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What Liz Cheney’s Lopsided Loss Says About the State of the G.O.P.

Representative Liz Cheney’s martyred quest to stop Donald J. Trump has secured her place in Republican Party history. But her one-sided defeat in Wyoming on Tuesday also exposed the remarkable degree to which the former president still controls the party’s present and foreseeable future.

Ten House Republicans voted in early 2021 to impeach Trump for his role in inciting the mob storming the Capitol. Only two survived the 2022 Republican primaries, a breathtaking string of losses and forced retirements in a room where incumbent officials typically easily prevail.

No defeat was so charged with significance as Mrs Cheney’s, or so revealing about the party’s reshuffle.

The sheer magnitude of her loss — a former vice president’s daughter was defeated in a landslide — may have only strengthened Mr. Trump’s hand as he reaffirmed his hold on the Republican Party, igniting the futility among Republican voters of even the most vigorous prosecution of the case against him.

Ms. Cheney cast her mission to fight election denial as a moral imperative and her work as just beginning, pledging to “do whatever it takes” to avoid a second Trump presidency. “Freedom must, cannot and will not die here,” she stated in her concession speech in Jackson on Tuesday evening.

Not long ago, Mrs. Cheney is seen as a rising Republican star, even as a potential speaker in the House. Now that she has become her party’s most persistent Trump counterpart — the Jan. 6 committee hearings are turning into a megaphone to warn of the dangers Mr Trump and his enablers posed to the party, the country, and even democracy herself – she will soon lose her job.

Ms. Cheney had hoped that the January 6 riots would be a turning point for Republicans. It turned out to be a dividing line. But it was those who crossed over Mr. Trump who suffered the electoral fallout.

“She may have fought for principles,” said Taylor Budowich, a spokesperson and adviser to Mr Trump. “But those are not the principles of the Republican Party.”

Ms. Cheney made it clear that she was more than willing to lose her seat in the House, and she broadly alluded to a presidential campaign of her own in 2024, appealing to Abraham Lincoln’s failed bids for lesser positions before he took over. presidency sought and won.

But the Wyoming outcome showed that while anti-Trump Republicans can count on adequate funding and media coverage, the actual Republican constituency for them is much more limited. Indeed, one of Ms. Cheney’s last gasps was an attempt to get Democrats to switch sides to vote in the GOP primaries.

Her loss was also the latest sign that the current Republican Party’s central organizing principles are less tied to specific policies—she was a trusted voice for much of the Trump agenda—than to what Mr. Trump wants at any given time.

Most recently, that meant lashing out at federal law enforcement over the search of Mr. Trump’s Florida home for missing materials with classified markings. More broadly, it meant embracing his obsession with denying his defeat in 2020 and bolstering his false claims of electoral fraud, regardless of its bloody fallout nearly 20 months ago or its destabilizing effect on the nation.

“You could write the history of the modern Republican Party for the past two years, and what does January 6 look like? A hiccup,” said William Kristol, the neoconservative writer who co-founded Republican Voters Against Trump, a group that spends millions of dollars opposing Trump-backed election deniers. “Today’s Republican Party admission fee turns a blind eye to Jan. 6.”

That was the experience of Michigan Representative Peter Meijer, who voted to impeach Trump weeks after taking office and lost his reelection first this month. He said his voters asked him ten times as much about his impeachment vote as anything else.

“Policy is not a policy aimed at improving government,” explained Mr. Meijer. “It’s policy as a signifier of whether you’re in the in-group or out-of-group.”

He refused to repeat the lie that the 2020 elections were stolen, he said, placing Mr Meijer right in the “out group”.

“I can’t tell you how many times someone said, ‘You don’t have to believe the election was stolen, the important thing isn’t to believe it, it is proverb it,’” Mr Meijer recalled in an interview. “That’s what a Republican should do now.”

If a series of primary setbacks this spring had shown that Mr Trump was not invincible, then the August races demonstrated his lasting impact.

Washington State Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler, another Republican impeachment vote, was ousted by a Trump supporter. A Trump-backed candidate, Tim Michels, who liked to undo the 2020 election, won the Republican nomination for governor of Wisconsin. And Mr. Trump’s preferred candidates made it to the Arizona Senate, Governor, Attorney General, and Secretary of State nominations. All embraced his election denial.


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Even in Connecticut, a state that once defined a more genteel and moderate form of Republicanism, Mr. Trump’s election to the Senate was upsetting. the candidate of the local party.

Remarkably, neither of the two House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump and survived this year’s primaries, Representative David Valadao of California and Dan Newhouse of Washington, won the traditional Republican primaries. Both won in states with open primaries that allowed the top two pullers to advance regardless of party affiliation.

Max Miller, a former Trump White House aide who announced a run for Congress in Ohio last year against another Republican who voted for impeachment, Representative Anthony Gonzalez, tried to vent Republican voters’ anger at GOP accusers lay.

“You run to be a representative of the people,” said Mr. Miller. ‘It says ‘representative’. You are there to represent their values. They have betrayed the values ​​of their voters and that is why they are in such a hot spot.”

Mr Gonzalez chose to retire rather than run again, citing threats against him and his family.

The purge of Trump critics from the Republican Party is still ongoing and so thorough that much of it is now happening without the direct involvement of Mr. Trump. Allies in local and state parties, as well as Republican-affiliated organizations, censor or expel those who break with the new orthodoxy.

Jeff Larson, a former chief of staff for the Republican National Committee who also served as chief executive of the 2016 Republican National Convention that nominated Mr. Trump, recently aided Ms. Cheney’s reelection campaign through an outside group. Not long after Axios reported his involvementMr. Larson was asked to step down as chairman of America Rising, a prominent Republican research group, an expert said.

Mr Larson is no longer chairman. Neither he nor America Rising responded to a request for comment.

Some disagreement with Mr. Trump can be tolerated in the party, but more overt rebellion or contempt is unforgivable. That poses a challenge to potential Republican alternatives who have criticized Mr Trump, such as Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, who was seen flip pork chops at the Iowa State Fair last week.

Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review, the conservative magazine — which alternates between having a complex relationship with Mr. Trump has had condemn him or cheer his actions — said he hoped the party would not rename Mr Trump by 2024. He acknowledged that the road to an alternate flag bearer was narrow, persuading concerned Republican voters to adopt some version of Trumpism without its namesake — the kind of space Gov. Florida’s Ron DeSantis seems determined to fill.

“The most important thing, if you want Trump to stay retired, is to understand that the people you need to convince are Republicans who voted for him twice, who like him, who are entertained by him, who are grateful for a lot things he has done. who hate his critics, who think he was being treated unfairly,” said Mr. lowry. “That’s who you have to convince.”

In her race, Ms. Cheney mostly chose to attack Mr. Trump rather than get involved with her challenger, Harriet Hageman, who supported Mr. Trump.

That focus stood out. During one of Ms. Hageman’s pre-debate video conference calls, she suggested her aides search Ms. Cheney’s congressional press releases to see how many were about Wyoming or critical of President Biden, according to two involved. The releases were almost all about January 6 and Mr. Trump.

Ms. Cheney seemed to go out of her way to taunt Mr Trump. One of her closing ads featured her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, calling Mr Trump a “coward.” Bought her campaign time on Mr. Trump.

Her relentless attitude made Ms. Cheney an outcast among the colleagues she had led last year as House Republican Speaker.

The rift between Ms. Cheney and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the leader of the House of the Republicans, was so great that he hosted a donor event at the Four Seasons resort near Jackson, Wyo, to coincide with Tuesday night’s primaries. . It contained “cocktails by the fire” not long after polling stations closed, according to a copy of the schedule.

But Mrs. Cheney wasn’t done screwing with Mr. McCarthy or Mr. Trump.

Over the past few days, her campaign has paid google to place a video ad in just two small communities in the country: Bedminster, NJ, Mr. Trump, and Teton Village, the hamlet where the Four Seasons and Mr. McCarthy’s event.

“America cannot remain free if we give up the truth,” Ms Cheney said in the video. “The lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen is insidious.”

Maggie Haberman contributed reporting.

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