Liz Cheney loses her primary. What to do now with 'hot mess' that is the GOP?

·4 min read

Republicans need to do some serious soul searching and ask themselves this question:

Now what?

As expected, Rep. Liz Cheney took a whipping in her Wyoming primary Tuesday, losing by about 30 points to Harriet Hageman, the GOP challenger backed by former President Donald Trump.

Cheney is the latest of the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump following the Jan. 6 Capitol riot last year to lose her primary. Four opted not to run again, and only two have made it to the general election.

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In addition to her impeachment vote, Cheney also plays a prominent role on the select House committee investigating the riot and Trump’s involvement.

She has chosen to stand for her country and her conservative principles over the GOP’s obsession with the former president. And for that, Cheney and other Republicans like her are facing punishment from the Trump base.

What's next for Republicans like Cheney?

Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, isn’t backing down. She has already said that she’s pivoting in her ambitions and is mulling a presidential bid in 2024.

What becomes of her and others like Rep. Peter Meijer in Michigan, who also lost his primary bid for reelection after his impeachment vote, will say a lot about the Republican Party’s future.

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., says she's considering a presidential run, hours after her defeat in the GOP primary on Aug. 16, 2022.
Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., says she's considering a presidential run, hours after her defeat in the GOP primary on Aug. 16, 2022.

Liz Mair, president of Mair Strategies and a Republican consultant, says that most party members still like Trump, and that Cheney’s hostility to him was a big factor in her loss. But it’s likely not the only one. Wyoming residents could have soured on dynastic politics or viewed her as out of touch. And Democrats could have meddled in the race, too, as they did by running an ad to boost the Trump credentials of Meijer's primary opponent.

“I suspect when we look more closely in the days and weeks to come, we will find there were other factors that contributed both to the loss and the size of it – as there will be with other anti-Trump Republicans who lost in primaries,” she says. “There is almost never one single factor that tanks a candidate.”

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It’s interesting that Cheney has not left the party, which she says she still loves. She just loves the Constitution and the country more and refuses to put the Trump litmus test above our republic.

'It's not conservative, it's Trump'

Are there enough like her who remain in the GOP?

“The Republicans have transmorphed themselves into Trumpists,” says Michael Steele, former chair of the Republican National Committee. “They are no longer cut out of the mold of Reagan, or Lincoln or Bush or Eisenhower. They see themselves wholly the image of Trump, and want all others to conform accordingly.

"The question that remains for Republicans like Liz and myself, who stay inside the party, is what do you do with this hot mess?”

“The Republican Party as we knew it is gone,” says former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele.
“The Republican Party as we knew it is gone,” says former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele.

Steele says the hardcore Trump wing makes up 34% to 38% of the party, and polls have consistently shown this loyalty. That leaves a large number of Republicans, however, who must figure out what their next steps are and how to rebuild.

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“The Republican Party as we knew it is gone,” Steele says. “It’s not conservative, it’s Trump. The reality is that for a lot of those Republicans, how to move in this space will be the next thing to figure out.”

Blind allegiance to Trump seems to have taken precedence over a strong party platform and ideological alignment with conservative principles – at least among the Trump base.

Look for more 'post-Trump' candidates

At a stop at the Reagan Library in June, Cheney summed up her philosophy this way:  “I'm a conservative Republican, and I believe deeply in the policies of limited government, of low taxes, of a strong national defense.”

It's an appealing message that resonates with many conservatives – and it speaks to the future, not the past.

Former President Donald Trump departs Trump Tower on Aug. 10, 2022, in New York City.
Former President Donald Trump departs Trump Tower on Aug. 10, 2022, in New York City.

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Mair is hopeful that there’s still a path to victory for candidates who don’t go all in for Trump. She points to how Trump’s candidates in Georgia lost solidly, and how others like Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin won without having to grovel to Trump or even make him a part of his campaign.

Others like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whom Mair describes as a “post-Trump” candidate, are rising quickly.

“Trump is declining physically, mentally, and is getting into more and more legal trouble,” Mair says. “He's still a factor, but he's waning by the day.”

More from Ingrid Jacques:

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Ingrid Jacques is a columnist at USA TODAY. Contact her at ijacques@usatoday.com or on Twitter: @Ingrid_Jacques 

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cheney loses Wyoming GOP primary in another win for Trump Republicans