Trump eyes big prize in taking down Cheney

·5 min read

Former President Trump is bracing for one of his biggest political wins since leaving the White House: ousting Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.).

Cheney, one of the few House Republicans who voted last year to impeach Trump, appears headed for defeat on Tuesday when she faces off against a Trump-backed rival, attorney Harriet Hageman, in one of the most highly anticipated primary contests of the year.

On the surface, Cheney’s position isn’t entirely unique; most of the 10 Republicans who voted for Trump’s impeachment have either lost renomination this year or opted against running for reelection altogether. But the race carries symbolic value for Trump and his relentless effort to purge the GOP of one of his most ardent conservative critics.

“More than anyone, he wants Cheney gone,” one former Trump aide said. “I think with him, politics is always personal, but the Cheney thing — I think he sees that as being even more important because she didn’t just vote to impeach him, right? She tried to destroy him.”

Another Republican source detailed the former president’s particularly keen interest in the effort to oust Cheney. His team spent months meeting with potential primary challengers and culling the list of Trump loyalists in the race to ensure a united Republican front against Cheney. The former president also met personally with some prospective challengers before landing on Hageman as his preferred candidate.

Trump has even maintained an alliance with the conservative Club for Growth, a key player in GOP primaries that is also backing Hageman, despite breaking with the group over its involvement in other Republican nominating contests, including the Senate primary in Ohio.

“I think he’s certainly been more involved than he has in a lot of other primaries,” the second source said.

The most recent polling in the Wyoming race looks bleak for Cheney. A survey conducted early last month by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy for the Casper Star-Tribune found Hageman with a 22-point lead over Cheney.

Since then, there are signs that Hageman’s advantage has only widened. A University of Wyoming poll released last week showed Cheney trailing by a staggering 29-point margin.

But despite Cheney’s gloomy political prospects, the Wyoming congresswoman hasn’t toned down her attacks on the former president and his current grip on the Republican Party.

She used her closing statement in the only primary debate to warn against embracing “the lies of Donald Trump” and to tell Republicans to “vote for somebody else” if they want a representative who will violate their oath of office. A campaign ad released earlier this month featured her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, railing against Trump as a “threat to our Republic.”

And in a closing video message to voters last week, she attacked the former president’s “legacy,” accusing him of lying to the American people, ignoring the rule of law and encouraging violence.

“The lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen is insidious,” she said in the video. “It preys on those who love their country. It is a door Donald Trump opened to manipulate Americans to abandon their principles, to sacrifice their freedom, to justify violence, to ignore the rulings of our courts and the rule of law. This is Donald Trump’s legacy, but it cannot be the future of our nation.”

The relationship between Trump and Cheney hasn’t always been an antagonistic one. She supported him in 2016 when she first won her House seat and even maintained that support as many of her fellow Republicans sought to distance themselves from him because of vulgar remarks he made about women.

She also voted in line with Trump’s positions roughly 93 percent of the time during his tenure in the White House, according to the data website FiveThirtyEight, and cast her ballot for him in the 2020 presidential election.

Everything changed, however, in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential contest as Trump and his allies spread the false notion that the election was rigged and sought to overturn his electoral loss, an effort that culminated in the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Since then, Cheney has emerged as Trump’s most vocal Republican critic in Congress. She voted to impeach him for his role in the Capitol attack and continued to challenge his claim that the election was stolen after that, a move that ultimately cost her her job as the chairwoman of the House Republican Conference. She’s now one of only two Republicans serving on the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot.

If Trump gets his way on Tuesday — and the polling suggests he will — it will mark the final milestone in the former president’s effort to rid the House Republican Conference of those he deems disloyal.

Four pro-impeachment Republicans — Reps. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), John Katko (N.Y.), Fred Upton (Mich.) and Anthony Gonzalez (Ohio) — are not running for reelection this year, while three others — Reps. Tom Rice (S.C.), Jaime Herrera Beutler (Wash.) and Peter Meijer (Mich.) — have lost renomination to Trump-backed challengers.

Only two of the 10 — Reps. Dan Newhouse (Wash.) and David Valadao (Calif.) — have survived their primaries, though not by much.

Even in the off chance that Cheney makes it through her primary, Trump’s campaign against her hasn’t left her unscathed.

She has largely been sidelined within the GOP: The Wyoming Republican Party has already disavowed Cheney, she has few allies left within the House Republican Conference and dozens of her GOP colleagues in the lower chamber have sought to boost Hageman. More than 50 attended a fundraiser for Cheney’s primary challenger earlier this year.

Cheney, however, has cast her campaign as one with a higher purpose.

“At the end of the day if defending the Constitution against the threat that he poses means losing a House seat, then that’s a sacrifice that I’m willing to make,” Cheney told CNN in an interview earlier this month. “I don’t intend to lose, but some things are more important than any individual office or political campaign.”

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