A televised clash between Liz Cheney and Donald Trump on the prime-time debate stage would be ratings gold for networks eager to cash in on the lucrative ad revenue that presidential campaigns bring the media every four years. But the Republican National Committee (RNC) can’t let that happen.
Does anybody really think Cheney, who was disowned by the Republican Party in the nation’s reddest state, will meet a significant polling threshold to quality for any one of the debates? The ex-Wyoming lawmaker will split the fringe Never Trumper vote with Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, if the former Massachusetts governor-turned-western senator were to launch a third shot at the White House. If not Romney, she’ll split the small pot of voters with whoever else runs in the same vein. Former White House National Security Advisor John Bolton already said he’ll “seriously consider” jumping into the race.
Cheney cannot stand on the same debate stage as the former president. But it’s not about Trump. It’s about Republican voters.
Few actions could be more offensive to the party base than to allow legacy networks to manipulate the polls in a way that gives Cheney — the leader of the congressional Jan. 6 witch hunt who depended on Democrats in her Wyoming primary last summer — an opportunity to turn the presidential debate stage into even more of a circus as the donkey in the spotlight.
Candidates have traditionally qualified for televised debates by the virtue of their poll numbers. There are all sorts of ways networks can jack up a candidate’s poll numbers, from their lineup in the questionnaire to the phrasing of survey questions. While Cheney hasn’t announced any sort of presidential campaign quite yet, she’s certainly preparing. After an overwhelming 37-point defeat in the Wyoming congressional primary, which would have been far wider had Democrats not crossed party lines to back the incumbent, Cheney launched a political action committee complete with a seven-figure cash sum.
The RNC needs to pass a measure that blocks legacy networks from hijacking the party’s debates to place Cheney on stage. If she couldn’t win a Republican primary in Wyoming, there’s not a chance she’ll capture the 2024 presidential nomination. Any campaign is guaranteed to be nothing more than a performance to make a statement and get attention — not a serious White House effort. Any debate that places Cheney on stage is a move by networks to screw with the Republican Party while milking the ad revenue.
The first Republican primary debate for the 2024 election is just months away. While no exact date has been set, the first televised match-up of the 2016 GOP contest was Aug. 6, 2015, more than a year before the general election.
The RNC needs a rule change to keep Cheney off the platform. She would be nothing but a distraction from the issues while a ratings-hungry press corps amplifies her every word just as they did last Congress. The party should just own it too, and call the new qualification guidelines the “Cheney Rule,” where candidates who were recently tossed out of their own party by their home state central committees are barred from the platform. The rule change would signal party leadership’s commitment to the base, while sticking it to networks no doubt aiming to profit off of division within the GOP.