Rep. Liz Cheney, ousted Wednesday from her position as the No. 3 leader of her party in the House, is the latest anti-Trump Republican to be steamrolled by the former president since he crashed onto the political scene in 2015, but the congresswoman from Wyoming was defiant in defeat.
Ms. Cheney made it clear that she would not follow in the footsteps of Republicans who decided that if you can’t beat him, join him. The daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney instead doubled down on her criticism of Donald Trump, vowing to wage a public relations war against the 45th president and loosen his grip on the party.
“I will do everything I can to ensure that the former president never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office,” she told reporters after her fellow Republicans on a voice vote fired her as the party’s House conference chair.
Ms. Cheney’s next stop was an exclusive sit-down interview with NBC News’ Savannah Guthrie that is set to air Thursday morning on “Today.” She also is set to be beamed into living rooms across the country when she joins Bret Baier on Thursday night on Fox News’ “Special Report.”
Mr. Trump, meanwhile, celebrated her loss from the sidelines.
“Liz Cheney is a bitter, horrible human being,” Mr. Trump said in a statement. “She is a warmonger whose family stupidly pushed us into the never-ending Middle East Disaster, draining our wealth and depleting our Great Military, the worst decision in our Country’s history.”
“I look forward to soon watching her as a Paid Contributor on CNN or MSDNC!” he said.
In her interview with NBC, Ms. Cheney said the showdown over her leadership position was the “opening salvo” in a battle for the soul of the Republican Party.
“I intend to be the leader, one of the leaders, in a fight to help to restore our party, and in a fight to bring our party back to substance and principles,” Ms. Cheney said, according to an excerpt from the interview released Wednesday.
Asked about Mr. Trump’s push to sink her in the Republican primary election next year, Ms. Cheney said, “Bring it on.”
Kevin Madden, a Republican Party consultant, said Ms. Cheney faces a series of challenges in her quest.
“Trump has a dominant hold on the party, its leadership and its message,” Mr. Madden said. “He also controls the oxygen supply of any party, which is the fundraising capability and the grassroots dollars coming in.
“The charge Cheney has is a formidable one,” he said. “What other leaders are with her, what’s the message, the strategy and where are the resources?
“All of those need to be answered,” he said. “Trump and his allies have those questions answered right now.”
The former president, tarnished by the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol and holed up at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, lost powerful social media tools when he was suspended from Twitter and Facebook. But he retains enormous influence among rank-and-file Republican voters backing his effort to remake the party in his image.
Without Twitter, Mr. Trump has been releasing an ever-increasing stream of statements. On Wednesday, he highlighted Fox News personality Sean Hannity’s tweet mocking the press for fawning over Ms. Cheney.
“Hope [you’re] enjoying being embraced & praised by Dems and media mob, the same people that called your dad a ‘War Criminal,” convicted Scooter Libby & tried to destroy your father over his work w/ Halliburton,” said Mr. Hannity, a Trump ally. “Counting the days until your new friends return to normal.”
Mr. Trump has forged a history of feasting on critics inside the Republican Party.
He trounced a crowded field of rivals on his way to the 2016 Republican presidential nomination and afterward managed to turn some of those opponents into staunch allies.
Onetime opponent Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas called Mr. Trump a “pathological liar” and “utterly amoral.” Nomination rival Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said Mr. Trump was a “fake conservative,” and Sen. Lindsey Graham said if Republicans nominated Mr. Trump, “we will get destroyed … and we will deserve it.”
The three Republicans are now among Mr. Trump’s most vocal supporters and have even joined their former antagonist on the golf course or in a clubhouse dining room.
Mr. Trump also helped persuade some Republicans to get out of the business. Sens. Jeff Flake and Bob Corker decided against running for reelection in 2018 after getting on Mr. Trump’s bad side.
The former president also claimed primary victories. In South Carolina, Rep. Mark Sanford fell short against a Republican who won a last-minute Trump endorsement.
Some have parlayed their clashes with Mr. Trump into opportunities elsewhere.
Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich now works as a commentator on CNN, a perch from which he has continued to criticize Mr. Trump and cheer on Ms. Cheney.
“The only thing the GOP accomplished was to make @Liz_Cheney a martyr,” Mr. Kasich said in a post on Twitter. “Her influence will only grow. She is on the right side of history.”
Mr. Kasich also blasted out a link to the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ song “I Won’t Back Down.”
For now, though, the party belongs to Mr. Trump.
A poll from the right-leaning Trafalgar Group released Wednesday found that roughly half of Republican voters would certainly back Mr. Trump in a presidential race in 2024 and another 12% would likely do so.
Mr. Trump also appears to have helped clear the field for Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York to succeed Ms. Cheney as House Republican Conference chair.
Ms. Stefanik’s conservative credentials have been questioned, but she is the sole candidate at the moment and there isn’t much of an appetite to line up against Mr. Trump’s blessing.
“I don’t think there will be anybody that wants to risk a future chairmanship or a future role in the party by taking on Elise Stefanik, which I think is terribly unfortunate,” said Rep. Ken Buck, a Colorado Republican and member of the far-right Freedom Caucus.
Mr. Trump plans to play a big role in the midterm elections next year. His influence is already felt in states such as Pennsylvania and North Carolina, where Sens. Patrick J. Toomey and Richard Burr, who voted to convict Mr. Trump in his second impeachment trial, are not seeking reelection.
Mr. Trump has openly called for voters to punish Republicans who either voted to impeach him or refused to echo his claims that the election was stolen from him.
Of the seven Senate Republicans who voted to convict Mr. Trump, five have been censured by the Republican groups in their states.
Sen. Mitt Romney narrowly escaped censure from Utah Republicans after voting to convict Mr. Trump in both impeachment trials.
Mr. Romney was booed on stage at the state party convention and later was censured by the Weber County Republican Party in Utah.
⦁ Kery Murakami and Tom Howell Jr. contributed to this report.