early and often

Liz Cheney, January 6 Hearings Star, Is Bombing Back Home

Liz Cheney’s star turn on the January 6 committee could be her swan song in Congress. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Perhaps the least surprising 2022 primary poll yet appeared in Wyoming over the weekend. A Mason-Dixon survey for the Casper Star-Tribune showed former Republican National Committee member and Donald Trump endorsee Harriet Hageman leading three-term incumbent congresswoman Liz Cheney by a 52 to 30 percent margin. Cheney’s current star turn in Washington as the vice-chair of the House select committee investigating January 6 will likely be her swan song in Congress and perhaps in the Republican Party.

You could argue that Cheney’s reelection goose was cooked January 13, 2021, the day she voted for Trump’s second impeachment. But her descent from the House Republican leadership to almost certain defeat in an August 16 primary in Wyoming has had a number of dramatic moments. Despite her impeachment heresy, Cheney easily defeated an effort to remove her as House Republican Conference chair (the No. 3 GOP leadership position in the chamber) in February 2021. Just over three months later, after much agitation from Trump and his supporters, an unrepentant Cheney lost her leadership position by an even more lopsided vote.

But while it took some time for Cheney to lose her lofty status in Washington, Republicans back in Wyoming, Trump’s best state in 2020 (he won nearly 70 percent of the vote there against Joe Biden), struck at her right away. A few days after she survived the first purge effort in the House Republican Conference, the Wyoming GOP central committee formally censured her for her impeachment vote and her harsh criticism of Trump’s stolen-election lies and his conduct on January 6, 2021. In November 2021, the same body more narrowly voted to no longer recognize Cheney, the state’s sole representative in the House, as a Republican. This was after her decision in July of that year to join the January 6 committee that her erstwhile friends in the House GOP leadership had chosen to boycott after Nancy Pelosi refused to place a cadre of MAGA extremists on the panel.

Initially, it seemed as if Cheney might survive in 2022 because so many Republicans wanted to be the instrument of Trump’s revenge, as I noted in July of last year:

The large field of opponents Cheney has attracted means she could win a primary with a relatively small percentage of the vote; indeed, she won her first nomination for a House race in 2016 with less than 40 percent of the vote. So the real game going forward is whether Trump or his allies can more or less “clear the field” for the most formidable challenger. 

That process of MAGA consolidation began in September 2021, when Trump endorsed Hageman. The new poll shows no one other than Cheney or Hageman with over 5 percent of the vote. Mason-Dixon managing director Brad Coker commented, “The big story is Liz Cheney is going to get beat … That’s a foregone conclusion.” Her job-approval rating among likely primary voters is a terrible 27 percent, with 66 disapproving, and 54 percent of poll respondents say Cheney’s performance on the January 6 committee made it less likely they would vote for her.

Cheney’s campaign has already resorted to pleas for Democratic support. Wyoming requires Republican affiliation for participants in Republican primaries, but any registered voter can change that affiliation up to and including Primary Day. The trouble is registered Republicans outnumber registered Democrats in Wyoming by nearly a five-to-one margin, so there just aren’t enough Democrats there to save Cheney’s bacon given her very low status in her own party.

By the time the January 6 committee finalizes its report in August or later, Cheney will be the most famous and (in some circles) revered lame duck in Congress and a symbol of both defeat and defiance for those Republicans who were present on January 6 and have never compromised with the evil they witnessed.

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Liz Cheney, January 6 Hearings Star, Is Bombing Back Home