Liz Cheney loses Wyoming GOP to Harriet Hagemen

TTuesday night’s Wyoming election results confirmed what much of the political universe expected: Rep. Liz Cheney, once a rising star in the Republican Party, lost her congressional seat to Harriet Hageman, a primary challenger backed by former President Donald Trump.

Cheney, the daughter of a former vice president, has transformed over the past two years from someone who voted with Trump 93% of the time into one of his fiercest antagonists, in consequence of her refusal to submit to his overturning efforts the 2020 presidential election. She refused to vote to annul the election results in key battleground states he lost, voted to impeach him for sedition and, most importantly, allowed Speaker Nancy Pelosi to appoint her for Vice-Chairman of the Special House Committee Investigating 6th of January2021, Attack on the Capitol.

In a concession speech Tuesday night from Jackson, Wyoming, Cheney reminded supporters that she easily won her last re-election. She said her path to victory this time was clear, but that she could not buy into Trump’s lies and further fuel the idea that legitimate elections can be overturned through intimidation and violence.

“If we don’t hold those responsible accountable, we will condone this behavior and it will become a feature of every election,” Cheney said. “America will never be the same.”

While her unwillingness to remain Trump’s handmaiden — and the determination with which she stood up to his attacks on American democracy — made her something of a hero in liberal circles, it didn’t sit well in ruby-red Wyoming.

“What turned Wyoming Republicans against Liz Cheney was the sense that she was disloyal,” Stephanie Anderson, a professor of politics at the University of Wyoming, told TIME. “And loyalty is a very important value to Wyoming residents. It is part of their identity. Her role on the committee since Jan. 6, she added, was seen as a “betrayal of the Republican Party.”

Indeed, a Casper Star-Tribune poll of likely GOP voters conducted last month found that only 30 percent of respondents said they planned to vote for Hageman because of Trump’s endorsement, while 60 percent said it was because they disapproved of Cheney’s role on the Jan. 6 panel.

Cheney’s national profile has grown significantly this summer over the course of eight committee hearings since Jan. 6. From first hearing in early June they were mandatory television. After the commission uncovered damning evidence pointing to Trump’s culpability for the deadly attack and heard from firsthand witnesses about his attempts to block a peaceful handover to Joe Biden, The Department of Justice took notice. Former federal prosecutors, some of whom have publicly expressed doubt that the attorney general Merrick Garland would ever pursue a former president, began to rethink that assumption.

A turning point came during a hearing in July involving a former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who testified that the Secret Service informed Trump on Jan. 6 that many of his supporters who came to his rally near the White House were heavily armed. Trump urged them to go to the Capitol anyway. The 26-year-old former staffer also told the panel that Trump tried to march on the Capitol with them, even after White House counsel Pat Cipollone warned staff that Trump would be charged with “every crime you can imagine.” , if you do. Cheney led Hutchinson’s interrogation.

In each of the sessions, Cheney, 56, was the star, delivering opening and closing statements filled with sharp soundbites that would soon be all over Twitter and broadcast news segments. Some of her most memorable lines were aimed at fellow Republicans who continue to enable Trump. “There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone,” she said at one hearing. “But your dishonor will remain.”

The announcement did not resonate with Wyoming Republicans, a majority of whom subscribe to Trump’s false claims that the election was stolen. A recent study by the University of Wyoming found that only 16% of likely Hagemen voters think Biden legitimately won the election. In contrast, 94% of Cheney’s supporters think he won fair and square. But those voters were too few for Cheney to hang on to.

“The people of Wyoming deserve leaders who reflect their views and values,” Hageman, 59, said in a statement last year before launching her campaign. “But Liz Cheney betrayed us because of her personal war with President Trump, who won Wyoming overwhelmingly twice.”

Wyoming political insiders say Cheney’s opponents have also tried to paint her role on the Jan. 6 committee as a sign that she is out of touch with her own constituents. “Part of their message is that Cheney is too focused on Washington and not enough on Wyoming,” Jim King, a political science professor at the University of Wyoming, told TIME.

Even her supporters in the state acknowledge that Cheney’s duties on Capitol Hill give her opponent a practical advantage. “The time she spends there during the Jan. 6 hearings diminishes her ability to campaign here in Wyoming,” state Rep. Landon Brown told TIME last month. “And that won’t bode well when you look at Harriet, who doesn’t really have anything to do but travel the state of Wyoming.”

But Cheney’s duties in Washington weren’t the only thing keeping her off the campaign trail. According to New York Timesshe had to hire private security because of the attack with death threats.

The risk of violence — and the possibility of being booed at public events that are key for local political candidates — has caused her to hold back on some outings she would otherwise attend. Last month, for example, she missed Cheyenne Frontier Daysthe world’s largest outdoor rodeo that practically requires Wyoming politicians to attend.

But Cheney’s closest confidantes say she refused to let Trump’s vitriol — and resentment toward her — he smashed into his aides– dissuade her from doing what she thinks is right.

“Everybody knows who she is,” former Sen. Alan Simpson, Republican of Wyoming, told TIME. “She is a brave and courageous person. Her belly is full of Donald J. Trump. And what if she loses? She is a patriot. She sees this fictional character without any clothes as she prepares to run again. Of course he hates her. And he’s not exactly a sweet old fart. He is a man filled with revenge.

But while Trump is sure to take a victory lap after removing Cheney from office, many experts suspect she won’t be leaving the spotlight anytime soon. She still has the remainder of her term, which will include at least two more hearings on Jan. 6 in September. And she has also taken steps that suggest future on the national stage.

In the final weeks of the campaign, Cheney’s father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, hit the airwaves with an attack on the 45th president. “In the 246-year history of our nation, there has never been a man who has been a greater threat to our republic than Donald Trump,” the elder Cheney says, looking straight into the camera in an ad paid for by his daughter’s campaign.

“Liz is fearless,” he continues. “She never gives up the fight. There is nothing more important that she will ever do than lead the effort to make sure that Donald Trump is never near the Oval Office again, and she will succeed.

Given Trump’s popularity in Wyoming, it wasn’t exactly a message Cheney was expected to endear to likely GOP primary voters. If anything, it may have resonated more with a national audience supporting Cheney in her quest to rid the country not just of Trump, but of Trumpism.

Whether this will lead to a future run for president, as some have speculated, or some other avenue of influence remains to be seen. It’s hard to imagine Cheney making much headway in the 2024 GOP primary. But it’s just as hard to imagine her losing the primary forcing her to retire from public life.

“This primary is over,” Cheney said Tuesday night, “but now the real work begins.”

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