Rep. Liz Cheney loses Wyoming GOP primary to Trump-backed challenger
WASHINGTON — Rep. Liz Cheney, the vice chair of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol and a leading figure in the Republican effort to hold former President Donald Trump accountable, was defeated in the GOP primary for the Wyoming congressional district she’s represented since 2017.
The three-term congresswoman lost to Harriet Hageman, a lawyer who has worked to block federal regulations in Wyoming and who was endorsed by Trump.
Surrounded by family and supporters near Jackson, Wyoming, on Tuesday night, Cheney said she had conceded to Hageman, who was ahead in early returns by more than 25 percentage points.
She noted that she had handily won the last election for her congressional seat and acknowledged that this primary might have gone the same way had she not vocally opposed Trump’s efforts to undermine confidence in the U.S. election system.
“I could easily have done the same again: The path was clear,” Cheney said. “But it would have required that I go along with President Trump’s lie about the 2020 election. It would have required that I enable his ongoing efforts to unravel our democratic system and attack the foundations of our republic. That was a path I could not and would not take.”
The race was a top priority for the former president and his allies, many of whom worked on, donated to or endorsed Hageman’s campaign. In May, Trump held a rally in Casper, the second-largest city in the state.
In a post on his Truth Social network, Trump congratulated Hageman “on her great and very decisive WIN in Wyoming.”
“This is a wonderful result for America, and a complete rebuke of the Unselect Committee of political Hacks and Thugs,” Trump wrote. “Liz Cheney should be ashamed of herself, the way she acted, and her spiteful, sanctimonious words and actions towards others. Now she can finally disappear into the depths of political oblivion where, I am sure, she will be much happier than she is right now.”
Cheney's loss is another reminder for Republicans of the risk of going against the former president. Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, wasn’t able to overcome the wrath of the Trump wing, even with nationwide name recognition and a massive fundraising advantage. Cheney raised more than $15 million, compared to Hageman’s $4 million, in what has been one of the most expensive primaries in the country.
A staunch conservative laser focused on national security issues, Cheney was first elected to Congress in 2016. Her father held the seat in the 1980s.
Cheney began her congressional career as one of Trump’s fiercest defenders — and one of the Democrats’ sharpest critics — in the House. She backed Trump in the 2016 presidential election after the Washington Post released a clip from “Access Hollywood” in which Trump boasted about grabbing women by their genitals. She called the effort to impeach Trump in February 2020 a “sham” and voted with him more than 90% of the time while he was in office.
By the end of her first term in office she was elected GOP conference chair, the No. 3 position in party leadership, fueling speculation that she could one day be the first female Republican speaker of the House.
Then the Capitol was attacked. Cheney was one of 10 House Republicans who voted with Democrats on Jan. 13, 2021, to impeach Trump for inciting the mob. She was soon censured by the Wyoming Republican Party, which later voted to stop recognizing her as a member. By May 2021, House Republicans voted her out of leadership, replacing her with Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, a self-described MAGA Republican.
In July 2021, Cheney was chosen by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to be a member of the House Jan. 6 committee, and later was promoted to vice chair of the panel. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., declined to allow his Republican picks to join the committee after Pelosi said two of his selections who had voted to block the certification of some of the 2020 election results — Republican Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Jim Banks of Indiana — could not join.
Despite the lack of support for the committee within her party, Cheney has taken on a leading role in the hearings, frequently criticizing Trump and the members of her party who refused to condemn him for his actions surrounding the Capitol insurrection.
“I say this to my Republican colleagues, who are defending the indefensible,” Cheney said in her opening remarks at the first hearing. “There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.”
Back home, Cheney sought to portray her role on the committee as a defense of the Constitution in line with core Wyoming values. She also reached out to Democratic voters to urge them to change their party registration to back her.
A fourth-generation rancher, Hageman said Cheney was out of touch, allied with Democrats and not focused enough on issues such as inflation and rising gas costs.
Hageman, who once worked as an adviser on Cheney’s 2014 Senate bid, is heavily favored to win the general election. Wyoming has not had a Democratic member of Congress in more than 40 years.
Cheney’s political future is less certain. Her efforts to lead the Republican opposition to Trump have raised speculation that she might run for president in 2024, continuing as a foil to the former president. Cheney has said in interviews that she hasn’t made a decision on running for president.
In the short term, the Jan. 6 committee is expected to resume hearings and release an initial report next month, with a more extensive assessment coming later this year.
“Doors have opened, new subpoenas have been issued, and the dam has begun to break,” Cheney said at the most recent hearing in July.
With Cheney’s loss, there are few Republicans left in the House who are willing to publicly oppose Trump and his allies in Congress, including McCarthy.
Cheney is the last of the Republicans who voted to impeach the former president to face the voters and the fourth to lose to a Trump-backed opponent. Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington and Peter Meijer of Michigan lost their Aug. 2 primaries, while Rep. Tom Rice of South Carolina was defeated in June.
Four others retired and only two — Reps. Dan Newhouse of Washington and David Valadao of California — advanced to the general election.
Several polls in the weeks leading up to the race suggested Hageman would win handily in the state, which backed Trump by 70% in the last two presidential elections.
Cheney has long seemed prepared to accept defeat if that was the price of her work on the committee. One of the closing ads of her campaign featured her father calling Trump a “coward” and praising her efforts to investigate Trump.
“There is nothing more important she will ever do than lead the effort to make sure Donald Trump is never again near the Oval Office,” he said. “And she will succeed.”