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Key takeaways from Cheney’s loss in Wyoming

Rep. Liz Cheney’s (R-Wyo.) loss to a Trump-backed primary challenger on Tuesday marked one of the final milestones in the former president’s effort to rid the party of critics.

Cheney, one of the few House Republicans who voted last year to impeach former President Trump for his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol, never let up on her criticism of the former president, arguing to the very end that he remains a threat to the rule of law and American democracy.

But her primary also offers some insights into the future of the Republican Party and where its voters stand nearly two years after Trump was ousted from the White House.

Here are five takeaways from Cheney’s race.

Trump’s grip on GOP as strong as ever

Cheney’s loss on Tuesday dashed any lingering hope among Trump’s critics that the party’s rank-and-file voters might be ready to buck the former president and chart their own path forward. 

It was also a clear reminder that, among red-state Republicans, at least, Trump’s influence remains as strong as it ever was. 

While Trump may be hundreds of miles from the White House, he has proven repeatedly that he can sway GOP voters toward his preferred candidates and away from anyone he deems disloyal. There are exceptions: Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) easily overcame a Trump-backed primary challenge, for example.

But there’s little doubt that Trump remains perhaps the single most powerful force in the modern-day GOP, a fact that bodes particularly well for him as he weighs a potential comeback bid for the White House in 2024.

Pro-impeachment Republicans are dwindling

When the 118th Congress is sworn in next year, one thing is certain: The vast majority of the Republicans who voted to impeach Trump last year won’t be there.

Of the 10 House Republicans who broke ranks to impeach the former president, four opted not to run for reelection this year, while another four — including Cheney — have been vanquished by Trump-backed challengers in their bids for renomination.

Only two have survived their primary contests: Reps. David Valadao (Calif.) and Dan Newhouse (ash.). 

While Newhouse looks like a sure bet to win reelection this year, given his district’s strong Republican tilt, Valadao is in a much more politically precarious position. He only narrowly scraped through a June primary and is now running for a seat that got a lot bluer thanks to redistricting.

The new district lines have also landed him on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s 2022 target list, suggesting that he’s in for a tough fight if he wants to return to Capitol Hill next year.

And if he does win, he’ll still find himself among what is shaping up to be the most pro-Trump House Republican Conference to date.

There are limits to the anti-Trump GOP strategy

For anyone hoping that an anti-Trump Republican could put together a broad enough coalition of voters to survive his most ferocious attacks, Cheney’s defeat was a clear disappointment.

But it was also a reminder of the limits of such a strategy. Cheney’s biting criticism of Trump and his false claim that the 2020 election was stolen left her isolated and unpopular among the GOP’s conservative base. 

But her rhetoric also wasn’t enough to rally enough independents and Democrats to her cause. While many moderates may have applauded her willingness to take on the most powerful figure in the GOP, her conservative record on other issues likely made voting for her a tough pill to swallow. 

It wasn’t as if Cheney didn’t try to convince Democrats to vote for her. Earlier this summer, her campaign began offering instructions, via its website and through mailers, for how voters could switch their party affiliation in order to cast their ballots in the Republican primary.

Cheney may be bruised, but she’s undaunted

Even before she conceded defeat, Cheney’s fate appeared clear. 

She never sought to make amends with Trump, nor did she seek to make the case to his supporters that she was still aligned with them. One of her closing campaign ads featured her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, railing against Trump.

Even in admitting defeat on Tuesday, Cheney was resolute in her convictions. She said that she could have won her primary had she sided with Trump in the aftermath of the 2020 election but was simply unwilling to do so.

Just as notably, her concession speech contained some potential hints about what could come next for her. She vowed to do “whatever it takes” to keep Trump from becoming president again, and she even made a reference to Abraham Lincoln, noting that he too lost elections before winning the White House.

That reference and Cheney’s pledge to continue her crusade against Trump and Trumpism suggest that she’s not ready to exit the political spotlight just yet — and may stir further speculation that she is weighing a White House bid of her own. 

She added to the buzz Wednesday morning, telling NBC’s “TODAY” that she is “thinking about” launching a presidential run.

“That’s a decision that I’m gonna make in the coming months, and I’m not gonna make any announcements here this morning. But it is something that I am thinking about and I’ll make a decision in the coming months,” Cheney said 

Focus shifts to Trump’s general election appeal

Cheney’s ouster was something of a climactic moment in the drama that has been Trump’s effort to purge the GOP of his critics. She was the last pro-impeachment House Republican to face a primary this year.

With that out of the way, the focus for Trump will now shift to the November general election, when all voters — not just Republicans — will render a verdict on his endorsed candidates. 

While Wyoming’s solid Republican lean almost certainly guarantees that Hageman will become its next representative in the House, other candidates that Trump has endorsed are poised to face a much tougher fight. 

In Pennsylvania, for example, polling shows Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman with a wide lead over his Trump-backed Republican rival, celebrity physician Mehmet Oz, in the state’s hotly contested Senate race.

A similar situation is playing out in Georgia, where Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) holds an edge over former NFL star Herschel Walker, whom Trump endorsed early on in the race.

The question is whether Trump’s influence can go as far in the general elections as it did in this year’s GOP primaries. 

Tags Cheney House race David Valadao Dick Cheney Donald Trump Harriet Hageman Liz Cheney Wyoming
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