Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
Wyoming Republican Rep. Liz Cheney conceded defeat in the primary election for her House seat on Tuesday following months of her withering criticism of former President Donald Trump.
“This primary election is over, but now the real work begins,” Cheney said, noting that she had called opponent Harriet Hageman to congratulate her.
Hageman, an attorney endorsed by Trump who once was a Cheney supporter, overtook the incumbent by a wide margin in early returns. In a state that gave Donald Trump his biggest victory in 2020, Hageman is on a glide path to win the seat outright against a Democratic opponent in November.
It was an expected outcome for someone who went from party star and heir to a conservative dynasty to a political outcast — marked by the moment Cheney chose to break with the former president following his role in fomenting a mob to attack the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
Cheney addressed supporters in Jackson Hole, near her home, and one of the few areas in the state where she won the county.
When Liz Cheney chose to run for reelection to her House seat in 2020 instead of making a bid for an open Senate seat, some Republicans speculated she was charting a path to become the first female Republican speaker of the House.
Cheney’s allies assert she could have easily won reelection if she had done what the vast majority of her GOP colleagues in Congress have done — stood in lock step with Trump. Instead, Cheney made the race entirely about her decision to stand up to the former president.
The Trump base is king in GOP primaries
Roughly 70% of Wyoming voted for Trump and Cheney’s repudiation of him became the red line for so many GOP voters who enthusiastically backed her not long ago.
Her final campaign ad zeroed in on her argument that Trump’s lie about the 2020 election being stolen is “insidious” and damaging to democracy.
Mary Martin, chair of the Teton County Republican Party in Wyoming, supported Cheney in the past, but says Cheney’s interaction with voters changed following her sharp break with the former president.
“I have heard personally from folks who were really staunch supporters of Liz Cheney, and contributed lots of money to her in the past, that she’s insulted them,” Martin said, adding that her rhetoric labeling her constituents, “Just her personal approach to this has alienated and turned people off. She is not the only person in Wyoming that supports the Constitution.”
Republican strategist Alice Stewart says Trump’s influence was the ultimate factor in this race.
“Without a doubt, again, when we’re talking about a primary, the base is king, and right now, the base of the Republican Party supports Donald Trump,” she said.
Martin says the race became personal for many: “In Wyoming, trust and loyalty are very high traits. And she has betrayed trust and she’s betrayed loyalty. And she has taken a stance that is perceived by some to be arrogant and not acceptable. And that I mean, it comes down to just, in my opinion, January 6th.”
Hageman proudly touted Trump’s support. He traveled to Casper in May hold a rally for her and labelled Cheney a “RINO” — Republican In Name Only.
While Hageman criss-crossed the state, Cheney held mostly small private campaign events and her aides say security concerns forced a more limited public schedule. Cheney has had a U.S. Capitol Police detail for more than a year due to a steady stream of threats.
Cheney was one of just 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump after the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. With her loss, only two in that group — David Valadao of California and Dan Newhouse of Washington State — will remain on the ballot in November. Three others lost primaries and four chose to retire.
Cheney’s future: Jan. 6 investigation and 2024
Cheney’s public statements hinted for some time she’s focused on the long game. In June, she delivered a blunt broadside at fellow House GOP members still loyal to Trump at the primetime kick off of the public hearings of the House panel probing Jan, 6.
“Tonight, I say this to my Republican colleagues who are defending the indefensible: There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain,” Cheney said.
The panel is still interviewing witnesses and planning more public hearings this fall. It plans to release a report by the end of the year, and Cheney’s position as vice chair gives her a national platform for several more months.
Even before the primary vote, Cheney was showing some signs of positioning for a possible 2024 presidential campaign. It’s unclear if she would remain a Republican, or consider an independent bid.
In June, she traveled to the Ronald Reagan Library — a stop for GOP presidential hopefuls — and made a speech many viewed as the blueprint for a national campaign. It was a mix of her regular denunciations of Trump, mixed with her political biography. It outlined conservative principles similar to those espoused by her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney: limited government, lower taxes and a strong national defense.
Cheney also made gender a part of her critique about the current leaders in power. She emphasized that many of the key witnesses in the Jan. 6 probe were young women like Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, whose dramatic testimony marked a major moment in the investigation. She told the audience at the library, “These days, for the most part, men are running the world, and it is really not going all that well.”
For her 2022 House race, Cheney raised $14 million, a record for any primary in Wyoming’s history, and she spent about half of it. The vast majority of donations came from out of state, and she has built up a network she could tap into in the future.
Stewart believes, even after she no longer has a seat in Congress, there is a place for Cheney in the GOP. She thinks she could be part of an effort to expand the message beyond the Trump base.
“If she continues to get out there and engage in GOP circles and functions, and continue to remind people about her voting record as a Republican, and about her support for freedom and policies that unite the Republican Party as opposed to grievances that divide us, there’s a path for her to stay very relevant in the Republican Party,” Stewart said.
Martin agreed that Cheney’s Wyoming primary, and her role in the party going forward, would be one that people would talk about for a while: “I know that she’s going to go down in history, but I think we are going to have to wait a while to see what the story is of what is said about Liz Cheney in history.”