In a watershed moment for the GOP, Rep. Liz Cheney, the most fearsome and resolute Republican opponent of former President Trump’s lies about the 2020 election, was rejected by Wyoming voters in her own party Tuesday night.
Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney and the vice chair of the Jan. 6 committee, lost her primary election to Trump-endorsed attorney Harriet Hageman, who paid fealty to Trump by echoing his false claim that the 2020 election was “rigged.”
Hageman had been leading Cheney in the polls for months, and appeared to have defeated her opponent by a large margin Tuesday night. The result signals a turn for the Republican Party toward a greater embrace of baseless myths about the 2020 election that have already incited violence and unrest, such as the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol, and are likely to foment more over the next few years.
Cheney was defiant in defeat. "Now the real work begins," she told supporters after the race was called. "I have said I will do whatever it takes to ensure that Donald Trump is never anywhere near the Oval Office, and I mean it."
Cheney’s defeat — which she called “the beginning of a battle” in which “our democracy really is under attack” — caps a four-month series of Republican primaries which tested the extent to which Trump still commands loyalty among party voters. Trump started out wobbly, as his attempt to punish Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, was clearly doomed by late March.
The spring and summer contests had ups and downs for Trump-backed candidates. But leading up to the Wyoming results, candidates who refuse to acknowledge the 2020 election results ran the table in Arizona’s Republican Party.
And when the full tally of the year’s contests was taken this week by the Washington Post, it showed that in six battleground states that will likely decide the next presidential election — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — Republican voters have nominated 87 candidates who have a role in the election certification process. This includes candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives.
Of those 87 individuals that Republican voters have put forward as their candidate versus Democrats in the fall election, 54 say they reject the 2020 election results, the Post reported.
Cheney, however, has always been Trump’s biggest nemesis, and with her defeat, the purge of the Republican Party is nearly complete. With a few exceptions, Republican lawmakers who firmly reject Trump’s false election claims have been all but wiped out.
Cheney was not always a Trump enemy. A stalwart conservative, she was first elected to Congress in 2016, when Trump won the White House. During his presidency, Cheney voted with Trump 93% of the time.
In 2018, she was chosen by her Republican colleagues in the House to be the third-ranking member of leadership, behind House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise.
Cheney even voted with Trump during his first impeachment, in December 2019. Speaking on the House floor at the time, she blasted Democrats.
“Our Democratic colleagues have been working to remove this president since the day he was elected, searching for an offense on which they could impeach,” Cheney said.
Cheney said then that the attempt to impeach Trump for abusing his power was “partisan, reckless and dangerous.”
But after the 2020 election, Cheney refused to bow to Trump’s evidence-free insistence that he had been cheated. On Jan. 3, 2021, she distributed a 21-page memo to her Republican colleagues in the House, and to the public.
Cheney’s memo detailed the many allegations made by Trump and his allies, and showed how none of them were backed by evidence, and how Trump’s lawyers had repeatedly failed to win any cases in federal courts.
After the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters seeking to stop the election’s certification, Cheney said she would vote to impeach Trump because he “summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack. Everything that followed was his doing.”
“There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution,” Cheney said.
She was one of 10 House Republicans to vote for impeachment, and now with her defeat, only two of those 10 remain: Rep. David Valadao of California and Rep. Dan Newhouse of Washington state. The rest have either lost their primaries or declined to run for reelection.
Cheney was stripped of her leadership position in 2021 by her fellow Republicans, after she broke repeatedly with McCarthy over his brief stand on principle against Trump, followed by his capitulation to the former president. At the time, she said, “I will do everything I can to ensure that the former president never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office.”
Last September, Cheney was named vice chair of the select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack. Over the past year, she has played a leading role in the committee’s work, and has repeatedly stated that Trump is an existential threat to America’s constitutional republic and the freedoms it upholds.
The committee’s hearings have shown that even before Jan. 6, Trump knowingly spread false claims about the election, that he and his allies engaged in a campaign to pressure state officials to change election results, that he sought to install an attorney general who would advance that campaign and that he tried to pressure Vice President Mike Pence into overturning the election.
The committee will hold more hearings this fall, and Cheney will continue to play a prominent role in that process. But Cheney’s comments on Tuesday evening made clear that she is determined to continue to devote herself to taking on Trumpism in the GOP, including a possible run for president in 2024.
In her speech Tuesday night, Cheney made a historical reference to former President Abraham Lincoln, and said he lost elections for the Senate and for the House before he won the presidency. Cheney herself has now lost an election for the House and dropped out of a race for the Senate, in 2014.
"Freedom must not, cannot, and will not die here," she said.