Washington: Moments after losing the fight of her political life, Republican Liz Cheney – the vice president of the committee investigating the attack on the US Capitol – appeared on stage, declaring that the battle had just begun.
Her focus, as always, was on Donald Trump.
Republican Liz Cheney after her primary election loss in Jackson, Wyoming.Credit:AP
“Now the real work begins,” she told her supporters after losing her seat in Wyoming, in one of the most anticipated primary races of the year.
“At the heart of the attack on January 6 is a willingness to embrace dangerous conspiracies that attack the very core premise of our nation. If we do not condemn the conspiracies and the 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.
“America will never be the same.”
Rioters stand outside the US Capitol in Washington on January 6, 2021.Credit:AP
It was an impassioned speech from a three-term congresswoman whose principled stand against the former president made her a darling of the Democrats but an outcast within her own party.
And after an uphill contest, Cheney, the daughter of Dick Cheney, former vice president to George W Bush, was resoundingly defeated by yet another Trump-endorsed candidate: conservative lawyer Harriet Hageman.
The result makes Cheney the most high-profile casualty of the House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump, in a move that altered their political careers. Of the 10 who did so, four chose not to contest their seats (including Adam Kinzinger, the only other Republican on the January 6 committee); three others lost their primary races to Trump-endorsed candidates, and only two advanced to the general midterm elections in November.
Hageman’s victory has spelt the end of the Cheneys’ two-generation dynasty in Wyoming and represents a critical shift in one of America’s most conservative states.
Former President Donald Trump outside Trump Tower last week.Credit:AP
In another time and another place, the 56-year-old might have been exactly the kind of person Republicans could support as a future president: her political pedigree coupled with genuine talent, determination and ability to cut through to a broader audience.
But 2022 is not the time, and America, in the shadow of Trump, is not the place.
As Cheney put it: “Two years ago, I won this primary with 73 per cent of the vote. I could easily have done the same again. The path was clear, but it would have required that I go along with president Trump’s lie about the 2020 election.
“It would have required that I enable his ongoing efforts to unravel our democratic system and attack the foundations of our republic. That was a path I could not, and would not, take.”
Since speaking out against the former president, Cheney has been expelled by her state branch, stripped of her congressional leadership position, and loathed by Trump’s legion of followers.
In the final stretch of her campaign, she was rarely seen around Wyoming due to fears for her safety, and in an act of desperation – or necessity – urged Democrats and independents to register as Republicans so they could vote for her in this primary race.
Former US vice president Dick Cheney at his daughter’s election loss speech.Credit:AP
She also got her father to feature in an ad, staring into the camera wearing a cowboy hat to declare Trump a “coward” and “a threat to the republic”.
In the end, none of it was enough to counter the tide. Wyoming is one of the most conservative states in the US, which Trump won in 2020 with 70 per cent of the vote against Joe Biden – his best result that year.
And by 8pm on the day of the vote, with only a fraction counted, news outlets had already called the election in Hageman’s favour.
So where to next for Liz Cheney?
The good news for supporters is that she will remain in her seat until the new Congress begins in January, when the winners of the November midterm elections take office.
Until then, the high-profile Republican will continue to play a starring role in the Capitol hearings, where she has meticulously revealed the lengths Trump took to remain in power.
The public hearings will resume in September, followed by a final report that will also provide recommendations to mitigate similar events from happening again.
Cheney also hasn’t ruled out the prospect of seeking her party’s nomination to run for the White House, despite the uphill battle she’d inevitably face.
Liz Cheney addresses supporters at the Mead Ranch in Jackson, Wyoming.Credit:AP
Republicans view her as a turncoat, and even if she was successful against other contenders, Democrats would make sure her voting record would come back to haunt her in a general election against one of their own.
Indeed, for all of her opposition to Trump, an analysis by FiveThirtyEight found she voted with him nine out of 10 times.
As recently as this month, she stuck with her party to vote against the Democrats’ $US740 billion ($1 trillion) Inflation Reduction Act, which Biden signed into law on Wednesday (AEST). The sweeping bill – delivered only with the support of the two usual holdout democrats, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, will lower drug costs, encourage Americans to switch to lower sources of energy and raise taxes on the rich.
On his own website, Trump released a statement saying: “This is a wonderful result for America, and a complete rebuke of the Unselect Committee of political Hacks and Thugs. Liz Cheney should be ashamed of herself, the way she acted, and her spiteful, sanctimonious words and actions towards others. Now she can finally disappear into the depths of political oblivion where, I am sure, she will be much happier than she is right now. Thank you WYOMING!”
Cheney didn’t hint at a future tilt for office, but Trump has – seemingly under deterred by the FBI raid on his Mar-a-Lago estate and the investigations piling up around him.
Instead, she made it clear that her top priority is ensuring he never gets into the White House again.
As she has said all along: win, lose or draw, “the fight will go on.”
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