Never-Trump Republicans crowned a new hero last week with the emergence of Rep. Liz Cheney, the party’s No. 3 leader in the House, who accused President Trump of the biggest “betrayal” in White House history and voted for his impeachment.
As the daughter of a former vice president, Ms. Cheney is as close to Republican royalty as exists in Congress right now, and her impeachment vote — and the fierce denunciation she delivered along with it — catapulted her over the likes Sen. Mitt Romney or former Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
Now, as Republicans ponder life without the reins of power, Ms. Cheney’s act of rebellion against the outgoing party leader has pointed the way forward for the wing of the GOP hoping to erase as much as it can of Mr. Trump and his policy positions.
“She represents one possible future for the party, a Reaganesque restoration where character matters most and there’s a platform based on principle rather than fealty to one person,” said Bruce Mehlman, a longtime Republican operative who served in the George W. Bush administration.
Whether Ms. Cheney has a political future at all, however, is the question back in her home state of Wyoming.
“I’ve gotten a lot of phone calls, more than you could count. I have not gotten one in support of what Liz Cheney did,” said Martin Kimmet, chairman of the Republican Party in Park County. “What she did was wrong. Period.”
He said the political nosedive is deep enough she might lose her seat in a GOP primary in 2022. “She couldn’t win a primary today for dog catcher,” Mr. Kimmet said.
It’s a stunning turnaround for a figure who just two months ago was labeled the future “face of the party” by Politico.
The backlash in Wyoming reflects continued support for Mr. Trump among Republican voters. An NBC News poll released Thursday showed only 8% of Republican voters supported impeachment, compared to 89% of Democrats and 45% of independents.
When Ms. Cheney’s exact criticism of Mr. Trump, with her accusation of “betrayal” of his oath of office, was put to the test by YouGov, another pollster, just 31% of those surveyed agreed with her and 62% disagreed, with 52% “strongly” disagreeing.
Among the broader public, though, Ms. Cheney’s view is the majority.
She was one of 10 Republicans to back impeachment. But it was her words that Democrats cited repeatedly as they sought to shame other GOP lawmakers into breaking with Mr. Trump.
“The president of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack,” Ms. Cheney said in explaining her vote. “Everything that followed was his doing. None of this would have happened without the president.”
“Good for her for honoring her oath of office,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat. “Would that more Republicans would honor their oaths of office.”
Trump backers in Congress called on Ms. Cheney to resign her position as chair of the House Republican Conference.
Republican Reps. Andy Biggs of Arizona and Matt Rosendale of Montana are circulating a petition to force her out of the job, and a number of the Trump supporters with whom she’s clashed over the years are gunning for her ouster.
“It is extremely difficult for someone to be in a position of speaking for the conference with those thoughts,” said Rep. Lee Zeldin, New York Republican.
Ms. Cheney said she won’t quit.
“I’m not going anywhere. This is a vote of conscience. It’s one where there are different views in our conference. But our nation is facing an unprecedented — since the Civil War — constitutional crisis,” she told reporters at the Capitol.
Ms. Cheney had been viewed by political pros in Washington as a future leader of the House Republicans — and perhaps even the first Republican woman to become speaker.
When she turned down a clear path to claim Wyoming’s Senate seat in last year’s election, it was seen as a sign she, too, saw herself ascending the leadership ladder.
In the wake of her vote, she told the Wyoming press corps she expects to find plenty of unity with fellow Republicans in the future, once they’re all battling a Biden administration together.
“Once we get through this period, once we get through the inauguration, we will very much be focused on policy,” she said. “I’m laying out a positive agenda for the future, and it’ll be one that will allow us to get the majority back in two years. That’s what I’m focused on, and that’s what I look forward to our conference being able to accomplish.”
Her spokesman bristled when The Washington Times asked whether she was the new face of the Never Trump movement.