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Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, former President Donald Trump’s most vocal Republican critic in Congress, was overwhelmingly defeated in the state’s GOP House primary on Tuesday by Trump-backed challenger Harriet Hageman.
Cheney is the latest Republican to see their political career derailed for criticizing Trump’s lies about the 2020 presidential election. A staunch conservative with strong name recognition, Cheney had been a dominant electoral force in Wyoming since first winning the deep-red state’s lone House seat in 2016.
But her standing changed dramatically after she voted to impeach Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol. She later became the vice chair of the House committee investigating the attack, a position she has used to condemn the former president for his efforts to overturn Joe Biden’s victory.
“Now the real work begins,” Cheney said during a defiant concession speech Tuesday night. “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.”
The specifics of what that may mean beyond her continued participation in the Jan. 6 committee are unclear. But there has been speculation that Cheney’s political career won’t end when she leaves the House early next year. This week, she launched a new political action committee funded by millions of unspent dollars left over from her primary campaign. She even said she’s “thinking about” a presidential run in 2024 during an interview Wednesday morning.
Why there’s debate
There’s little doubt that Cheney will continue her campaign to hold Trump accountable and prevent him from returning to the White House, but there’s also significant debate about how effective those efforts can be and whether Cheney as a candidate could garner enough support to meaningfully affect Trump’s political fortunes.
While few believe Cheney has a chance of actually winning the presidency, some political analysts believe she could do real damage to Trump if she joined the race. In their eyes, Cheney could attract enough votes from the small but potentially significant share of GOP voters who reject Trump’s election lies to either deny him the Republican nomination or tip the general election to Trump’s opponent — if she ran as an independent. Beyond that, some argue that a presidential campaign would give Cheney a platform she could use to keep Trump’s attacks on democracy at the center of the political conversation, even if few voters actually cast ballots for her.
But skeptics say the historic margin with which Cheney lost on Tuesday shows that there is simply no room for Trump critics in today’s Republican Party. A Cheney presidential campaign, they say, would most likely flounder. Others also worry that she might even boost Trump by giving him a foil to launch attacks against and siphon votes from Trump’s opponent by giving them a conservative alternative to support.
Cheney will remain in the House until the new congressional term begins in January. She’ll also be back at the center of the political conversation when the Jan. 6 committee’s hearings resume, which is expected to happen as early as next month.
Few voters would support a campaign that was transparently designed to fail
“If she launched an independent bid against Trump, everyone would know she was doing so just to ensure that the Democratic nominee won the election. And Republicans have a word to describe a person whose primary objective is to ensure Joe Biden or Kamala Harris or Gavin Newsom or some other like-minded figure heads the executive branch for the next four years. They call people like that ‘Democrats.’” — Jim Geraghty, National Review
Whatever Cheney does, it will be aimed at keeping Trump out of office
“This war against Trump is the one that Liz is vowing to win. She’s gonna follow that traitorous charlatan to the gates of Hell if she has to.” — Tim Miller, The Bulwark
There’s close to zero chance that Cheney will materially affect the 2024 election
“The idea that Cheney could be a serious factor in a 2024 GOP primary or would siphon votes from Trump as an independent remains as preposterous as the idea this [Wyoming] primary would be competitive.” — Cook Political Report editor Dave Wasserman on Twitter
She would have to be willing to go after the GOP as a whole to make a real difference
“Even if Cheney cannot deny Trump the nomination, she could still ultimately loosen his hold on the party, this thinking goes, if she persuades enough centrist and white-collar voters to reject him and ensure his defeat in a general election. To save the party, in other words, Cheney might first have to be willing to destroy it.” — Ronald Brownstein, The Atlantic
Cheney has no real constituency
“She is being ostracized by nearly everyone. … It’s simply not clear who Cheney is speaking for and, indeed, her presence may be more reassuring than useful: She represents the idea that there are Republicans out there who are horrified by what is happening to their party. There’s little evidence that there are many of them, however.” — Daniel Strauss, The New Republic
Cheney might help Trump win by running against him
“If Cheney wants Trump to be defeated, she must get out of the way. She has done what she can, but she isn’t going to be the hero of the story. She can only help Trump win the nomination at this point. If she runs, she will be admitting that this whole exercise was nothing more than a prolonged ego trip.” — Zachary Faria, Washington Examiner
She would only need to get a sliver of conservative votes to block Trump from winning
“That sliver of the electorate that Cheney will win in Wyoming. … In a presidential election decided at the margins, that might be enough in some swing states to keep Trump out of the White House. Not enough for Cheney to win, but enough to drag him down.” — David Siders, Politico
Trump has never faced a dedicated opponent like Cheney
“Cheney’s laser focus on Trump and ability to command media attention means she could be a significant factor in 2024. She won’t be the nominee, but she’ll be a factor, especially if she can qualify for the primary debates. Nobody wanted to challenge Trump in 2015. Now we’ll have a candidate doing nothing but constantly challenging him.” — Alex Conant, Republican consultant, to Wall Street Journal
A presidential campaign would give her the chance to bludgeon Trump on the national stage
“Imagine Cheney pressing the case against Trump not just in Jan. 6 committee hearings, but also doing it to his face. It’s unlikely it would ever truly make her a contender, but sometimes candidates run to try to shape the race in other ways. And given how little GOP primary voters are confronted with counterprogramming on Trump … Cheney might view that as a worthy path if she truly only aims to stop Trump.” — Aaron Blake, Washington Post
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