Former GOP Loyalist Liz Cheney is Now Campaigning for the Democrats

Representative Liz Cheney’s speech to a packed gym here on Tuesday night wasn’t exactly a barn burner as far as political speeches go. But her message was very serious, and the reason she went there was unusual for a Wyoming Republican: she wanted to help re-elect Representative Elissa Slotkin, a Democrat from Michigan.

“The chips are down for us. This is our time of testing,” Ms. Cheney told a crowd of Democrats who were quick with their applause. “We all must stand and defend the republic.”

Ms. Cheney was campaigning for a Democrat for the first time in her political life, she said. Her appearance is part of a larger last-ditch effort by Republican opponents of former President Donald J. Trump to stop his political movement from making a comeback in the midterm elections next week, even if that means endorsing and campaigning for Democrats and independents in key states and House districts.

But the question still stands: If Democrats have spent months trying to make the midterm elections in 2022 more important and to show voters that issues like inflation have to take a back seat to more important ones like the future of the republic, why would a ragtag group of Never Trump Republicans led by Ms. Cheney succeed?

“I believe that protecting our democracy is the ultimate kitchen table issue,” Ms. Slotkin implored after conceding that it is not the first subject that comes up with her constituents. “In fact, it’s not the kitchen table. Our democracy is the foundation of the home in which the kitchen table sits.”

As time runs out, people from both sides are trying to get this message across. In Utah, Republicans who don’t like Trump are helping Evan McMullin, an independent former intelligence officer, get rid of Senator Mike Lee. Ms. Cheney is telling people in Arizona to vote against the Republicans running for governor and secretary of state on the radio. On the internet and on TV, many anti-Trump groups that are still officially Republicans have argued that this year, for the sake of representative democracy, voters should vote for the Democrats.

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“If we want to ensure the survival of the republic, we have to walk away from politics as usual,” Ms. Cheney said. Republicans were hard to find in the gym of East Lansing High School, but there were a few, like Jennifer Schlosser of Mason, Mich., who could help Ms. Slotkin win her close race next Tuesday.

“I hate Trump, hands down,” Ms. Schlosser, 48, said. “I fully support Liz Cheney and all she’s done to bring what he did to light.” But even Ms. Slotkin had to admit that a message to save the republic might not be enough in the current political climate, with inflation and economic uncertainty looming large.

But it was enough to get Ms. Cheney to come to town. Once one of the most loyal party members in the House, Ms. Cheney, the daughter of a famously conservative vice president, went from leading the House Republican Conference to endorsing leading Democrats in less than a year and a half. This is one of the most surprising changes of the Trump era.

In an ad running in Arizona and paid for by Ms. Cheney’s political action committee, she tells Republicans to vote against the party’s candidates for governor, Kari Lake, and secretary of state, Mark Finchem, because they are bad for democracy.

“I don’t know that I have ever voted for a Democrat, but if I lived in Arizona, I absolutely would,” she says in the ad. On a tour of Ohio and Michigan on Tuesday, she said she would vote for Tim Ryan, a Democrat, over J.D. Vance, a Republican, in the Senate race in that state. She said this because Vance said the 2020 election was stolen.

Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, the only Republican on the House committee looking into the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, is on the same path.

On Oct. 22, Mr. Kinzinger went to the Salt Lake City Public Library to support former C.I.A. officer Evan McMullin’s independent campaign to get rid of Utah Senator Mike Lee, who supported Mr. Trump’s efforts to stay in office after the 2020 election. In a private text message to Mark Meadows, the chief of staff at the White House, Mr. Lee said that he had “a group of ready and loyal advocates who will go to bat for him.”

Declaring that “democracy is on the line,” Mr. Kinzinger told Utah voters last month, “This is the best opportunity I see in the country, and I mean that, to send a message, to build something new, to send somebody that can change the status quo.”

His Country First political group has backed a group of “defenders of democracy” from both parties. This group includes the Democratic candidates for governor in Pennsylvania and Arizona, Josh Shapiro and Katie Hobbs, as well as the Democratic candidates for secretary of state in Arizona, Nevada, Michigan, and Minnesota. But the political action committee hasn’t spent much money, and neither has Ms. Cheney’s PAC, The Great Task, other than the money it spent on her failed attempt to keep from losing the Republican primary this summer.

Several other groups that are still technically part of the Republican Party, like the Lincoln Project, are making fun of the party they have drifted away from on social media and in TV ads in order to get disenchanted Republicans and independents to leave the party. The Republican Accountability Project has been collecting comments from Republican voters who are unhappy with their party. These comments are then put on billboards and in ads.

“Whether we as a country will be able to defend our system of self-government in the coming years, even in the next two cycles, will depend on whether we can bring together Republicans, Democrats and independents who are still committed to American democracy, to the Constitution and to the reality of objective truth,” Mr. McMullin said in an interview on Monday. “Are the votes there? Yes, they are there. Can we bring them together? That is that is the challenge.”

In this way, what gives Ms. Cheney and Mr. Kinzinger power is their own stories of disobedience and being kicked out. Ms. Cheney hasn’t given out many endorsements. When she does, it’s usually for races she thinks to pose the biggest threat to democracy or for Democratic candidates she knows and trusts. But that makes Tuesday’s event even more important for candidates like Ms. Slotkin.

Sarah Longwell, a Republican pollster who helped start the Republican Accountability Project, said, “For vulnerable Democrats in really close races, a lot of those voters are college-educated swing voters who value the independence of candidates, and there’s extra validation from a Liz Cheney or Adam Kinzinger saying, ‘Hey, this Republican opponent is beyond the pale.'”

Republicans are not so sure about that. Ms. Cheney, in particular, has become such a lightning rod for Republicans that party campaign workers here said her presence in Michigan would do more to get Trump voters to vote for the Republican in the race, State Senator Tom Barrett, than convince undecided voters to vote for Ms. Slotkin.

Mr. Barrett was angry that Ms. Cheney was in Central Michigan. On Monday, he asked Harriet Hageman, the woman who beat Ms. Cheney in the Republican primary in Wyoming in August, to join a call with the media. Mr. Barrett wanted to frame Ms. Cheney’s visit not around election denial, Jan. 6, and the fate of democracy, but around his military service and the role Ms. Cheney and her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, have played in promoting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The Cheney family has never seen a war that they won’t send other people’s kids to go fight,” Mr. Barrett said. Mr. Barrett has been an Army helicopter pilot for 21 years. He hasn’t made denying the election a big part of his campaign, and Mr. Trump hasn’t backed him. But he has questioned the outcome of the 2020 election and was one of a small group of state legislators who met with Mr. Trump to talk about ways to keep Michigan’s electors from voting for Mr. Biden.

He still says that the integrity of the election in Michigan is “an unknown thing.” By choosing Ms. Hageman as a surrogate, he gave the microphone to a person who has been spreading the lie that the election was stolen over and over again.

She first said that reporters had been “beating this drum pretty much nonstop since 2020” to “take attention away from the failures of this administration.” She then asked about “Mark Zuckerberg’s money” and claims that the Facebook founder had hidden news about President Biden’s son Hunter Biden to help Mr. Biden win.

“It’s legitimate to ask questions about what happened,” she said. Before Ms. Cheney arrived on Tuesday, the Barrett campaign put together its own group of supporters. They included former Representative Pete Hoekstra from western Michigan, Representative Jack Bergman from the state’s Upper Peninsula, and State Representative Bob Bezotte. None of them were as famous as Ms. Cheney.

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