Wyoming Republican Rep. Liz Cheney is laying out her future political plans, including a possible run against Donald Trump in 2024, after conceding defeat in the primary election for her House seat. Her loss on Tuesday followed unyielding criticism since the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol of the former president and his efforts to subvert the 2020 election.
“This primary election is over, but now the real work begins,” Cheney said in her concession speech Tuesday night, noting that she had called opponent Harriet Hageman to congratulate her.
Cheney acknowledged in a Wednesday interview on NBC’s Today she was “thinking” about running for president in 2024.
For her 2022 House race, Cheney raised $14 million, a record for any primary in Wyoming’s history, and she spent about half of it. The vast majority of donations came from out of state, and she has built up a network she could tap into in the future. Cheney plans to transform her campaign operation into a political action committee called The Great Task, according to a filing with the Federal Election Commission.
“In coming weeks, Liz will be launching an organization to educate the American people about the ongoing threat to our Republic, and to mobilize a unified effort to oppose any Donald Trump campaign for president,” said Cheney spokesman Jeremy Adler, as first reported by Politico.
In the interview on Wednesday, she called Trump a “grave threat” and said, “I think that defeating him is going to require a broad and united front of Democrats, Republicans and independents, and that’s what I intend to be part of.”
Cheney didn’t say whether she would run as a Republican or an independent, but said the GOP is “in very bad shape” and said it “could take several election cycles” to return it to its principles. But she said it was important for the country that the Republican Party return to its roots, instead of being focused on Trump.
It was an expected outcome for Cheney, who went from party star and heir to a conservative dynasty to a political outcast — marked by the moment she chose to break with the former president following his role in fomenting a mob to attack the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
Cheney addressed supporters on Tuesday night in Jackson Hole, near her home, repeating her vow to do whatever she can to stop Trump from returning to the White House and warning against candidates for other offices willing to ignore the will of voters.
“Our nation is barreling once again toward crisis, lawlessness and violence,” Cheney said. “No American should support election deniers for any position of genuine responsibility.”
Hageman argued that Cheney was out of step with the state.
“By our vote today, Wyoming has put the elites on notice: We are no longer going to tolerate representatives who don’t represent us,” Hageman said in her victory speech.
Hageman, an attorney endorsed by Trump who once was a Cheney supporter, took a vast lead over the incumbent. In a state that gave Donald Trump his biggest victory in 2020, Hageman is on a glide path to win the seat outright against Democratic opponent Lynnette GreyBull in November.
When Liz Cheney chose to run for reelection to her House seat in 2020 instead of making a bid for an open Senate seat, some Republicans speculated she was charting a path to become the first female Republican speaker of the House.
Cheney’s allies assert she could have easily won reelection if she had done what the vast majority of her GOP colleagues in Congress have done — stood in lock step with Trump. Instead, Cheney made the race entirely about her decision to stand up to the former president.
The Trump base is king in GOP primaries
Roughly 70% of Wyoming voted for Trump and Cheney’s repudiation of him became the red line for so many GOP voters who enthusiastically backed her not long ago.
Her final campaign ad zeroed in on her argument that Trump’s lie about the 2020 election being stolen is “insidious” and damaging to democracy.
Mary Martin, chair of the Teton County Republican Party in Wyoming, supported Cheney in the past, but says Cheney’s interaction with voters changed following her sharp break with the former president.
“I have heard personally from folks who were really staunch supporters of Liz Cheney, and contributed lots of money to her in the past, that she’s insulted them,” Martin said, adding that her rhetoric labeling her constituents, “Just her personal approach to this has alienated and turned people off. She is not the only person in Wyoming that supports the Constitution.”
Republican strategist Alice Stewart says Trump’s influence was the ultimate factor in this race.
“Without a doubt, again, when we’re talking about a primary, the base is king, and right now, the base of the Republican Party supports Donald Trump,” she said.
Martin says the race became personal for many: “In Wyoming, trust and loyalty are very high traits. And she has betrayed trust and she’s betrayed loyalty. And she has taken a stance that is perceived by some to be arrogant and not acceptable. And that I mean, it comes down to just, in my opinion, January 6th.”
Hageman proudly touted Trump’s support. He traveled to Casper in May hold a rally for her and labelled Cheney a “RINO” — Republican In Name Only.
While Hageman criss-crossed the state, Cheney held mostly small private campaign events and her aides say security concerns forced a more limited public schedule. Cheney has had a U.S. Capitol Police detail for more than a year due to a steady stream of threats.
Cheney was one of just 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump after the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. With her loss, only two in that group — David Valadao of California and Dan Newhouse of Washington State — will remain on the ballot in November. Three others lost primaries and four chose to retire.
Cheney’s future: Jan. 6 investigation and 2024
Cheney’s public statements hinted for some time she’s focused on the long game. In June, she delivered a blunt broadside at fellow House GOP members still loyal to Trump at the primetime kick off of the public hearings of the House panel probing Jan, 6.
“Tonight, I say this to my Republican colleagues who are defending the indefensible: There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain,” Cheney said.
The panel is still interviewing witnesses and planning more public hearings this fall. It plans to release a report by the end of the year, and Cheney’s position as vice chair gives her a national platform for several more months.
Even before the primary vote, Cheney was showing some signs of positioning for a possible 2024 presidential campaign. It’s unclear if she would remain a Republican, or consider an independent bid.
In June, she traveled to the Ronald Reagan Library — a stop for GOP presidential hopefuls — and made a speech many viewed as the blueprint for a national campaign. It was a mix of her regular denunciations of Trump, mixed with her political biography. It outlined conservative principles similar to those espoused by her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney: limited government, lower taxes and a strong national defense.
Cheney also made gender a part of her critique about the current leaders in power. She emphasized that many of the key witnesses in the Jan. 6 probe were young women like Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, whose dramatic testimony marked a major moment in the investigation. She told the audience at the library, “These days, for the most part, men are running the world, and it is really not going all that well.”
Stewart believes, even after she no longer has a seat in Congress, there is a place for Cheney in the GOP. She thinks she could be part of an effort to expand the message beyond the Trump base.
“If she continues to get out there and engage in GOP circles and functions, and continue to remind people about her voting record as a Republican, and about her support for freedom and policies that unite the Republican Party as opposed to grievances that divide us, there’s a path for her to stay very relevant in the Republican Party,” Stewart said.
Martin agreed that Cheney’s Wyoming primary, and her role in the party going forward, would be one that people would talk about for a while: “I know that she’s going to go down in history, but I think we are going to have to wait a while to see what the story is of what is said about Liz Cheney in history.”
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
Liz Cheney lost her primary in Wyoming on Tuesday night. Her choice to take on former President Trump’s lies about the 2020 election and his role in fomenting the attack on the Capitol on January 6 cost her her seat in Congress.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Harriet Hageman won the primary. She is a Republican backed by the ex-president. But Cheney indicates she is not giving up her goal of making sure that Trump never returns to the White House.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
LIZ CHENEY: This primary election is over, but now the real work begins.
FADEL: Joining us now with the latest is NPR’s congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh. Hi, Deirdre.
DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Good morning.
FADEL: Good morning. So Cheney’s loss – it was expected, and she gave this impassioned concession speech. What did she say?
WALSH: Well, she said she could have easily won reelection to this seat if she had stuck with Trump. You know, not too long ago, Cheney was considered to be on a path to potentially become the first female Republican speaker of the House. But that all changed with her very public break with Trump. She said last night no public office was worth backing his attacks on democracy. Here’s Cheney last night talking about some of the GOP candidates on the ballot this year threatening to ignore the will of voters.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
CHENEY: Our nation is barreling once again towards crisis, lawlessness and violence. No American should support election deniers for any position of genuine responsibility.
FADEL: And what did Hageman say about her win?
WALSH: She argued Cheney needed to be replaced because she was out of step with voters in the state. Let’s take a listen to her speech.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
HARRIET HAGEMAN: By our vote today, Wyoming has put the elites on notice. We are no longer going to tolerate representatives who don’t represent us.
WALSH: Hageman also thanked Trump, as well as other GOP leaders like Kevin McCarthy, who pushed Cheney out of her House GOP leadership job.
FADEL: Clearly, from Cheney’s speech, she’s not planning to disappear from public life. We heard her say, now the real work begins. What’s next for her?
WALSH: Well, she’s still the vice chair of the House committee investigating the attack on the Capitol. That panel continues to interview witnesses and is expected to hold more public hearings this fall. That position really still gives Cheney a very public national platform for several more months.
FADEL: But what about beyond that? Does Cheney have political aspirations to run against Trump in 2024?
WALSH: We learned this morning that Cheney plans to create her own political operation. This was first reported by Politico. But Cheney spokesman Jeremy Adler confirmed to me in a statement saying, in the coming weeks, Liz will be launching an organization to educate the American people about the ongoing threat to our republic and to mobilize a unified effort to oppose any Donald Trump campaign for president. This entity could support Cheney traveling around the country and continuing to speak out against Trump. She’s already raised a lot of money and now has a significant donor network. It’s unclear whether Cheney would remain a Republican or launch an independent bid. But any challenge to Trump would be another big uphill battle for Cheney. Trump continues to be very popular with the GOP base.
FADEL: So before I let you go, we’ve got to talk about Alaska. Alaskans voted yesterday too. Former governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin was on the ballot, running for a House seat. Some of the results are in. What do we know?
WALSH: Right. This is the seat of the late Alaska Congressman Don Young, who died in March. According to the Associated Press, Palin did advance in the open primary, so she’ll be on the ballot in November. We won’t know the results of the separate race to fill the remainder of Young’s current term. Alaska has a complicated election system, and those results aren’t expected until the end of this month.
FADEL: NPR’s Deirdre Walsh, thanks so much.
WALSH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.