Rep. Liz Cheney, decisively defeated in Tuesday’s Republican primary in Wyoming after spending 18 months attacking former President Donald Trump, could rebound into another political career as head of the “Never Trump” wing of the party.
Republican Harriet Hageman prevailed in the primary for Wyoming’s at-large congressional seat after voters rejected Ms. Cheney’s opposition to the former president. Mr. Trump won the state by 43 percentage points in 2020.
Defeat means Ms. Cheney will soon lose her Capitol Hill pulpit, which she has used since early 2021 to denounce Mr. Trump, urge his banishment from the Republican Party and even push for a criminal investigation into his role in challenging the results of the 2020 presidential election.
She voted to impeach Mr. Trump on charges of inciting the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol and has played a leading role on a Democratic-led committee that has worked to blame Mr. Trump for the riot and prove he wrongfully tried to overturn Joseph R. Biden’s victory.
Supporters say Ms. Cheney will resurface after leaving the House as an even bigger threat to Mr. Trump — perhaps by running against him in the 2024 Republican presidential race or as an independent candidate in the general election who could pull away enough votes to block Mr. Trump from winning a second term.
“She’s not going to go away,” Jim Rooks, a member of the Jackson, Wyoming, Town Council, told The Washington Times. “She’s going to become the disruptor.”
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Ms. Cheney has not discussed her plans despite frequent questions from reporters about a potential White House bid.
“At this point, I have not made a decision about 2024,” Ms. Cheney told CNN in late July.
She suggested during the same interview that she would try to prevent Mr. Trump from winning another election because “our nation stands on the edge of an abyss, and we all have to think very seriously about the dangers we face and the threats we face, and we have got to elect serious candidates … and we’ve got to be able to come together and stop the very dangerous politics that we have all lived through over the last year and a half.”
Ms. Cheney, who has a conservative voting record, likely would need Democrats to help her advance politically because much of the Republican Party has turned its back on her. House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy of California spent Tuesday in Wyoming campaigning for Mrs. Hageman.
Democratic fundraisers poured thousands of dollars into Ms. Cheney’s reelection bid, and some signaled that they would be willing to help Ms. Cheney take on Mr. Trump again.
Dmitri Mehlhorn, an adviser to Democratic megadonor and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, recently told CBS News that Democratic donors may continue backing Ms. Cheney, even though she is staunchly conservative, in the event Mr. Trump runs for president again.
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“If people who want to end the peaceful transfer of power in the United States and change America from what it has always been into something different, if they’re around as a political force for a long time, then yeah, I could see a long-term alliance with people like Liz Cheney, even though we disagree on everything else,” Mr. Mehlhorn said.
Mr. Trump continues to hold considerable leverage over Republican voters, and party officials largely reject the idea that Ms. Cheney could derail the former president’s third White House bid should he decide to run.
In Wyoming, where Mr. Trump remains popular, Republican voters say Ms. Cheney will struggle to find her political footing after working almost exclusively to destroy Mr. Trump.
“I think she’s kind of a woman without a party,” said Deb Simpson, a real estate appraiser in Cody whose father-in-law, Republican Alan Simpson, served in the U.S. Senate for nearly two decades. “I don’t think the conservatives will support her, and I think once she doesn’t have the bully pulpit of the Jan. 6 committee, she’ll find the Democrats’ support for her wanes because that’s the only reason they’re supporting her now. If you look at her voting record, she is fairly conservative.”
Polls show voters may be looking for alternatives to Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden. Both men have signaled that they plan to run for president in 2024. Neither has made an official announcement.
A CNN poll released in late July found that 55% of Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters do not want Mr. Trump to become the party’s nominee in 2024. Among Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters, 75% said they want their party to nominate somebody other than Mr. Biden.
“There is an opportunity for an independent to get a lot of votes in 2024,” said Ron Faucheux, president of the nonpartisan Clarus Research Group. “There is strong dissatisfaction with both parties. But Cheney would have to ask herself whether her candidacy would help or hurt Trump should he be the Republican nominee. Would she take more votes from Trump or from the Democratic nominee?”
Kasey Mateosky, a construction company owner running as a Republican for Teton County commissioner, said Tuesday that he did not vote for either Ms. Cheney or Mrs. Hageman in the primary and “wears a cowboy hat, not a MAGA hat.”
Mr. Mateosky said he believes Ms. Cheney won’t back off her quest to banish Mr. Trump from public office.
“I really expect her to still stay on Trump’s a— and be a burr in the saddle,” Mr. Mateosky told The Times. “Maybe her thought is to take him on in the primary just to get on the stage with him and tell him how big of an a—hole she feels he is. Maybe that’s all she wants to do: just keep embarrassing him.”
Correction: In a previous version of the story, Dmitri Mehlhorn’s name was misspelled in the second reference.