Rep. Liz Cheney loses her primary in Wyoming to Trump-backed challenger

JACKSON, Wyo. — Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., a onetime House GOP leader and a daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, was ousted in a Republican primary Tuesday night, NBC News projects.

Former President Donald Trump’s name wasn’t on the ballot, but his shadow eclipsed the contest as he sought revenge for Cheney’s vote last year to impeach him and her work on the committee investigating his behavior leading up to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. His hand-picked challenger, Harriet Hageman, defeated Cheney in a multi-candidate race.

Speaking to supporters here at length about Trump and the events of Jan. 6, Cheney acknowledged that she had lost. She said she had called Hageman to concede while seeming to draw a contrast with Trump, who refuses to admit he lost the 2020 election and continues to perpetuate the lie that a second term was stolen from him. She also hinted that she is not done in politics.

“This primary election is over,” Cheney said. “But now the real work begins.”

With her parents sitting in the audience, Cheney noted that she won her primary two years ago with more than 70 % of the vote and could have done the same Tuesday night if she adhered to Trump’s election lies.

“That was a path I could not and would not take,” she said.

The fight with Trump cost Cheney her spot in House Republican leadership last year and now her seat, but it also provided her with an elevated platform, a monster fundraising profile and the respect of some Democrats who reviled her father.

The split-screen images of Cheney — losing popularity at home, while her profile rose nationally — have sparked questions about whether she will seek the presidency or slip into another role that keeps her at the forefront of the bipartisan anti-Trump set.

In her concession speech, Cheney compared herself to Abraham Lincoln, a Republican who lost a Senate race before winning the presidency, ending slavery and winning the civil war.

Unbowed by her loss, Cheney compared Trump’s attacks on federal law enforcement following last week’s search of his Mar-a-Lago home to his actions before Jan. 6.

“Donald Trump knows that voicing these conspiracies will provoke violence and threats of violence,” she said. “It is entirely foreseeable that the violence will escalate further.”

Cheney is the final Republican to fall to a Trump-backed primary challenger after having voted to impeach him. Four of the 10 opted to retire, three have already lost primaries, and two survived primaries. In one of those two contests, Trump didn’t endorse a challenger.

On Tuesday, no one could confuse Cheney with a Trump-style populist at her election night party.

Held on a sprawling ranch against the breathtaking backdrop of the Teton Mountains, Cheney’s was an incongruously urbane affair that featured a country band, beer-and-wine bars, a barbecue truck and fresh-fruit plates.

Valets parked cars for guests and shuttled them to a tent-covered set of black-clothed tables in four-door all-terrain vehicles. A gleaming red antique Chevy truck sat parked next to the stage reserved for her remarks.

Cheney was first elected to the House seat her father once held in 2016, and she was immediately tagged a rising star because of her background — both her father’s legacy and her experience as a senior State Department official — and her ability to deliver political messages forcefully and succinctly.

In just her second term, she took the helm of the GOP conference, the third-ranking post among Republicans with the party in the minority. But Jan. 6 and its aftermath served as a political breaking point for Cheney, who quickly turned her back on Trump and fellow House Republican leaders.

But in the end, her star fell as fast as it rose in Wyoming and in Congress.

Cheney’s January 2021 vote to impeach Trump alienated many fellow Republicans, who account for about three-quarters of registered voters in the state. In May of that year, House Republicans removed her from her post as their conference chair because she continued to criticize Trump and his allies in Congress.

She completed her break from the Trump-dominated Republican establishment by joining the Jan. 6 committee and using her platform there as vice chair to accuse Trump of illegal and unconstitutional efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, culminating in the attack on the Capitol.

“The Cowboy State is ready to send principled conservative leadership to Washington, D.C. — someone who will stand up to the radical left and work on the issues they care about: bringing down costs, ending the war on American energy, rejecting the reckless Biden agenda, and taking the gavel back from Nancy Pelosi in November,” Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel said in a statement emailed after the race was called for Hageman.

For some Democrats, the result Tuesday held both political and personal significance.

“Making friends across the aisle was not easy in a Covid Congress following an insurrection,” said Rep. Jake Auchincloss, D-Mass. “Liz, though, has become a friend — she reaches for common ground. Washington needs more people willing to listen and work with each other.”

Cheney’s stand against Trump made it impossible for her to gain traction with Republican voters here, where he won the 2020 election by 43 percentage points.

Given Wyoming’s deeply Republican makeup, Hageman is overwhelmingly favored to win the general election. Three Democrats were vying for their party’s nomination Tuesday, but that primary is too early to call.

Trump’s strenuous support for Hageman — who ran unsuccessfully for Wyoming’s GOP nomination for governor in 2018 — is notable because of her past reservations about him. She had vehemently opposed his candidacy in 2016 and expressed concern that the party would rally around “somebody who is racist and xenophobic,” The New York Times reported last year. Hageman told the newspaper at the time that she had since come to view Trump differently — as “the greatest president of my lifetime.”

Elsewhere Tuesday, Alaska has a trio of races with national implications.

In the state’s nonpartisan Senate primary, four candidates will advance to a November general election that will be determined by ranked-choice voting. Trump has made his presence known, backing Kelly Tshibaka over incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who incurred Trump’s wrath after voting to convict him at his second impeachment trial, following the Jan. 6 insurrection. Both are expected to be on the ballot in November.

Meanwhile, a political comeback by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin hinges on two contests. She’s among the three candidates in a ranked-choice special election to fill the remaining months of the late Rep. Don Young’s term in the state’s at-large congressional seat. And she’s competing in a multi-candidate primary that will send the four top vote-getters to a November general election that will decide the winner of a full two-year term representing the district.

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