Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, Donald Trump’s fiercest Republican adversary in Congress, was defeated in a GOP primary Tuesday, falling to a rival backed by the former president in a contest that reinforced his grip on the party’s base.
The third-term congresswoman and her allies entered the day downbeat about her prospects, aware that Trump’s backing gave Harriet Hageman considerable lift in the state where he won by the largest margin during the 2020 campaign. Cheney was already looking ahead to a political future beyond Capitol Hill that could include a 2024 presidential run, potentially putting her on another collision course with Trump.
Cheney described her loss as the beginning of a new chapter in her political career as she addressed a small collection of supporters, including her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, on the edge of a vast field flanked by mountains and bales of hay.
“Our work is far from over,” she said Tuesday evening. Hinting at a presidential bid of her own, she later added, “I have said since Jan. 6 that I will do whatever it takes to ensure Donald Trump is never again anywhere near the Oval Office — and I mean it.”
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The results — and the roughly 30-point margin — were a powerful reminder of the GOP’s rapid shift to the right. A party once dominated by national security-oriented, business-friendly conservatives like her father now belongs to Trump, animated by his populist appeal and, above all, his denial of defeat in the 2020 election.
Such lies, which have been roundly rejected by federal and state election officials along with Trump’s own attorney general and judges he appointed, transformed Cheney from an occasional critic of the former president to the clearest voice inside the GOP warning that he represents a threat to democratic norms. She's the top Republican on the House panel investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by a mob of Trump supporters, an attack she referenced in nodding to her political future.
“I have said since Jan. 6 that I will do whatever it takes to ensure Donald Trump is never again anywhere near the Oval Office — and I mean it," she said.
Four hundred miles to the east, festive Hageman supporters gathered at a sprawling outdoor rodeo and Western culture festival in Cheyenne, many wearing cowboy boots, hats and blue jeans.
“Obviously we’re all very grateful to President Trump, who recognizes that Wyoming has only one congressional representative and we have to make it count,” said Hageman, a ranching industry attorney who had finished third in a previous bid for governor.
Echoing Trump’s conspiracy theories, she falsely claimed the 2020 election was “rigged” as she courted his loyalists in the runup to the election.
Trump and his team celebrated Cheney’s loss, which may represent his biggest political victory in a primary season full of them. The former president called the results “a complete rebuke” of the Jan. 6 committee.
Cheney’s defeat would have been unthinkable just two years ago. The daughter of a former vice president, she hails from one of the most prominent political families in Wyoming. And in Washington, she was the No. 3 House Republican, an influential voice in GOP politics and policy with a sterling conservative voting record.
But after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of Trump supporters, Cheney voted to impeach Trump and made it her primary mission to ensure he never again serves in the Oval Office. She pushed past GOP censures and death threats to serve as a leader on the congressional panel investigating Trump’s role in the insurrection.
Cheney will now be forced from Congress at the end of her third and final term in January. She is not expected to leave Capitol Hill quietly.
She will continue in her leadership role on the congressional panel investigating the Jan. 6 attack until it dissolves at the end of the year. And she is actively considering a 2024 White House bid -- as a Republican or independent -- having vowed to do everything in her power to fight Trump’s influence in her party.
So far, it is a one-sided fight.
Tuesday’s primary contests in Wyoming and, to a lesser extent, Alaska demonstrated the enduring strength of Trump and his brand of hard-line politics ahead of the November midterm elections. So far, the former president has helped install loyalists who parrot his conspiracy theories in general election matchups from Pennsylvania to Arizona.
In Alaska, another Trump ally, former Gov. Sarah Palin, hoped to step into the national spotlight Tuesday as well.
The 58-year-old 2008 vice presidential nominee was actually on the ballot twice: once in a special election to complete former Rep. Don Young’s term and another for a full two-year House term starting in January.
On the other side of the GOP’s tent, a periodic Trump critic, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, had an opportunity to survive the former president’s ire, even after voting to convict him in his second impeachment trial. The top four Senate candidates in Alaska, regardless of party, will advance to the November general election, where voters will rank them in order of preference.
With Cheney’s loss, Republicans who voted to impeach Trump are going extinct.
In all, seven Republican senators and 10 Republican House members backed Trump’s impeachment in the days after his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol as Congress tried to certify President Joe Biden’s victory. Just two of those 10 House members have won their primaries this year. After two Senate retirements, Murkowski remains the only such Senate Republican on this year’s ballot.
In Wyoming, Cheney had been forced to seek assistance from the state’s tiny Democratic minority. But Democrats across America, major donors among them, took notice. She raised at least $15 million for her election, a stunning figure for a Wyoming political contest.
Voters responded to the interest in the race. With a little more than half of the vote counted, turnout ran about 50% higher than in the 2018 Republican primary for governor.
But the makeup of Wyoming’s deeply Republican electorate was too much to overcome. As of Aug. 1, 2022, there were 285,000 registered voters in Wyoming, including 40,000 Democrats and 208,000 Republicans. Trump earned nearly 70% of the vote in 2016 and 2020.
If Cheney does ultimately run for president — either as a Republican or an independent — don’t expect her to win Wyoming’s three electoral votes.
“We like Trump. She tried to impeach Trump,” Cheyenne voter Chester Barkell said of Cheney on Tuesday. “I don’t trust Liz Cheney.”
And in Jackson, Republican voter Dan Winder said he felt betrayed by his congresswoman.
“Over 70% of the state of Wyoming voted Republican in the last presidential election and she turned right around and voted against us,” said Winder, a hotel manager. “She was our representative, not her own.”
There was no sign that the FBI’s recent search of Trump’s Florida estate played any role in Tuesday’s elections.
Just eight days ago, the FBI recovered 11 sets of classified records from Trump’s home. Some were marked “sensitive compartmented information,” a special category meant to protect the nation’s most important secrets. Republicans across the country initially rallied behind the former president, although the reaction turned somewhat mixed as more details emerged.
Anti-Trump Republicans across the country cheered Cheney’s willingness to challenge Trump even as they expressed disappointment in her loss.
“What’s remarkable is that in the face of almost certain defeat she’s never once wavered,” said Sarah Longwell, executive director of the Republican Accountability Project. “We’ve been watching a national American figure be forged. It’s funny how small the election feels — the Wyoming election — because she feels bigger than it now.”
Peoples reported from New York. AP writer Thomas Peipert in Cheyenne contributed.