Speaking to a room full of Dartmouth College students, Cheney expressed her conviction that former President Donald Trump would refuse to hand over the reins of power if elected to a second term.
“He won’t leave office,” Cheney said. “He already tried not to leave office once. So I think there’s a lot of living in a fantasy world that’s going on with Republicans telling themselves, ‘Look, we’ll vote for him, it won’t be so bad.’ It may well be the last real vote you ever get to cast. It will be that bad.”
What’s more, Cheney looks at her former colleagues in Congress and sees a group of enablers who would happily acquiesce to Trump’s designs and help muscle him back to power if the 2024 election result is in doubt.
The biggest enabler of all, Cheney said, might be her former “good friend” Mike Johnson—the backbencher turned Speaker of the House.
If no presidential candidate is able to secure 270 electoral votes in November, the decision could head to a House floor controlled by Johnson, the architect of the House GOP’s legal efforts to swing the last election to Trump.
“I think we need to be concerned about a Mike Johnson speakership, particularly in an instance where there’s a contested election,” Cheney said on Friday. “It’s a dangerous situation if the Republicans are in the majority.”
Ever since losing re-election in 2022 to a Trump-backed primary challenger, Cheney has made it her mission to stop him from returning to the White House in 2024. But in her appearance in New Hampshire—where Trump is hoping for a major victory in the Jan. 23 primary election—the onetime member of Republican royalty issued some of her most blistering criticism yet of the former president and a party establishment that is falling in lockstep behind him.
Cheney was adamant the current iteration of the Republican Party cannot be trusted, describing the recent flood of GOP lawmakers to endorse Trump as “un-American” and “fundamentally at odds with the rule of law.”
Perhaps seeking to reach those who believe Congress could provide a check on a second Trump presidency, Cheney made her assessment clear.
“I’m not sure who they think in Congress is gonna stop him,” Cheney said, in one of her biggest applause lines of the evening. “J.D. Vance? No. Mike Johnson? We’ve discussed that.”
Though Kevin McCarthy, Cheney’s ally-turned-enemy in GOP leadership, has left Congress, she still continued to torch the California Republican for his extensive efforts to rehabilitate Trump after Jan. 6.
In her remarks, Cheney claimed McCarthy only turned back to Trump after the Capitol insurrection because campaign donations from corporate America put him in a position where “he needed [Trump’s] small dollar donors list” in order to raise money to recapture the House in 2022.
As for Johnson, Cheney recalled being friendly neighbors with him in the Cannon House Office Building. But at Dartmouth, she expanded on recollections in her new book about Johnson and his spearheading of the House GOP’s legal efforts to challenge Joe Biden’s 2020 election effort ahead of Jan. 6.
The future Speaker, Cheney said, “was willing to do things he knew to be wrong. That involved both encouraging members of the House to sign onto this amicus brief… and then when we got to the objections, it was the same thing over again.”
Like many—but not all—of her Democratic allies, Cheney is supportive of recent moves by state officials to block Trump from competing in the 2024 elections. On Friday, she praised Colorado and Maine’s moves to remove Trump from the primary ballot under the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, arguing its provision on prohibiting those who “engaged in insurrection” from public office is cut and dry.
“I believe that his actions do fit the plain meaning of the Constitution, the plain language,” Cheney said when asked by Jessica Chiriboga, Dartmouth’s student body president, whether he should be disqualified from office. “I do not believe he should be a part of our political process.”
In recent speeches and interviews promoting her book, Cheney has refused to rule out a third-party bid for the presidency herself, all while insisting she would take no step that would help Trump win.
Cheney’s stop in New Hampshire was originally planned for last fall, when her appearance in the early primary state might have been far more conspicuous. Still, her 2024 plans drew interest at Dartmouth.
When Chiriboga asked if she would pursue a presidential bid, Cheney said she would make a decision in the coming months. “I’m going to do whatever the most effective thing is to ensure Donald Trump is not going to be elected,” she said.
With Trump drawing closer to winning the GOP nomination a third consecutive time, Cheney was candid in re-assessing her past support of the man she now decries as a danger to democracy.
After Jan. 6, Cheney expressed regret over her 2020 vote for Trump. On Friday, however, she said she wished she’d never supported him at all in the first place.
“Look, I think our country would be better off had he never been president,” Cheney said, “and I certainly wish that I had not supported him.”
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