Cheney hasn’t lost her congressional seat — though she already has challengers back home who want to run against her in the 2022 GOP primary. But her leadership position is gone and is likely going to a congresswoman (Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York) who has made praising Trump her No. 1 priority. But Cheney has staked her political future on opposing Trump, saying she believes she can lead the party back from where it is now.
If she can actually leverage her opposition to Trump into some kind of political success — which appears unlikely at this point — she’d pretty much be the first. It hasn’t gone well for other elected Republicans, going all the way back to those who opposed Trump during his 2016 presidential run.
Then-Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) became one of Trump’s most outspoken critics in the final run up to Election Day 2016, calling on Trump to pull out of the race after The Washington Post published the “Access Hollywood tape,” in which Trump was heard making lewd comments about women. While Flake actually voted along the Republican Party line most of the time (like Cheney), it was his public comments that enraged Trump and made him a target. Flake soon concluded there was no place for him in his own party and announced his retirement.
Flake announced he wouldn’t run for reelection just nine months into Trump’s presidency, becoming an early symbolic sacrifice — and a bit of a trophy for Trump. More than that, though, it sent a message.
That has largely become the pattern for elected Republicans who speak out against Trump. Many end up giving up or losing their seats, or at least their leadership positions or prominence within the party; some leave the GOP altogether. So far, none has been able to both successfully oppose Trump and gain support within the party. Others attempt to cling to their jobs, while those in the Senate, with longer terms, have it a little easier.
At least 11 Republicans who were members of the House during Trump’s presidential run or time in office publicly opposed his election or reelection, for a variety of reasons: Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), Rep. Richard L. Hanna (R-N.Y.), Rep. David Jolly (R-Fla.), Rep. Frank A. LoBiondo (R-N.J.), Rep. Reid J. Ribble (R-Wis.), Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.), Rep. Francis Rooney (R-Fla.), Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Rep. Dave Trott (R-Mich.), Rep. Denver Riggleman (R-Va.), and Rep. Justin Amash (Mich.), who left the Republican Party while still in office in 2019.
Of those 11:
- one endorsed Hillary Clinton over Trump in 2016;
- two endorsed Joe Biden for president in 2020;
- Hanna, Ribble and Rigell bowed out before Trump even took office, choosing not to run for reelection in 2016;
- one chose to resign from Congress in the middle of their term;
- an additional four chose not to run for reelection, either in the 2018 midterms or in 2020;
- none are still in office.
In Trump’s first impeachment, two members who were Republicans at the outset wound up voting against him.
- Amash had been a career-long Republican, but he announced he was leaving the GOP in July 2019 shortly before he said Trump had committed impeachable offenses and five months before he became the only non-Democrat to vote in favor of Trump’s first impeachment. He chose not to run for reelection as a Libertarian in 2020. His term ended just three days before the riots at the Capitol that led to Trump’s second impeachment.
- Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) was the only GOP senator to vote in favor of conviction. He voted to convict Trump on the first article of impeachment, for abuse of power, and said Trump was not guilty of the second charge against him, obstruction of Congress.
Here’s how it went down in Trump’s second impeachment.
- The 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in the House in January 2021 were Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio), Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.), Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.), Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.), Rep. Tom Rice (R-S.C.), Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), and Rep. David G. Valadao (R-Calif.).
- Of those 10 Republicans, Cheney has lost her position in GOP leadership. Several have said they’re prepared for the political consequences of their votes, including censures back home by Republicans on the local and state levels, but none have said they won’t run for reelection in 2022, leading to some rare tests of how politically tenable their positions are.
- Meijer is actually the Republican who replaced Amash in Michigan’s 3rd District.
- Seven Republicans in the Senate voted to convict Trump on the sole article of impeachment, for incitement of insurrection: Romney, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), and Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.).
- Two of the seven, Burr and Toomey, had previously announced they wouldn’t seek reelection in 2022.
- Cassidy, Collins and Sasse were reelected in 2020, a few months before Trump’s second impeachment, meaning they have six more years in office before they’re up for reelection — a bit of insulation from voter backlash that House members don’t have.
- Murkowski is up for reelection in 2022, but hasn’t made a firm decision on running. She is also likely to benefit from Alaska’s new ranked-choice voting system, which lessens the likelihood of a more extreme elements of the GOP unseating her. (They previously beat her in a 2010 primary, but she won in the general election as a write-in candidate.) Trump has promised to campaign against her.
The fact that Trump’s second impeachment came just after an election does give most of the Republicans who voted to impeach or convict him hope that it will fade from salience — more so for senators who have four or six years left on their terms than for House members. But Trump is intent on retribution and has repeatedly said he’ll campaign against Republicans who aren’t loyal to him.
Cheney has, so far, taken the brunt of internal GOP anger over confronting Trump — and has suffered the most direct consequences to her job. But ultimately it will be Republican voters, in primaries and subsequent elections, who decide the political fates of the congressional Republicans who seek reelection after making what seems to be the most dangerous political choice a Republican can make: opposing Trump.