Liz Cheney vows to carry on fight against Trump after conceding defeat in Wyoming primary

The immediate political future of Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, seen here in September 2020, is at stake on August 16.

By Gregory Krieg, CNN

(CNN) -- Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, the most ardent Republican critic of Donald Trump in Congress, vowed to carry on her fight against the former President and the election-denying movement he leads in a speech Tuesday night after conceding defeat in her primary.

She'll lose to Trump-backed attorney Harriet Hageman, CNN projects.

"This primary election is over," Cheney said in her speech. "But now the real work begins."

On Wednesday morning, she told NBC's "Today" show that she is "thinking about" running for president and will make a decision in "the coming months."

The last of the 10 House Republicans who voted for Trump's second impeachment to face voters, Cheney now becomes the eighth who will not be returning to Congress next year. Her loss, though widely anticipated, represents a significant marker in the wider fight over the direction of the Republican Party. Once considered an up-and-comer, Cheney was booted from House GOP leadership last year over her unyielding opposition to the former President and trailed in polling back home this year as she helped lead the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol.

Though she made no announcement about her plans Tuesday night, Cheney did hint at a future in elective politics.

"The great and original champion of our party, Abraham Lincoln, was defeated in elections for the Senate and the House before he won the most important election of all," she said. "Lincoln ultimately prevailed, he saved our union and he defined our obligation as Americans for all of history."

Overnight, the Cheney campaign filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission creating a leadership PAC to be called "The Great Task." This is the first of several next steps from Cheney, an adviser told CNN, as she starts to make good on ideas expressed in her election night speech and opens a new chapter in the wake of her landslide defeat. The name of the PAC is a historic nod to Lincoln who spoke at Gettysburg of the "great task" facing the country.

Cheney's attempt at projecting dignity in defeat in her election night speech was itself a clear rejoinder to Trump's behavior since losing the 2020 election.

"No House seat, no office in this land is more important than the principles that we are all sworn to protect. And I well understood the potential political consequences of abiding by my duty," she said. "Our republic relies upon the goodwill of all candidates for office to accept, honorably, the outcome of elections. And tonight, Harriet Hageman has received the most votes in this primary. She won. I called her to concede the race."

Despite her conservative credentials and party pedigree, her role as Trump's chief GOP critic on Capitol Hill made her a heavy underdog in a state the former President won with nearly 70% of the vote in 2020. His enduring popularity there, coupled with Cheney's role as vice chair of the January 6 committee, made the three-term congresswoman and daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney a top target of Trump allies.

Cheney said American democracy faced an existential threat -- that "our survival is not guaranteed" -- calling out Republican efforts at the state level to decertify 2020 election results and GOP midterm candidates who have already begun to cast doubt on future votes.

"If we do not condemn the conspiracies and the lies, if we do not hold those responsible to account, we will be excusing this conduct and it will become a feature of all elections," she said. "America will never be the same."

Trump's grip on the GOP has been proven again and again since he left Washington. With Wyoming's vote in, Cheney becomes the fourth House Republican who voted to impeach Trump to lose her primary. Four others were not running for another term. The two survivors to date, in California and Washington, benefited from their states' nonpartisan primary system. Cheney had no such cushion, though a late push for Democrats and independents to register for the GOP primary might have somewhat softened the ultimate count.

Leading Republicans on Capitol Hill had coalesced around Hageman, who has embraced Trump's false election fraud claims and called the 2020 contest "rigged." House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, another Hageman supporter, on Monday said during an appearance on Fox News that the election in Wyoming was "going to be a referendum on the January 6 committee."

Cheney on Tuesday also addressed the recent search of Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida, denouncing the former President's efforts to sow anger among his supporters and potentially endanger FBI agents involved in the raid by releasing some of their names.

"That was purposeful and malicious. No patriotic American should excuse these threats or be intimidated by them," she said. "Our great nation must not be ruled by a mob provoked over social media."

As Cheney issued a dire warning in Jackson, Hageman, at her victory rally hours east in Cheyenne, thanked Trump and congressional Republicans for their support.

"Wyoming has shown today is that while it may not be easy, we can dislodge entrenched politicians who believe they've risen above the people they are supposed to represent and serve," Hageman said.

In a post to his own social media platform, Trump crowed over Cheney's loss, calling it "a wonderful result for America," before denouncing her as "spiteful" and "sanctimonious."

"Now she can finally disappear into the depths of political oblivion where, I am sure, she will be much happier than she is right now," Trump wrote.

Sarah Palin looks to make a comeback in Alaska

While Cheney may have been cast into her party's wilderness, a prominent figure from the GOP's recent past is hoping to return from more than a decade off the electoral map. Former Alaska governor and 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, whose ascent marked a precursor to the party's Trump era, returned to the ballot on Tuesday.

In this new iteration, she was the Trump-endorsed candidate in a three-deep field vying to fill the remainder of the late GOP Rep. Don Young's at-alarge House seat. But no candidate will secure a majority of the vote in that race, CNN projects, which means it'll head to a ranked-choice voting tabulation that is scheduled to start on August 31.

Palin, who resigned as governor in 2009, squared off with Nick Begich III, the Republican scion of the state's most storied Democratic family, and former Democratic state Rep. Mary Peltola, who was endorsed by independent Al Gross after he dropped out of the race despite also making the final four.

Those three special election contenders were also running in a concurrent primary to determine who will advance to the November general election to fill the at-large House seat for the next full term. All three will advance, CNN projects, along with Republican Tara Sweeney, a former assistant secretary for Indian affairs at the US Interior Department.

GOP senator who voted to convict Trump faces voters

While Cheney's fate in Wyoming has grabbed the most headlines, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican who voted to convict Trump during his second impeachment trial, was also facing new competition this year fueled by her lack of fealty to the former President. Unlike Cheney, however, Murkowski -- herself the latest in a proud statewide political dynasty -- was a better bet to overcome the forces arrayed against her.

That's in large part due to Alaska's new nonpartisan top-four primary, which, like in the House race, sends the top four candidates to the general election, which will be decided by a ranked-choice vote if no one receives a majority.

Murkowski, Republican Kelly Tshibaka and Democrat Patricia Chesbro will advance to the November election, CNN projects, against a fourth candidate yet to be determined. The top-four system is expected to aid Murkowski against the Trump-backed Tshibaka, who's the former commissioner of the Alaska Department of Administration.

Murkowski has in the past enjoyed broad support, across partisan lines, in a state that elected her father, Frank Murkowski, first to the Senate and then as its governor. He then appointed his daughter to her current position in 2002. When she was defeated in a 2010 Republican primary during the tea party wave, Murkowski launched a write-in campaign and defeated GOP nominee Joe Miller in the fall.

In the governor's race, Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy, Democrat Les Gara and independent former Gov. Bill Walker will advance to the November election, CNN projects, against a fourth candidate yet to be determined.

Walker likely would have lost to Dunleavy in his 2018 reelection bid had he not dropped out shortly before the election and endorsed Democrat Mark Begich.

Dunleavy, now seeking a second term, won the one-on-one contest by less than 10 points.

This story has been updated with additional developments.

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