nominee. They have particular animosity toward No Labels, a group working to secure ballot access across the country as it weighs putting forward an independent, bipartisan "unity ticket" made up of one Republican and one Democrat as the presidential and vice presidential nominees.

Cheney believes that because there are several third-party candidates already in the race -- like Cornel West, Jill Stein and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. -- that even without a No Labels ticket, there is still going to be "a fractured electorate," so the principal question remains: "What do we do to defeat the man who is an existential threat to our republic?"

The former three-term Wyoming congresswoman and member of Republican leadership said that it's also "crucially important in this next cycle ... to elect candidates who believe in the Constitution" to ensure that the peaceful transfer of power is completed after the next election, including on Jan. 6, 2025, when Congress will be tasked with counting the electoral votes submitted by the states -- the final step before the next inauguration.

"I've expressed very clearly my view that having Mike Johnson as the speaker, having this Republican majority in charge, you can't count on them to defend the Constitution at this moment," Cheney said.

Johnson joined with more than 100 other House Republicans in 2020 in supporting a lawsuit to overturn Biden's win in some key swing states; Johnson and numerous other Republicans also voted against certifying the 2020 election results. After winning the speakership, Johnson declined to say whether he stood by that.

In her new book, Cheney writes about how she came to believe Trump needed to be impeached as the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol was unfolding and lawmakers were being whisked out of the chambers to safety. As the House Republican Conference chair at the time of the riot, Cheney ended up being the highest-ranking Republican -- and one of just 10 Republicans total -- to vote to impeach Trump on Jan. 13, 2021.

He has repeatedly maintained he did nothing wrong and was ultimately acquitted by Senate Republicans in a 57-43 vote, but Cheney continued to speak out against Trump, arguing he bore responsibility for the Jan. 6 attack.

Before losing her 2022 primary to a Trump-endorsed challenger, she served as vice chair of the House select committee investigating that attack.

Trump, for his part, has long criticized Cheney as well. He wrote in a recent social media post that she was "crazy" and has called her "smug."

In a March 18, 2021, interview, Karl asked Trump if he really wanted to go to the Capitol on Jan. 6, as the riot was unfolding.

"I was thinking about going back during the problem, to stop the problem, doing it myself. Secret Service didn't like that idea too much. And you know what? I would have been very well received," Trump said, according to Karl's latest book, "Tired of Winning."

"Don't forget -- the people that went to Washington that day, in my opinion, they went because they thought the election was rigged," Trump said then.

Karl asked Cheney in Sunday's interview: "Isn't that right there an admission by Trump himself of his own culpability?"

"Yes," Cheney said. "One of the things that's really important throughout all of this is Donald Trump's intent. And we see again and again sort of the premeditation for this whole plan, the premeditation to claim victory, but also the fact that while the mob, the violence, was underway and the electoral vote was stopped -- the armed mob at that point was carrying out his wishes."

Three days after Jan. 6, Karl spoke to then-House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. In that interview, McCarthy told him, "What's real crazy is back in our district, there's tons of people who are ready to storm the Capitol again. I just don't know about these people."

Cheney told Karl that, behind closed doors, McCarthy initially "was being responsible" but then changed course.

"One of the things that was striking to me in writing the book was it was absolutely clear in those days, just after the sixth, on the calls that we were having in leadership, Kevin McCarthy was very clear and very strong about the potential for violence against members of the House," Cheney said. "He actually understood reality and was being responsible in the beginning. But it didn't take long until the political necessity of appeasing Donald Trump caused him to take a different path."

A McCarthy spokesman said in a recent statement to CNN, responding to Cheney's book, that she had "McCarthy Derangement Syndrome."

Not even a month after the attack, which McCarthy had said Trump "bears responsibility" for, McCarthy visited Trump at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, a move that was seen by many as re-legitimizing Trump's place in the Republican Party.

Cheney and others who have publicly taken a stance against Trump and how his influence has changed the Republican Party have faced threats in response. She called that a "sad" reality of the political environment today.

"This isn't sort of the threat of physical violence because of terrorist organizations or outside entities. This is the threat of violence because of a former president of the United States. And I think we have to be very careful as a country that we stop and we think about what that means and the path that we're going down," she said.

Karl asked Cheney what she thinks people will say about her and her legacy, years in the future.

"I hope that they will say she did the right thing and that she put the country ahead of politics and ahead of partisanship at a moment when it really mattered," she said.

"And that project is, in your mind, just getting started?" Karl asked.

"Certainly," Cheney said. "Once we get through this election cycle and we defeat Donald Trump, I think there's clearly a huge amount of work that has to be done to restore, to right the ship of, our democracy."

Sunday, December 10, 2023 at 3:09PM by Quinn Scanlan Permalink