In 2022, Congresswoman Liz Cheney lost her seat in that year’s most notable primary result. On this website, we have previously looked at UK MPs who were deselected, but now we go across the pond to look at those in the US House of Representatives who were given the boot by party members.
Liz Cheney (2022)
In the 2022 midterms, Representative Liz Cheney lost her Republican primary by a historic margin, having fallen out of favour with the party. The daughter of former Vice-President Dick Cheney, her stand against Donald Trump after the events of January 6th 2021 led to her description by The Hill as “a Republican bulwark against Trumpism, frequently criticizing Trump as an anti-democratic strongman with little, if any, regard for the U.S. Constitution.”
Liz Cheney was one of 10 Republicans who voted to impeach the outgoing President Trump for his actions and one of just two Republican representatives to vote for a January 6th committee, on which she later served as Vice-Chairperson. Prior to the primaries, she had been censured by the Republican National Convention.
A vocal critic of Trump, the loss of her spot in the House seemed inevitable – even in spite of her otherwise conservative record. The seat was the only House seat in Wyoming, the most Republican state in the country, with 59% of residents identifying as Republican; Trump won there in 2020 with 70% of the vote.
In the biggest non-run-off primary loss in decades, Liz Cheney was trounced by Trump-backed candidate Harriet Hageman. Liz Cheney attained less than one-third of the ballots cast.
Despite the mammoth scale of her defeat, Liz Cheney said she did not regret her decision. She explained: “Two years ago, I won this primary with 73% of the vote. I could easily have done the same again….But it would have required that I go alone with President Trump’s lie about the 2020 election. It would have required that I ignore his ongoing efforts to unravel our democratic system and attack the foundations of our Republic. That was a path I could not and would not take.”
Eric Cantor (2014)
In the 2014 primaries, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost out to a Tea Party-backed challenger in what The New York Times described as “one of the most stunning primary election upsets in congressional history.”
The first ever sitting House Majority Leader to lose a primary, he was seeking an 8th term in the House before being defeated by a 10-point margin. The number two Republican in the House behind Speaker John Boehner, he was also a top fund-raiser for the party, once raising $1.1 million in a single day.
In the 2014 campaign, he outspent opponent David Brat by approximately $5,000,000, as Brat’s budget was a measly $300,000. Yet, as Brat later commented: “dollars do not vote.”
Indeed, Republican voters turned out to oust him, with a voter turnout of 13.7%; in the primaries of 2012, 2010, 2008, and 2006, no turnout was over 10%. The speculated reasons for his loss are widespread. His focus on his political rise and overt ambition perhaps led to the abandonment of his constituents, is one point of view.
In his role as Majority Leader, the need to compromise and find a more broadchurch political approach is necessary, leading to his support for the DREAM Act, a proposed piece of legislation that would gift legal citizenship to children brought into the United States as illegal immigrants, which Brat denounced.
Plus, Brat had notable attention in the media including from conservative political figures such as Laura Ingraham, Ann Coulter, and Mark Lewin, as well as organisations such as Breitbart.
Ironically, although his father Bill Lipinski twice got primary victories over incumbent Democrats in primaries, in 2020, Dan himself suffered a primary loss.
Lipinski, a Blue Dog Democrat, seemed to be one of the last relics of a Democratic Party long since gone. A conservative Democrat, he had proved his right-wing prowess through his opposition to abortion rights and same-sex marriage.
He proved to be a thorn in the side of President Obama, voting against the Affordable Care Act – the only Illinois Democrat to do so – and later not endorsing him in his 2012 re-election campaign.
In 2018, Newman had narrowly lost out to Lipinski by just over 2,000 votes. In 2020, she tried again to dethrone the incumbent.
Lipinski tried to paint the progressive Newman as a radical, advising Democrats not to become influenced by “a Tea Party of the left.” In contrast to Lipinski, Newman supported measures such as a Green New Deal and Medicare for all.
The unlikely hopeful pitted the experienced and well-connected Representative, making Lipinski the first incumbent to lose a primary race that year. With her win, Newman ended the family’s 38-year tenure serving as the district’s Representative.
Newman’s chances were no doubt strengthened by financial backing from organisations such as EMILY’s List and Planned Parenthood. On a local level, she was backed by Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot while she was endorsed by top progressive lawmakers such as Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Talking of which…
2018 also saw a change of the Democratic guard when a progressive toppled an experienced moderate.
In the great shock of the 2018 election cycle, Democratic Caucus Chair and number four Democrat in the House Joe Crowley was toppled by the virtually unknown 28-year-old bartender Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
At the time, Crowley had served 10 terms in the House and was viewed by some as a likely successor to Speaker Nancy Pelosi. However, that year, he would be forced to contest his first primary challenge since 2004.
The media barely gave the race any attention as it seemed Crowley would breeze to an easy victory.
However, New York’s 14th district – which includes parts of Queens and the Bronx – rejected its Democratic incumbent. The cultural landscape of the seat had diversified greatly since Crowley was first elected 20 years earlier, with a growing Hispanic population.
The victory was made more unbelievable by AOC’s shoestring budget. In the race, she was outspent 18 to 1 by the Democrat bigwig.
A proud democratic socialist, she espoused: “Working-class Americans want a clear champion and there is nothing radical about moral clarity in 2018.”
Noam Chomsky commented on the victory’s symbolism, showing the ideological divides within the Democratic Party.
In the election, Crowley ran as a third party, winning below 10% of the vote to Cortez’s 78%; she was sworn in as the youngest female Congress(wo)man of all time.
She has remained a partisan political figure in Congress throughout her tenure and shows no sign of compromise – whether you think that’s a good or bad thing.
Steve King, the Republican Representative for Iowa’s 5th and later 4th District, is best remembered today for two things.
Firstly, his infamous question at a committee hearing when asking a question about Apple to Google’s CEO, prompting the response, “Congressman, the iPhone is made by a different company.” Viewed by millions, it has become a meme of the out-of-touch, ‘Boomer’ culture in Congress.
The other is his aggressive nationalism, which garnered him opposition from within his own party prior to being primaried.
King had already established a racist track record such as supporting far-right anti-Islamist Geert Wilders, keeping a Confederate flag on his desk (despite Iowa being a part of the Union), and stating that if Obama were elected president, “radical Islamists, the al-Qaida…will be dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on September 11.”
His white supremacist leanings have earned him praise from high-profile racists such as Nick Fuentes and David Duke.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called his comments “unwelcome and unworthy of his elected position,” whilst House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy stated his words “goes against who we are as a nation…[his] language is reckless, wrong, and has no place in our society.”
King claimed he had been treated like a “federal felon” by party leadership after the National Republican Congressional Committee withdrew re-election funding and he was stripped of committee assignments.
Formally rebuked by 416 of his colleagues in the House in 2019, he was defeated in the 2020 primary by Iowa State Senator Randy Feenstra by 8,000 votes.
Prior to 2002, Republican Bob Barr’s greatest publicity had been during the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Having first introduced a resolution in 1997, he became an even more ardent opponent of the president after the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The first person to call for Clinton to resign, he remarked: “I’m here to deliver a message to the president: character counts, responsibility is required, and accountability will be demanded!”
On a legislative level, his legacy was in the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which he introduced in 1996. By the 2002 elections, Barr’s Georgia’s 7th district had been redrawn by the Democratic-dominated legislature (2002 being the last year the state would have a Democratic House, Senate, and Governor), making re-election an unlikely prospect. As such, Barr had to move, competing against John Linder, who defeated him by 2:1.
The scale of the loss was partly due to the Libertarian Party, whose attack ad centring on Barr’s opposition to medical marijuana was, in the words of LP Political Director Ron Crickenberger as a “lightning rod for publicity.”
Barr had been in the seat for nearly a decade, picking it up in the 1994 “Republican Revolution” where Republicans held the House for the first time in four decades. Alienated by Bush administration’s policies which he saw as an infringement on civil liberties such as the PATRIOT Act, he left the Republican Party. Despite chastising him in 2002, he was the Libertarian presidential nominee in 2008, having moderated his position on the War on Drugs and DOMA. Spoiler: he did not win.