Liz Cheney, who has emerged as former President Donald Trump’s fiercest Republican critic, has lost her party’s nomination for the United States Congress to a Trump-backed candidate, in the latest sign of her party’s break with traditional conservatism.
Once considered Republican royalty, the legislator from Wyoming has become a pariah to her party over her role on the congressional panel investigating the January 6, 2021 assault on the US Capitol, and Trump’s role in fanning the flames.
The polls for the Republican nomination for November’s midterm elections closed in Wyoming at 7pm local time (01:00 GMT on Wednesday).
US media said 56-year-old Cheney had lost to lawyer Harriet Hageman, who has amplified Trump’s false claim that the 2020 election was “rigged”.
Cheney described her loss as the beginning of a new chapter in her political career as she addressed a small group of supporters, including her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, on the edge of a vast field flanked by mountains and bales of hay.
“I have said since January 6 that I will do whatever it takes to ensure Donald Trump is never again anywhere near the Oval Office, and I mean it,” she said in a concession speech after losing her seat.
“Our work is far from over.”
Cheney had used her campaign — and her position on the Jan 6 committee — to keep attention on Trump’s actions around the Capitol riot, and his continued lies about election fraud, in a bid to persuade fellow Republicans the former president is a threat to democracy.
Terry Sullivan, a political strategist, told the Reuters news agency that Cheney’s campaign was of greater significance than a single primary.
“Liz Cheney isn’t fighting for re-election, she’s fighting for the direction of the Republican Party,” he said, noting that some observers have discussed whether Cheney should mount a 2024 presidential campaign. “It’s more of a kind of a beginning, not an end.”
Anti-Trump Republicans across the US cheered Cheney’s willingness to challenge Trump, even as they expressed disappointment in her loss.
“What’s remarkable is that in the face of almost certain defeat she’s never once wavered,” said Sarah Longwell, executive director of the Republican Accountability Project. “We’ve been watching a national American figure be forged. It’s funny how small the election feels — the Wyoming election — because she feels bigger than it now.”
‘Thorn in Trump’s side’
Wyoming is one of the most conservative states in the US and reliably Republican, so it is unlikely to play a significant role in deciding whether President Joe Biden’s Democrats lose their razor-thin majorities in Congress come November. Republicans are expected to easily retake the House and also have a good chance of winning control of the Senate.
Biden’s weak public approval numbers, weighed down by an unsteady economy, remain a concern for Democrats heading into the elections. A two-day Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll completed on Tuesday showed that just 38 percent of respondents approved of Biden’s job performance, down from 40 percent a week earlier. His job approval has been below 50 percent since August 2021.
A majority in either chamber of Congress would allow Republicans to thwart Biden’s legislative agenda. The party has already threatened to launch potentially damaging investigations into his administration should they win.
Cheney is the last of 10 Republicans in the House of Representatives who backed Trump’s second impeachment to face primary voters.
Four retired rather than seek reelection, three lost to Trump-backed opponents, and only two — California’s David Valadao and Dan Newhouse of Washington state — have been chosen as candidates for the November midterms.
The fate of US Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who also voted in favour of impeachment and is facing off against another Trump-backed candidate on Tuesday, remains unclear. The polls for that primary, a nonpartisan format in which the four who get the highest number of votes advance to the general election, have not yet closed. Murkowski is the sole pro-impeachment senator running for reelection this year.
Cheney, a tax-cutting, gun-loving right-winger, voted in line with Trump’s positions 93 percent of the time when he was president but he has accused her of being “disloyal” and a “warmonger”.
She will continue in her leadership role with the Jan 6 committee and has already said hearings will resume in September with more witnesses coming forward, and more evidence emerging.
“She will remain the vice chair of the committee and she will remain a thorn in ex-president Trump’s side,” said Al Jazeera’s Rob Reynolds, who is reporting from Jackson in Wyoming.
Cheney will leave Congress at the end of her third and final term in January.