Liz Cheney’s defeat in Wyoming fueled by Trump

Liz Cheney lost Tuesday night. The question is whether it was a battle or a war.

The immediate political fate of the Wyoming three-term congressman was a foregone conclusion; public polls have consistently had Cheney trailing his Donald Trump-backed opponent Harriet Hageman, and the large margins – 65-31% with 59% of votes reported – were also no surprise.

Instead, Cheney had sought to characterize his race as part of an existential struggle for American democracy that pitted him against Trump. His closing ad featured his father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, speak directly to the camera and insisting that “in the 246-year history of our nation, there has never been an individual who poses a greater threat to our republic than Donald Trump.”

In her remarks after her defeat on Tuesday, Cheney backtracked on that message, showing her willingness to target Trump and the Republicans who cheer him on. “Two years ago, I won this primary with 73% of the vote,” she said. “I could have easily done the same thing again. The path was clear. But I would have had to accept President Trump’s lie about the 2020 election. I would have had to allow his continued efforts to untangle our democratic system and attacking the foundations of our republic was a path that I could not and did not want to take.

Cheney repeatedly referenced the Civil War and drew comparisons to the current political climate in the United States. “Our nation is once again heading towards crisis, anarchy and violence,” she said. She then apparently declared war on much of the Republican Party – which nominated candidates who echoed Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election across the country – adding: ‘No American should support Holocaust deniers for a position of real responsibility.”

Cheney received her loudest applause near the end of her remarks when she told the crowd, “I have said since January 6 that I will do whatever it takes to ensure that Donald Trump is never around again. from the Oval Office. And I mean it.

In contrast, a Trump spokesperson posted an edited video on Twitter of the former president dancing to the late 1960s hit “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.”

A long-running internal dispute between factions of the Wyoming Republican Party deeply shaped how voters in Cowboy State decided on Cheney’s race. But it captured national attention as a referendum on Trump’s position and influence in the GOP. After all, Cheney, the daughter of the former vice president and former House Republican Conference speaker, had seemingly impeccable conservative credentials — except, of course, for her vocal and vocal opposition to Trump in the aftermath of the January 6 attack on the Capitol. She was one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach the former president and became a complete apostate when she became vice chair of the Jan. 6 committee.

In that light, the loss of Cheney is certainly a setback for Never Trump forces within the Republican Party, but leaves the Wyoming congressman’s ongoing fight to make Trump persona non grata within the GOP unresolved. Cheney will have five more months to continue his work on the Jan. 6 committee without a campaign over his head. Then, as Ahab pursued Moby Dick after leaving the Pequod for a whaleboat, she can continue to target Trump as a private citizen even without his seat in Congress.

Cheney has further raised his national profile over the past two years as the main Republican opponent of Trump and will be able to build on a range of major donors opposed to Trump as well as a tremendous campaign war chest with more than $7 million still available just weeks before the primary. Whether it’s via a super PAC or a kamikaze presidential campaign or something else, Cheney has more options than the typical anti-Trump Republican leaving Congress for a cable news gig.

While Cheney reaffirmed “I am a conservative Republican” in her remarks on Tuesday, she presented herself to a nonpartisan audience of all Americans opposed to Trump. “Determine that we will stand together, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, against those who would destroy our republic.”

Local factors mattered in Tuesday’s race. Wyoming has seen a long-running internal conflict between a more traditional GOP establishment and a more ardently conservative new guard within the party. Cheney, as the daughter of a former vice president, was destined by birth to be in the first camp. She also had personal baggage. Her crusade against Trump alienated the people of Wyoming not just because they were die-hard MAGA loyalists, but because it seemed she overlooked key local and parochial issues for the national spotlight. Hageman’s announcements didn’t just slap Cheney for being anti-Trump; they also used it as a way to indicate that the three-term holder was out of touch with voters. Cheney also angered local Republicans in 2013 when she launched an abortive primary campaign against incumbent Sen. Mike Enzi that focused heavily on her family heritage.

Cheney is the first federal incumbent from Wyoming to lose a primary since another political descendant, William Henry Harrison III, lost his primary for Congress in 1968. While Harrison had notable political pedigree (his grandfather and his great-great-grandfather both served as president), he had little else in common with Liz Cheney. Former Wyoming Gov. Mike Sullivan, a Democrat, called him ‘kind of a weak link’ and doesn’t think there’s ‘a comparison’ to Cheney, for whom he changed his party registration to vote on Tuesday.