TThe election results in Wyoming on Tuesday night confirm what most political observers had expected: Rep. Liz Cheney lost her seat as a member of Congress to Harriet Hageman. Harriet Hageman was a primary challenger who was endorsed by the former President Donald Trump.
Cheney, Cheney’s daughter, was once a Vice President. However, she has transformed in the past two-years from someone who voted 93% with Trump to one of his most fierce antagonists. It is because of her refusal to accept his efforts to reverse the 2020 presidential elections. After refusing to vote in decertifying his election results from key battleground state he lost in the 2016 presidential election, she voted for him to be impeached for inciting insurrection and most important, it allowed Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to name her vice chair of the House Select Committee investigating the January 6, 2021 attack at the Capitol.
While her unwillingness to remain in servitude to Trump—and the alacrity with which she stood up to his assaults on American democracy— made her something of a hero in liberal circles, it did not play well in ruby red Wyoming.
“What turned Wyoming Republicans against Liz Cheney is the feeling that she has been disloyal,” Stephanie Anderson, a politics professor at the University of Wyoming, tells TIME. “And loyalty is a very important value to Wyomingites. It’s part of their identity.” Her role on the Jan. 6 committee, she adds, 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% of the respondents said they planned to vote for Hageman because of Trump’s endorsement, whereas 60% said it was because they disapproved of Cheney’s role on the Jan. 6 panel.
Cheney’s national profile rose considerably this summer over the course of eight hearings from the Jan. 6 committee. They were a must-watch TV program from the very first hearing, in June. As the committee unveiled damning evidence pointing to Trump’s culpability in the deadly attack, and heard from first-hand witnesses about his attempts to block the peaceful transfer of power to Joe Biden, the Justice Department took notice. Some former federal prosecutors had previously expressed concern that Attorney General Merrick Galrland wouldn’t ever pursue a former president.
One of the turning points came at a hearing in July featuring Cassidy Hutchinson, a former White House aide. She testified that Trump’s Secret Service had informed him on Jan. 6, that many of the supporters who attended the rally next to the White House were heavily armed. Trump advised them to continue to march to the Capitol. The 26-year-old ex-staffer also told the panel that Trump tried to march to the Capitol with them, even after White House Counsel Pat Cippolone warned the staff that Trump would be charged with “every crime imaginable” if he did. Cheney conducted the interrogation of Hutchinson.
Cheney (56 years old) was an outstanding speaker at each session. She delivered opening and closing speeches filled with soundbites that were soon to be shared on Twitter and in broadcast news segments. Her most memorable remarks were about fellow Republicans that continue to support Trump. “There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone,” she said at one hearing. “But your dishonor will remain.”
It was a message that didn’t resonate with Wyoming Republicans, a plurality of whom subscribe to Trump’s false claims that the election was stolen. Recent University of Wyoming surveys found that only 16% of Hagemen voters believe that Biden won the election legitimately. Cheney supporters, on the other hand, believe that he won fairly and squarely 94%. Cheney could not hold onto those voters.
“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 by massive majorities twice.”
Wyoming political insiders say that Cheney’s opponents also tried to paint her role on the Jan. 6 committee as a sign that she was 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 University of Wyoming political science professor, tells TIME.
Even her supporters in the state recognized that Cheney’s obligations on Capitol Hill gave her opponent a practical advantage. “The amount of time that she’s spending out there during the Jan. 6 hearings is pulling away from her ability to campaign here in Wyoming,” State Rep. Landon Brown told TIME last month. “And that’s not going to bode well when you look at Harriet, who basically has no other job but to travel the state of Wyoming.”
But Cheney’s duties in Washington weren’t the only thing that kept her off the campaign trail. According to The New York TimesDue to the death threats, she was forced to employ a private security company.
The risk of violence—and the possibility of being booed at public events that are staples for local political candidates—led her to abstain from some outings that she might have otherwise attended. Last month, for instance, she skipped the Cheyenne Frontier Days, the world’s largest outdoor rodeo that is practically required attendance for Wyoming politicians.
But Cheney’s closest confidantes say that she refused to let Trump’s vitriol—and the resentment toward her he whipped up in his acolytes—dissuade her from doing what she believes is right.
“Everybody knows who she is,” former Sen. Alan Simpson, a Wyoming Republican, tells TIME. “She’s a gutsy, courageous person. She’s had a belly full of Donald J. Trump. It doesn’t matter if she loses. She’s a patriot. On her way to running again, she sees the fictional character wearing no clothes. He hates her, of course. And he’s not exactly a sweet old fart. He’s a revenge-filled guy.”
But while Trump will certainly take a victory lap after Cheney’s ouster from office, many pundits suspect she won’t be leaving the limelight any time soon. There is still the remainder of her term, including at least two additional hearings on Jan. 6, September. Her actions also suggest that she is capable of surviving on the national scene.
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 our nation’s 246-year history, there has never been an individual who is a greater threat to our republic than Donald Trump,” says the elder Cheney, looking straight into the camera in an ad paid for by his daughter’s campaign.
“Liz is fearless,” he goes on. “She never backs down from the fight. 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, and she will succeed.”
Given Trump’s popularity in Wyoming, it wasn’t exactly a message expected to endear likely GOP primary voters to Cheney. It may have resonated more with the national audience that Cheney is trying to remove from this country Trumpism, rather than Trump.
We will see if that leads to a presidential run as some speculate, or to another avenue of influence. It’s hard to imagine Cheney making much headway in GOP primaries in 2024. But it’s equally hard to imagine that her primary loss will compel her to retreat from public life.
For Anderson, who heads the University of Wyoming’s political science department, the question isn’t whether Cheney will stay in the fight against the MAGA movement, but how. “I don’t think this is the last we’ve seen or heard from Liz Cheney.”
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