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Liz Cheney lost her primary. So what?

Though she helped shape the modern Republican Party, Cheney ultimately put her country ahead of a political career.

By Emily Tamkin

WASHINGTON DC – Liz Cheney, the sole House member from Wyoming, lost her Republican primary on Tuesday (16 August) to Harriet Hageman. It was not even close: Hageman had 66 per cent to Cheney’s 29 per cent. Cheney, first elected to Congress in 2016, said that it was “the beginning of a battle” for the country.

Cheney likely lost this election for the same reason that, last year, Republicans voted to remove her from the leadership position she held in the House of Representatives: because she broke with the former president Donald Trump. Cheney voted to impeach him after he tried to overturn the result of the 2020 presidential election, which Trump lost to Joe Biden. She is vice-chair of the 6 January committee, which is investigating the day an angry mob turned up at the US Capitol building to stop the certification of that presidential result. She put country over party, and Republican voters punished her for it.

It is hard to not feel that, to some extent, Cheney is reaping what she and her family sowed. Her father, Dick Cheney, was vice-president under George W Bush and arguably did as much as anyone to turn the office of the American presidency into something overpowered and unaccountable. Plus, Cheney herself used the kind of divisive politics that Trump exploited to get into power. When running for the Senate in 2013, she famously came out against gay marriage. Her sister, Mary, who is a lesbian, did not support her Senate campaign for this reason. (Liz expressed regret for that stance on same-sex marriage last year.) In 2010 Matt Duss (then editor of a prominent think tank blog in Washington DC, now Senator Bernie Sanders’s foreign policy adviser) wrote in a CBS opinion piece: “Liz has allied with neoconservative mover Bill Kristol to found Keep America Safe, infamous of late for its ads attacking as traitorous Justice Department lawyers who once ‘represented or advocated for terrorist detainees.’” Today it is Trump smearing the Justice Department; a decade ago, Liz Cheney indirectly did the same.

[See also: Everything you want to know about the US midterm elections]

Moreover, despite her role on the 6 January committee, Cheney reportedly continues to oppose the type of electoral reform that might make the country more equitable – and help prevent the kind of authoritarian action that she is on the committee to stop from happening again. Last year, she failed to support voting rights legislation, meaning Cheney was in favour of an investigation into how the Capitol attack attempted to discount votes, but against backing legislation to make sure all eligible Americans get to cast theirs.

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Cheney helped create the modern Republican Party. That she could not control it comes as no surprise. The expression “you made your bed, now lie in it” exists because people are not always content with the beds they’ve made.

And yet, regardless of how tempting it is to relish her comeuppance, the Wyoming congresswoman’s bravery has to be acknowledged. It would have been much more politically expedient to simply follow the party, in thrall to Trump’s leadership.

“The truth matters,” Cheney said in her primary debate at the end of June. The 2020 election was not stolen, and so she could not and should not say that it was. Whether the truth actually matters in the present-day Republican Party is debatable. It didn’t appear to matter to its Wyoming primary voters. But if every politician decides the truth doesn’t matter, it won’t. For all she has said and done, and for all she still might do in US politics, it is better for Americans that there remain politicians who, for as long as they are able and regardless of the costs, pick the truth over public favour.

[See also: Don’t let Cheney and Kinzinger rehabilitate their party through 6 January hearings]

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