Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) lost her congressional primary on Tuesday, meaning that eight of the 10 House Republicans who backed Donald Trump’s second impeachment won’t be returning to Congress next year.
Their departures ― whether forced out by voters, or via retirement ― indicate that Trump’s hold over the Republican Party is as strong as ever, and perhaps even growing, as he weighs another presidential run in 2024.
Trump has made a litmus test out of his Big Lie that the 2020 election was compromised by fraud. Republicans who accept the lie can remain in Trump’s good graces. Cheney refused to go along with the lie, and actively worked against Trump’s efforts, serving on the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
“Two years ago, I won this primary with 73% of the votes. I could easily have done the same again,” Cheney said Tuesday. “The path was clear, but it would have required that I go along with President Trump’s lie about the 2020 election.”
Cheney had previously been the third-ranking Republican in the House, but was booted from the conference leadership team in an internal vote last year. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said then that “our leadership team cannot afford to be distracted from the important work that we were elected to do.” The distraction? Truthful statements about Trump trying to steal the 2020 election.
In the initial aftermath of the Jan. 6 insurrection, McCarthy said Trump “bore responsibility” for the riot — but in a stunning about-face, he later flew to Florida to stay in Trump’s good graces, and has since argued that “everybody in the country” is to blame for the riot.
The fate of the Republicans who voted to impeach Trump illustrates why McCarthy needs to kowtow to the disgraced former president if he wants to become speaker of the House next year. To get the gavel, McCarthy will need the support of the vast majority of House Republicans, whose voters are largely in thrall to Trump.
Cheney is only the latest pro-impeachment Republican to lose her primary. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.), a moderate, was ousted last week by Joe Kent, a Trump-endorsed candidate. Herrera Beutler revealed early in 2021 that McCarthy had told her about his phone call with Trump on Jan. 6, during which McCarthy assured Trump that it was his own supporters ransacking the Capitol and not antifa.
“That’s when, according to McCarthy, the president said: ‘Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are,’” Herrera Beutler said in a February 2021 statement.
Earlier this month, Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.), an Iraq War veteran, lost his primary to a Trump-endorsed candidate amid a furor over Democratic meddling in the race. The campaign arm of the House Democrats had run ads that sought to elevate Meijer’s election-denying right-wing challenger, John Gibbs. In the end, Meijer lost and then turned around and endorsed Gibbs.
Still, Meijer has lamented the state of his party.
“I can’t tell you the number of times somebody said, ‘You don’t have to believe the election is stolen, the important thing isn’t believing it, it’s saying it,’” Meijer told The New York Times this week. “That is what a Republican is supposed to do right now.”
Republicans who don’t bend the knee get beaten. Trump impeacher Rep. Tom Rice (R-S.C.) lost his primary in June to a state representative named Russell Fry, a Trump stooge who says Rice “broke the trust” of his constituents by voting to impeach Trump.
Of the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump over the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, four decided to retire rather than run for reelection, a challenge they’d likely have lost anyway.
Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio) was the first pro-impeachment Republican to bow out of seeking another term. In explaining his exit after just two terms in Congress, the former NFL wide receiver cited a desire to spend more time with his family, as well as the “toxic dynamics” in the GOP. With Ohio losing a seat in congressional redistricting, chances are Gonzalez would have had to prevail over a more pro-Trump colleague in a primary to stay in office.
In October, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) opted to retire and focus on his leadership PAC, Country First, rather than compete in a primary against another incumbent, Rep. Darin LaHood, post-redistricting. Kinzinger complained at the time that “unity” was sorely lacking in Trump-era politics. Kinzinger and Cheney were the only two Republicans to serve on the Jan. 6 select committee.
Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) voted to impeach Trump and announced in April that he would retire, though he said his decision had more to do with the way his district has been redrawn than his Trump-backed challenger. Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.) also chose retirement and denied that Trump had anything to do with it.
Only two pro-impeachment House Republicans advanced to the general election this year. Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.) survived a right-wing challenge, albeit not from a candidate backed by Trump. The former president mostly ignored the race, and Valadao won the endorsement of House GOP leaders, including McCarthy.
Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.), meanwhile, managed to advance to the general election in Washington’s top-two primary system despite facing a Trump-backed challenger. There were five other GOP candidates in the race, splitting the field in the incumbent’s favor.
Trump, who is under federal investigation for mishandling documents and for his attempt to overthrow the 2020 election, gloated about Cheney’s loss on Tuesday evening and repeated his lie that the 2020 election was stolen. His campaign’s legal team has failed to substantiate any fraud claims in court, and his own advisers and Justice Department appointees told him the claims were bunk, but Trump has not let the truth stop him.
“Liz Cheney’s uninspiring concession speech, in front of a ‘tiny’ crowd in the Great State of Wyoming, focused on her belief that the 2020 Presidential Election was not, despite massive and conclusive evidence to the contrary, Rigged & Stolen,” Trump wrote in a statement on his social media platform, Truth Social.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Jack Bergman as defeating Rep. Peter Meijer in the GOP primary for Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District. John Gibbs was the winner of that district’s primary. Bergman won the primary in Michigan’s 1st Congressional District.