Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney’s political future had long been in jeopardy. From voting to impeach then-President Donald Trump after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol to repeatedly refuting his baseless claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him, Cheney has been one of Trump’s harshest critics. Now that outspokenness has come with a price.
The daughter of one of America’s most powerful vice presidents lost to her main primary challenger, attorney Harriet Hageman, by around 20 points, based on incomplete returns as of 10:30 p.m. Eastern. Hageman’s path to victory was pretty straightforward. She entered the race against Cheney with Trump’s endorsement and consolidated support among most anti-Cheney primary voters.
But while Cheney’s loss is particularly high-profile, it is not surprising. Of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump, only two advanced to the general election, four lost their primaries and four didn’t even try to seek reelection, retiring instead.
|Representative||District||Sought reelection?||Trump-endorsed opponent?||Won?||Partisan Lean|
|Jaime Herrera Beutler||WA-03||✓||✓||R+11.2|
A question we had going into this primary cycle was just how many pro-impeachment Republicans would still be in the House in 2023. The answer we now know is two at most. Republicans may say in polls that the GOP should accept elected Republicans who disagree with the party, but there is clearly little appetite for those who have rebuked Trump in this way.
Moreover, in analyzing why these representatives lost — or narrowly prevailed, in the case of Reps. David Valadao of California and Dan Newhouse of Washington — there are few clear patterns. The electoral impact of the impeachment vote ranged across the ideological spectrum, from districts that lean Democratic to those that are solidly Republican. For instance, Valadao hailed from the bluest seat of this group, while Newhouse survived in a considerably red district.
That said, it’s probably not a coincidence that both Valadao and Newhouse won in states that use a top-two primary system. In that format, all voters can cast a ballot that includes every candidate, regardless of party, whereas party primaries mostly involve voters who are either registered with that party or generally back it and who are voting only for candidates from one party. Still, Valadao, the only pro-impeachment Republican running who didn’t face a Trump-endorsed challenger, barely edged out fellow Republican Chris Mathys, an ardent Trump supporter, 26 percent to 23 percent for second place in his top-two primary.1 Newhouse didn’t do much better, essentially tying with the lone Democrat in the race with 25 percent.
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In fact, not a single pro-impeachment Republican captured a majority of the GOP primary vote. This amounts to an especially weak set of performances for incumbents, who in most cases easily win their primaries.
|Incumbent||District||Primary System||GOP opponents||% of GOP votes||Won?|
|Jaime Herrera Beutler||WA-03||Top-Two||4||34.4|
It also suggests that Valadao and Newhouse’s survival involved at least a little luck. The fact that Valadao faced two pro-Trump opponents, neither of whom landed the former president’s endorsement, likely made it easier for him to squeak out a victory compared with someone like Rep. Peter Meijer of Michigan’s 3rd District, who faced one Trump-backed challenger and narrowly lost 52 percent to 48 percent. Similarly, had Newhouse faced just one pro-Trump challenger instead of several, he may have been doomed, as collectively his Republican opponents won nearly half of the top-two primary vote — about twice what Newhouse garnered. But instead, they split the anti-Newhouse vote, and he survived.
Factors besides Trump, though, played at least some role in these primaries. For instance, in the two bluest seats on this list — those contested by Valadao and Meijer — primary meddling by Democratic-aligned groups may have had an effect on the outcome. Take Mathys. He didn’t have Trump’s endorsement, but outside spending by House Majority PAC, an important campaign arm for House Democrats, ran ads touting Mathys’s support for Trump. And in Michigan’s 3rd District, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent nearly $450,000 running ads attacking Gibbs as “too conservative for west Michigan” at a time when he had almost no outside help to combat Meijer’s huge spending edge.
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Outside forces aside from Trump also likely influenced the four Republicans who said they wouldn’t seek reelection. Ohio Rep. Anthony Gonzalez faced a serious primary challenge from former Trump aide Max Miller, but he also faced redistricting uncertainty, reflected in the initial plan drawn by Ohio Republicans that split Gonzalez’s old seat into four different districts (it was later thrown out by the state judiciary and replaced). Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger was in a similar boat, as his district was dismantled by Illinois Democrats. The same was true of New York Rep. John Katko: New York Democrats sought to draw him into a bluer district, although the eventual map was invalidated and replaced with one drawn by a court-appointed expert. And longtime Michigan Rep. Fred Upton considered running again for a while, even though redistricting threw him together with more conservative Rep. Bill Huizenga, who Trump ultimately backed.
Yet of the six incumbents who ultimately sought reelection, they didn’t necessarily enter their races as underdogs. All outspent their top primary opponents, and they usually had more outside help, too. It just wasn’t enough to overcome the anger within the GOP base over their impeachment votes. Tellingly, all six had faced some sort of official censure by a local and/or state party committee following their vote against Trump.
Looking ahead to November, it’s possible the rebuke continues as only one House Republican out of the 10 who voted to impeach Trump is currently favored to make it to the next Congress. Given the red hue of Newhouse’s seat and the fact that he faces a Democrat in the general, the FiveThirtyEight 2022 election forecast puts him as very likely to win reelection. But Valadao is in a tougher reelection fight, which FiveThirtyEight’s forecast currently rates as a pure toss-up.
It’s likely Cheney as well as the nine other Republicans who voted to impeach Trump knew their vote was a potentially risky move for their political careers. But in January 2021, few would have predicted that only two would survive their primaries.