Liz Cheney’s historic margin of defeat

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Rep. Liz Cheney’s loss in Tuesday’s Wyoming primary was a stunning setback for what exists of the anti-Trump movement within the Republican Party. She was beaten more than 2-1 by Trump-backed Harriet Hageman, short-circuiting a once-promising political career and notifying that whatever direct control the former president has over the party, to come up against him remains perilous. .

The result might not have been too surprising in a state that gave Donald Trump 70% of the vote in the 2020 election — his best state in the nation — but the magnitude of Cheney’s loss should not be understated. estimated.

In fact, depending on how you split the numbers, it could be the incumbent’s biggest primary loss of the 21st century.

The current results show Hageman got 66.3% of the vote to Cheney’s 28.9% — a margin of more than 37 points — with 99% of the expected votes counted.

Incumbents rarely lose primaries, but it has happened with increasing frequency in recent years. Still, only a few have rivaled Cheney’s margin of defeat.

At the top of the list is someone dubbed the “accidental congressman,” Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-Mich.). A longtime primary challenger, he won the seat in 2012 after the Republican incumbent failed to qualify for the primary ballot and then resigned. Two years later, Bentivolio – a rookie politician with no real chance of winning under ordinary circumstances – lost his primary by 33 points.

Rep. Chris Bell (D-Tex.) lost a primary in 2004 by a 35-point margin, but that came after his district was massively reshuffled, greatly diluting the number of white voters and opening the door to a black primary challenger.

Like these examples, many of the largest margins, historically, have come about under unusual circumstances: dramatic redistricting, party switching, scandals or unusual primary processes. Many incumbents have lost primaries by double digits, and several have lost by 20 points or more, but especially when these factors were present.

About the only intraparty rebuke this century that has come close to Cheney’s — both for his lack of those factors and the extent of the defeat — came in South Carolina in 2010, when Rep. Bob Inglis (RS.C.) found itself overwhelmed by the wave of tea. But it took a runoff for two candidates before it got as bad as Cheney’s loss.

Inglis was somewhat competitive in the primary with challenger Trey Gowdy trailing by 12 points in a crowded field. But the second round ended up being a rout, with Inglis losing by more than 41 points – 70.7% to 29.3%. Inglis has alienated Republicans by opposing his party on climate change and the war in Iraq. That margin appears to be the only one larger than Cheney’s on Tuesday, and it required a runoff.

Beyond the runs mentioned above, the next biggest primary loss might sound familiar: Rep. Tom Rice’s (RS.C.) 27.5-point loss earlier this year. Rice, like Cheney, voted to impeach Trump.

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