Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney will be looking for her next act in public life after being rejected by the Cowboy State's Republican voters Tuesday.
And regardless of whether there's another run for elected office, Cheney seems sure to be driven by her crusade to keep former President Donald Trump far away from the White House.
Cheney told supporters that Harriet Hageman, a former GOP candidate for governor who challenged Cheney with the endorsement of Trump, had won the primary. Hageman was ahead of Cheney by more than 25 percentage points when The Associated Press called the race at 10:12 p.m. Tuesday with an estimated 22 percent of the vote counted.
“This primary election is over, but now the real work begins,” Cheney told supporters Tuesday night, noting that she had called Hageman to concede.
Cheney, the vice chair of the select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, has been one of the rare House Republicans to continue to criticize Trump in any fashion, much less call his false statements about his loss to President Joe Biden in 2020 a threat to constitutional order.
“It has been said that the long arc of history bends toward justice and freedom. That's true, but only if we make it bend,” Cheney said in her primary night speech in Jackson, Wyo. “Today, our highest duty is to bend the arc of history to preserve our nation and its blessings to ensure that freedom will not perish to protect the very foundations of this constitutional republic.”
Cheney said she could have won another term easily if she'd been willing to repeat Trump's lies about the election, but that was not a path she could take. Her emphasis on defending democracy included citing Abraham Lincoln, who lost multiple elections — and accepted his defeats — before winning the presidency at a pivotal point in American history.
Cheney told NBC's "Today" show on Wednesday that she would consider a presidential campaign if that was the best way to keep Trump out of the White House.
Running for president, "is something I’m thinking about and I’ll make a decision in the coming months," Cheney said.
Overnight, Cheney's political operation filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to convert her campaign account — which had $7.5 million in cash on hand on July 27 — to a leadership PAC called "The Great Task." Punchbowl News first reported Cheney's plan for a new organization, which shares the name of the closing video message from the Wyoming primary.
In that video, Cheney said her opponents had said the 2020 election was rigged and stolen.
"No one who understands our nation's laws, no one with an honest, honorable, genuine commitment to our Constitution would say that," Cheney said. "It is a cancer that threatens our great Republic."
The speech echoed themes she had stressed during the primary campaign.
"Like many candidates across this country, my opponents in Wyoming have said that the 2020 election was rigged and stolen. No one who understands our nation's laws, no one with an honest, honorable, genuine commitment to our Constitution would say that," Cheney said in a video message ahead of the primary. "It is a cancer that threatens our great Republic."
Chairman Bennie Thompson, the Mississippi Democrat who leads the Jan. 6 panel in addition to wielding the gavel of the Homeland Security Committee, would often describe larger themes of the panel’s investigation, but yield to other members for the presentation of evidence.
Cheney has often served as lead inquisitor at the committee's nationally televised public hearings, offering biting criticism of Trump and many fellow Republicans.
She seems to have no interest in leaving the national stage.
"Don't worry about her," former Sen. Alan K. Simpson, a Cheney supporter, said in a phone interview Monday of the primary. Simpson said Cheney would now spend the rest of her life working to keep Trump, who he called a "destroyer of democracy" and "wrecking ball of history," far away from the White House.
Simpson declined multiple requests to peer into a crystal ball about Cheney's elected political future, saying only that he expected her and her millions in campaign cash to maintain focus on the former president.
There was a point at which Cheney appeared in line to one day become speaker, rising in just her third term in Washington to chair the House Republican Conference, a job she held as recently as the start of the current 117th Congress. But her leadership rise would soon come crashing down.
On Jan. 3, the day the new Congress took office, she released a 21-page letter to colleagues challenging false claims that Biden's win was not legitimate and recounting the numerous failed legal attempts Trump made to overturn the result.
The day of the riot by Trump supporters, she voted with Democrats against GOP colleagues' attempts to reject the electoral votes from Pennsylvania and Arizona. Some 10 days later, she was one of 10 GOP votes to impeach Trump for inciting the insurrection.
In May 2021, it took the fractured conference less than 20 minutes — including time spent on prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance — to remove Cheney from her leadership position.
“I promise you this, after today, I will be leading the fight to restore our party and our nation to conservative principles, to defeating socialism, to defending our republic, to making the GOP worthy again of being the party of Lincoln," Cheney said then.
She would eventually accept an appointment to the Jan. 6 select committee from Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., after Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., pulled back his slate of members when Pelosi rejected his choices of Jim Jordan of Ohio and Jim Banks of Indiana to serve on the panel. Both have been vocal Trump defenders.
Banks, the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, led a group of conservatives to meet with Trump at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., last week after the former president's Mar-a-Lago residence was searched by the FBI for classified material, pursuant to a warrant.
Cheney referenced the recovery of the materials marked classified from the former president’s Florida home in her speech Tuesday night, citing as a conspiracy theory the idea that “you must also believe that 30 career FBI agents who have spent their lives working to serve our country, abandoned their honor and their oaths and went to Mar-a-Lago, not to perform a lawful search or address a national security threat but instead with a secret plan to plant fake incriminating documents in the boxes they seized.”
“This is yet another insidious lie,” Cheney said. “Donald Trump knows that voicing these conspiracies will provoke violence and threats of violence. This happened on January 6, and it's now happening again. It is entirely foreseeable that the violence will escalate further, yet he and others continue, purposely, to feed the danger."
Cheney is the fourth House Republican to support impeachment to be defeated in a party primary by a Trump-backed challenger. Four others opted not to seek reelection. Only Reps. David Valadao of California and Dan Newhouse of Washington made it to the November election, partly because their states use all-party primaries.
Despite her strident opposition to Trump questioning the election results, Cheney largely aligned with the former president on policy issues, particularly as Trump sought to replace Obama-era rules that set limits on greenhouse gas emissions and air toxics standards. In 2019, for example, Cheney voted for positions Trump supported 97 percent of the time.
As Wyoming’s sole House member, Cheney has had the same job that her father, former vice president Dick Cheney, had from 1979 to 1989, and similarly, Cheney is one of the chamber’s defense hawks.
"[Trump] tried to steal the last election using lies and violence to keep himself in power after the voters had rejected him," the former vice president said in a recent campaign ad for his daughter. "He is a coward. A real man wouldn't lie to his supporters. He lost his election and he lost big. I know it, he knows it and deep down I think most Republicans know it."
During the administration of President George W. Bush, when her father was vice president, Cheney was the deputy assistant secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs. She worked on an effort called the Middle East Partnership Initiative, which was intended to bolster the economies of moderate pro-American regimes, strengthen Arab nongovernmental groups and build more Western-style societies.
Stephanie Akin and Chris Marquette contributed and content from CQ Member Profiles was used in this report.