- The Washington Times - Monday, August 15, 2022

Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska are set Tuesday to test their mettle against the Trump-fueled primary buzz saw that has ripped through the Republican Party this election cycle, separating Trump opponents from their political careers.

Ms. Cheney and Ms. Murkowski have been vocal critics of former President Donald Trump, but they appear to be on very different electoral paths against their Trump-backed rivals. Ms. Cheney is staring at near certain defeat in the winner-take-all primary in deep-red Wyoming. Ms. Murkowski is well-positioned to fight another day in Alaska’s ranked-choice primary.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, meanwhile, is looking to ride the pro-Trump wave back into electoral politics in a special election to replace the late Rep. Don Young.

The primary races, in other words, are shaping up as the latest barometer of Mr. Trump’s political clout.

Mr. Trump’s grip on the Republican Party has been undeniable since his tumultuous exit from office. Most party leaders, possible 2024 presidential contenders and rank-and-file lawmakers have stuck with him.

The former president also has had tremendous success purging elected Republicans he deemed disloyal, scaring some away from seeking reelection and helping to oust others in party primaries.

SEE ALSO: Trump faces off with Garland in high-stakes fight

As it stands, seven of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Mr. Trump on charges of inciting the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol will not be returning to Congress.

“Overall, in terms of Trump’s endorsement, he has done pretty well this year,” said J. Miles Coleman of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “He has had some setbacks in places like Georgia, but it has been largely positive for him.”

Mr. Trump is looking to notch more wins in Alaska, where Ms. Palin is locked in a competitive race for the House with Nick Begich III. Democrat Mary Peltola is also running and is hoping to shake up the race.

Ms. Palin endorsed Mr. Trump early in the 2016 Republican presidential race, and Mr. Trump returned the favor this year. He said Ms. Palin has been a warrior against corruption in state government and the “Fake News Media.”

She resigned as governor in 2009 after she electrified the base of the Republican Party — and horrified Democrats — as Sen. John McCain’s feisty and folksy running mate a year earlier.

Republicans are expected to defend the House seat in November when Ms. Palin, Mr. Begich and Ms. Peltola are likely to face off again — along with a fourth candidate — for the chance to serve a full two-year term. 

Ms. Murkowski also is under the spotlight in Alaska.

Of the seven Senate Republicans who voted to convict Mr. Trump after his House impeachment trial on charges of inciting insurrection with the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, she is the only one to face voters this year.

Mr. Trump is backing Republican Kelly Tshibaka in the 19-candidate primary battle. 

Ms. Murkowski, who lost her primary in 2010 before winning as a write-in candidate, stands to benefit from the state’s new ranked-choice primary system, in which the top four vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation, advance to the general election.

The two pro-impeachment House Republicans — Reps. David G. Valadao of California and Dan Newhouse of Washington — who survived their primaries come from states with somewhat similar open primary systems.

Ms. Cheney doesn’t have that luxury in her winner-take-all primary in Wyoming. Her critics say her anti-Trump actions have rendered her ineffective.

Her future has been in limbo since she joined nine House Republican colleagues in voting to impeach Mr. Trump on charges of inciting the Capitol riot in an effort to block Congress’ certification of Joseph R. Biden’s presidential election victory.

Combined with her refusal to back off her criticism of Mr. Trump and his claims of a stolen election, her impeachment vote has not aged well.

Ms. Cheney, a daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, was ousted from House Republican leadership and censured by the Wyoming Republican Party and the Republican National Committee.

Ms. Cheney’s decision to serve as vice chair of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot further alienated her from the Republican base.

Nonetheless, Ms. Cheney welcomed the fight against Mr. Trump and his hand-picked candidate, Harriet Hageman, saying, “Bring it on.” She said it is time to “elect serious leaders” and Mr. Trump’s “poisonous lies” threaten to destroy the nation.

Ms. Cheney is heading into big trouble on Tuesday.

“I think Wyoming is going to be a pretty open-and-shut case,” Mr. Coleman said. “It is admirable that she is willing to stand on principle, but electorally that is just not the message a Republican electorate is going to want to hear — being anti-Trump.”

Things have looked so dire for Ms. Cheney that speculation has been running rampant for weeks, even months, over whether she might run for president in 2024, lead some sort of anti-Trump group or join the ranks of the television talking heads.

The Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center released a poll of likely Republican primary voters last week showing Ms. Hageman, a former Cheney supporter and member of the Republican National Committee, was leading by 30 percentage points.

“Wyoming is fed up with Liz Cheney because she’s made the election about her and her own personal war with President Trump,” said Tim Murtaugh, a Hageman adviser. “Wyoming wants someone who will fight against the awful Biden administration, not do the Democrats’ dirty work, and that’s why Harriet Hageman will be the next congresswoman from Wyoming.”

Ms. Cheney closed out her campaign with a warning about what she called Mr. Trump’s war against the truth and his influence over the party.

“Like many candidates across this country, my opponents in Wyoming have said that the 2020 election was rigged and stolen,” she said in her closing campaign ad. “No one who understands our nation’s laws, no one with an honest, honorable, genuine commitment to our Constitution would say that. It is a cancer that threatens our great republic.

“If we do not condemn these lies, if we do not hold those responsible to account, we will be excusing this conduct and it will become a feature of all elections,” she said. “America will never be the same.”

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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