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What Liz Cheney’s Lopsided Loss Says In regards to the State of the G.O.P.


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 previous president still controls the party’s present — and its near future.

Ten House Republicans voted to question Mr. Trump in early 2021 for his role inciting the mob that stormed the Capitol. Only two have survived the 2022 Republican primaries, a wide ranging run of losses and compelled 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 vp was defeated in a landslide — can have only strengthened Mr. Trump’s hand as he asserts his grip over the Republican Party, by revealing the futility amongst Republican voters of even probably the most vigorous prosecution of the case against him.

Casting her mission of combating election denialism as an ethical imperative and her work as just starting, Ms. Cheney pledged to “do whatever it takes” to forestall a second Trump presidency. “Freedom must not, cannot and is not going to die here,” she declared in her concession speech on Tuesday night in Jackson.

Not way back, Ms. Cheney had been seen as a rising Republican star, even a possible House speaker-in-waiting. Now, after becoming her party’s most dogged Trump detractor — turning the Jan. 6 committee hearings right into a bullhorn with which to warn of the risks 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 can be a turning point for Republicans. It did prove to be a dividing line. Nevertheless it was those that crossed Mr. Trump who’ve suffered the electoral consequences.

“She can have been fighting for principles,” said Taylor Budowich, a spokesman and adviser to Mr. Trump. “But they are usually not the principles of the Republican Party.”

Ms. Cheney made clear she was greater than willing to lose her House seat, and she or he 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 latest political motion committee, the Great Task, whose name nods to Lincoln and which will likely be full of leftover campaign money, and said she was “considering” of running for president.

However the consequence in Wyoming showed that while anti-Trump Republicans can count on ample money and media attention, the actual Republican constituency for them is much more limited. Indeed, certainly one of Ms. Cheney’s last gasps was an effort to get Democrats to modify parties to vote within the G.O.P. primary.

Her loss was also the newest sign that the central organizing principles of today’s Republican Party are tethered less to specific policies — she was a reliable vote for much of the Trump agenda — than to whatever Mr. Trump wants at any given time.

Most recently, that has meant lashing out at federal law enforcement authorities over the search of Mr. Trump’s Florida home for missing materials with classified markings. More broadly, it has meant embracing his obsession with denying his 2020 defeat and amplifying his false claims of election fraud, whatever the bloody fallout nearly 20 months ago or its destabilizing effect on the nation.

“You would write the history of the trendy Republican Party during the last two years, and what does Jan. 6 appear to be? A hiccup,” said William Kristol, the neoconservative author who co-founded Republican Voters Against Trump, a gaggle spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to oppose Trump-backed election deniers. “The value of admission to today’s Republican Party is popping a blind eye to Jan. 6.”

That was the experience of Representative Peter Meijer of Michigan, who voted for Mr. Trump’s impeachment weeks after taking office and lost his re-election primary this month. He said his constituents asked him about his impeachment vote 10 times as much as about anything.

“Policy will not be policy toward improving government,” Mr. Meijer explained. “It’s policy as a signifier of whether you’re a part of the in group or the out group.”

Refusing to repeat the lie that the 2020 election was stolen, he said, put Mr. Meijer squarely within the “out group.”

“I can’t let you know the variety of times any person said, ‘You don’t need to imagine the election is stolen, the essential thing isn’t believing it, it’s saying it,’” Mr. Meijer recalled in an interview. “That’s what a Republican is alleged to do right away.”

If a series of primary setbacks this spring had showed that Mr. Trump was not invincible, then races in August have showcased his enduring influence.

Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington State, one other Republican vote for impeachment, was ousted by a Trump supporter. A Trump-backed candidate, Tim Michels, who has entertained attempting to overturn the 2020 election, won the Republican nomination for governor of Wisconsin. And Mr. Trump’s preferred candidates swept the nominations in Arizona for Senate, governor, attorney general and secretary of state. All embraced his election denialism.

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Even in Connecticut, a state that when defined a more genteel and moderate brand of Republicanism, Mr. Trump’s selection for Senate upset the local party’s candidate.

Notably, neither of the 2 House Republicans who voted to question Mr. Trump and survived primaries this yr, Representative David Valadao of California and Dan Newhouse of Washington, won traditional Republican primaries. Each won in states with open primaries allowing the highest two vote-getters to advance, no matter party affiliation.

Max Miller, a former Trump White House aide who announced a run for Congress in Ohio last yr against one other Republican who voted for impeachment, Representative Anthony Gonzalez, tried to elucidate the craze of Republican voters toward the G.O.P. impeachers.

“You run to be a representative of the people,” Mr. Miller said. “It says ‘representative.’ You’re there to represent their values. They betrayed their constituents’ values, and that’s why they’re in such a hot spot.”

Mr. Gonzalez selected to retire reasonably than run again, citing threats against him and his family.

The cleansing of Trump critics from the Republican Party continues to be in progress and so thorough that much of it now happens without Mr. Trump’s direct involvement. Allies at local and state parties, in addition to at Republican-linked organizations, censure or oust those that break with the brand new orthodoxy.

Jeff Larson, a former chief of staff of the Republican National Committee, who also served as chief executive of the 2016 Republican National Convention that nominated Mr. Trump, recently aided Ms. Cheney’s re-election fight through an outdoor group. Not long after Axios reported his involvement, Mr. Larson was asked to step down as chairman of America Rising, a outstanding Republican research group, in line with an individual with knowledge of the matter.

Mr. Larson is not any longer chairman. Neither he nor America Rising responded to a request for comment.

Some disagreement with Mr. Trump might be countenanced within the party but more open riot or disparagement is unforgivable. That presents a challenge for would-be Republican alternatives who’re critical of Mr. Trump, like Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, who was seen flipping pork chops on the Iowa State Fair last week.

Wealthy Lowry, the editor of National Review, the conservative magazine — which has had a posh relationship with Mr. Trump, by turns condemning him or cheering his actions — said he hoped the party wouldn’t renominate Mr. Trump in 2024. He acknowledged the pathway to another standard-bearer was narrow, and involved coaxing Republican voters into adopting some version of Trumpism without its namesake — the type of space that Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida appears determined to fill.

“A very powerful thing, if you must have Trump stay retired, is to grasp that the people it’s good to persuade are Republicans who voted for him twice, who like him, who’re entertained by him, who’re grateful for a lot of things he did, who hate his critics, who think he was treated unfairly,” Mr. Lowry said. “That’s who it’s good to persuade.”

In her race, Ms. Cheney opted mostly to assail Mr. Trump reasonably than to interact together with her challenger, Harriet Hageman, whom Mr. Trump endorsed.

That focus was noticed. During certainly one of Ms. Hageman’s debate-prep video conferences, she suggested to aides that they scour Ms. Cheney’s congressional news releases to see what number of were about Wyoming or were critical of President Biden, in line with two people involved. The releases were just about all about Jan. 6 and Mr. Trump.

Ms. Cheney appeared to exit of her approach to taunt Mr. Trump. Certainly one of her closing ads featured her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, calling Mr. Trump a “coward.” Her campaign bought time on Mr. Trump’s favorite Fox News shows.

Her unrelenting posture made Ms. Cheney a pariah amongst colleagues she had led only last yr because the House Republican conference chair.

The rift between Ms. Cheney and Representative Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, was so complete that he scheduled a donor event on the 4 Seasons resort near Jackson, Wyo., to coincide with the first on Tuesday night. It featured “fireside cocktails” not long after the polls closed, in line with a duplicate of the schedule.

But Ms. Cheney was not done needling Mr. McCarthy or Mr. Trump.

In recent days, her campaign paid Google to run a video ad in only two tiny communities within the nation: Bedminster, N.J., Mr. Trump’s summer residence, and Teton Village, the hamlet that’s home to the 4 Seasons and Mr. McCarthy’s event.

“America cannot remain free if we abandon the reality,” Ms. Cheney says within the video. “The lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen is insidious.”

Maggie Haberman contributed reporting.

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