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The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her 

The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her 
© Greg Nash

Congresswoman Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyLiz Cheney hired security after death threats: report Cheney: 'It is disgusting and despicable' to see Gosar 'lie' about Jan. 6 GOP's Stefanik defends Trump DOJ secret subpoenas MORE (R-Wyo.) is the latest in a long line of bona fide conservatives to publicly challenge the doctrine of the modern-day Republican Party. The third-ranking Republican in the U.S. House joined nine GOP colleagues to impeach outgoing President Donald TrumpDonald TrumpWhat blue wave? A close look at Texas today tells of a different story Democrats go down to the wire with Manchin Trump's former bodyguard investigated in NY prosectors' probe: report MORE for inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection. In the aftermath, Trump urged his party to “get rid of her” and promised to endorse a primary challenger, the Wyoming Republican Party censured her, and party colleagues tried to strip her of her leadership role.

Given the increasingly hostile war of words between Cheney and GOP House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyHillicon Valley: Cyber agency says SolarWinds hack could have been deterred | Civil rights groups urge lawmakers to crack down on Amazon's 'dangerous' worker surveillance | Manchin-led committee puts forth sprawling energy infrastructure proposal Chuck Todd reluctant to 'ban' election deniers from 'Meet the Press' GOP divided over bills targeting tech giants MORE (R-Calif.), as well as Rep. Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikWhite House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine Canadian ambassador calls for close coordination in handling of US border Five takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision MORE’s (R-N.Y.) reported effort to replace Cheney as the party’s Conference Chair as early as next week, it’s fair to wonder if Cheney’s political peak has passed.

Because ever since Trump took over the Republican Party, the MAGA script has been fairly consistent:

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Step 1 – A leading conservative speaks out against Trump.

Step 2 – Trump verbally obliterates his newly identified adversary.

Step 3 – The adversary, outnumbered and outgunned, stops fighting and fades into political oblivion.

We watched this scenario play out in the 2015-2016 Republican primaries with Jeb Bush and Carly Fiorina, both of whom Trump attacked mercilessly. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeOn The Trail: Arizona is microcosm of battle for the GOP Trump looms large over fractured Arizona GOP Why Republican politicians are sticking with Trump MORE (R-Ariz.) and Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  MORE (R-Tenn.) opted to retire from the Senate after finishing on the losing end of Trump battles. In nearly every instance, party members largely have watched from the sidelines, fearing what would happen if Trump turned on them, too.

Some Republicans who attacked Trump — like senators Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Defense: Senate panel delays Iraq war powers repeal | Study IDs Fort Hood as least-safe base for female soldiers | Pentagon loosens some COVID-19 restrictions Senate panel delays war authorization repeal after GOP push Eliminate family and child poverty: Richard Nixon may help in today's debate MORE (R-Fla.), Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenate Republicans: Newly proposed ATF rules could pave way for national gun registry DeSantis tops Trump in 2024 presidential straw poll White House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine MORE (R-Tex.), and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's Equilibrium — Presented by NextEra Energy — Tasmanian devil wipes out penguin population The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden support, gas tax questions remain on infrastructure This week: Senate set for voting rights fight MORE (R-S.C.) — eventually calculated that their political careers were more important than their beliefs; they avoided Step 3 by pivoting quickly from adversary to accomplice, thereby embracing MAGA so as not to be crushed by it.

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Yet Cheney’s case seems to be different. 

Maybe it’s because Trump lost the power to control the news cycle with a tweet or a White House press briefing. Maybe it’s because McCarthy lacks the experience and/or acumen to subdue subordinates. Or maybe it’s because she’s a Cheney.

We watched Jeb Bush get flustered during the 2016 campaign. Trump repeatedly rattled him, and the early-on frontrunner never recovered. But Cheneys are not known to get flustered. They are seemingly immune to criticism. They believe in their rightness as much as Trump believes in his — probably more so.

Cheney’s case might be different because unlike her failed predecessors, she doesn’t seem to care what anyone thinks of her. And according to the latest reports, she doesn't care about keeping her leadership post if Republicans continue to revere the "Big Lie" more than fact-based governing. Such disdain for customary Washington power-mongering makes her far more dangerous and represents a seismic shift in her approach to politics. For example, in her first run for elected office, she made the seemingly audacious decision to briefly challenge popular three-term Sen. Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziThe unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the National Shooting Sports Foundation - CDC news on gatherings a step toward normality Lummis adopts 'laser eyes' meme touting Bitcoin MORE (R-Wyo.) in the 2014 primary. Soon after joining the U.S. House, she was already being viewed as a potential future Speaker. Cheney’s fearless ambition sets her apart. Because she so firmly believes in herself, she won’t be diminished without a fight.

She could have fled, like so many of Trump’s vanquished foes. Or she could have accepted defeat, bowed down to MAGA, and lived a political life unaligned with her beliefs.

Instead, with her career at a tipping point, Cheney is doubling down with one card in her back pocket: She received 70 percent support in February’s House GOP secret ballot on whether to remove her as Conference Chair. 

Publicly this remains Trump’s party. But privately, there might be a different calculus at play. In the last four years Republicans lost the presidency, the House, and the Senate. Perhaps they’re still not ready to demote one of the only conservatives who insists their party deserves better than Trump.

B.J. Rudell is a longtime political strategist, former associate director for Duke University’s Center for Politics, and recent North Carolina Democratic Party operative. In a career encompassing stints on Capitol Hill, on presidential campaigns, in a newsroom, in classrooms, and for a consulting firm, he has authored three books and has shared political insights across all media platforms, including for CNN and Fox News.