Liz Cheney loses Wyoming Republican primary to Trump-backed candidate
Fierce adversary of former U.S. president vows to keep fighting
Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, Donald Trump's fiercest Republican adversary in Congress, was defeated in a Republican primary on Tuesday, falling to a rival backed by the former U.S. president in a contest that has reinforced Trump's 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."
Nearly 600 kilometres 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.
The results were a powerful reminder of the Republican party'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.
Echoing Trump, Hageman, a ranching industry attorney, falsely claimed the 2020 election was "rigged" as she courted Trump loyalists.
Those 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 party warning that he represents a threat to democratic norms.
"We're facing a moment where our democracy really is under attack and under threat," Cheney told CBS News earlier Tuesday.
"And those of us across the board — Republicans, Democrats and Independents who believe deeply in freedom and who care about the Constitution and the future of the country — have an obligation to put that above party."
Hails from prominent political family
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 Republican 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 Republican 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.
Turnout higher than in 2018 primary
With Cheney's loss, Republicans who voted to impeach Trump are almost 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, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska is the only such Senate Republican on this year's ballot.
Cheney was forced to seek assistance from the state's tiny Democratic minority in her bid to pull off a victory. 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 per cent higher than in the 2018 Republican primary for governor.
If Cheney does ultimately run for president — either as a Republican or an independent — don't expect her to win Wyoming's three electoral college 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 per cent 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."