Representative Liz Cheney’s martyr-like quest to stop Donald J. Trump has ensured her place in Republican Party history. But her lopsided defeat in Wyoming on Tuesday also exposed the remarkable degree to which the former president still controls the party’s present — and its near future.
Ten House Republicans voted to impeach Mr. Trump in early 2021 for his role inciting the mob that stormed the Capitol. Only two have survived the 2022 Republican primaries, a breathtaking run of losses and forced retirements in a chamber where incumbents typically prevail with ease.
No single defeat was as freighted with significance as Ms. Cheney’s, or as revealing of the party’s realignment.
The sheer scope of her loss — the daughter of a former vice president was defeated in a landslide — may have only strengthened Mr. Trump’s hand as he asserts his grip over the Republican Party, by revealing the futility among Republican voters of even the most vigorous prosecution of the case against him.
Casting her mission of combating election denialism as a moral imperative and her work as just beginning, Ms. Cheney pledged to “do whatever it takes” to prevent a second Trump presidency. “Freedom must not, cannot and will not die here,” she declared in her concession speech on Tuesday night in Jackson.
Not long ago, Ms. Cheney had been seen as a rising Republican star, even a potential House speaker-in-waiting. Now, after becoming her party’s most dogged Trump detractor — turning the Jan. 6 committee hearings into a bullhorn with which to warn of the dangers Mr. Trump and his enablers posed to the party, the country and even democracy itself — she is soon to be out of her job.
Ms. Cheney had hoped the Jan. 6 riot would be a turning point for Republicans. It did prove to be a dividing line. But it was those who crossed Mr. Trump who have suffered the electoral consequences.
“She may have been fighting for principles,” said Taylor Budowich, a spokesman and adviser to Mr. Trump. “But they are not the principles of the Republican Party.”
Ms. Cheney made clear she was more than willing to lose her House seat, and she hinted broadly at a 2024 presidential campaign of her own, invoking Abraham Lincoln’s failed bids for lesser offices before he sought and won the presidency. On Wednesday, she formed a new political action committee, the Great Task, whose name nods to Lincoln and which will be filled with leftover campaign cash, and said she was “thinking” of running for president.
But the outcome in Wyoming showed that while anti-Trump Republicans can count on ample money and media attention, the actual Republican constituency for them is far more limited. Indeed, one of Ms. Cheney’s last gasps was an effort to get Democrats to switch parties to vote in the G.O.P. primary. [Continue reading…]