Impeachment Republicans: Where are they now?

Intro

Recently, one of our readers suggested that we revisit the ten House Republicans who broke with their party to vote in favor of President Donald Trump’s second impeachment in 2021.

Despite the possibility of electoral retribution, all of these members decided to place convictions above ambition by voting against the then-de facto leader of the GOP.

This piece will take no stand on the events of last January nor on the validity of impeachment. Its only purpose is to candidly look at where all ten of the aforementioned Republicans are today, with particular focus on how their electoral prospects are shaping up ahead of this November.

The Impeachment Republicans

Liz Cheney (WY-AL)

Perhaps the most well known of these members, Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney has been more affected by the repercussions of voting for impeachment than her colleagues have. Ultimately, her vote was the amalgamation of the vocal contempt she held for President Trump and the direction of the GOP.

But Cheney’s presence among her fellow Republicans was not always taboo. At one point, it was valued highly enough to elevate her into the House Leadership as Conference Chair. It is still impressive that Cheney was able to attain her new office after just one term, though much of that rise can probably be traced to her father’s time as Vice President.

Cheney felt the consequences of her vote more succinctly than her counterparts because she had a position that relied on her maintaining the confidence of the entire House Republican Caucus, 93% of which rejected bringing Trump to trial before the Senate.

While Cheney initially survived a secret vote to remove her as Conference Chair, the caucus eventually dispelled her anyway. She was replaced by Elise Stefanik, a rising Republican star in her own right. Whether one agrees with the House GOP or not, one cannot blame the majority for removing Cheney from her position by voice vote.

The overwhelming opposition to the second impeachment among her party members showed that, for better or for worse, the Wyoming Congresswoman no longer represented the GOP’s will enough to lead any part of it.

As one of the members at the top of Trump’s midterm hit-list, Cheney will be facing stiff intraparty opposition in her August 16th primary. Her main challenger is Harriet Hageman, a lawyer and former RNC member running with Trump World’s wholehearted support. Other hopefuls include Colonel Denton Knapp and state Senator Anthony Bouchard.

State Representative Chuck Gray withdrew from the race last fall, despite appearing in summer polling. None of the internals accounted for Hageman. Bouchard leads Cheney’s other challengers in the fundraising game at the moment, but still lags far behind the incumbent by that metric. The ensuing months of campaigning will determine whether Hageman solidifies her status as the leader of the opposition.

Polling has been scarce, but once it appears Split Ticket will be focusing on how the vote is partitioned. Cheney’s only saving grace would be an wholly fractured opposition base split between Hageman, Bouchard, and Knapp. Even if the incumbent manages a return to Congress, her future in the upper echelon of her party’s caucus seems finished.

Anthony Gonzalez (OH-16)

Elected in 2018 after a prosperous football career, Gonzalez utilized his top-recruit status to shape his image as a rising Republican star after a cycle dominated by Democratic success. He finished his first term as a pragmatic conservative before winning an easy reelection in 2020. But his career became difficult during the second impeachment crisis.

Gonzalez dropped his bid for a third term in the face of Trump aide Max Miller, who entered the race with the former President’s support. While he remains a favorite in the primary, Miller’s general election path was made significantly tougher by redistricting. The new 13th district voted for Biden by about a point, making it 15 points bluer than Gonzalez’s 16th. Summit County, home to Democratic Akron, is the most prominent addition to the seat.

Assuming all the Ohio lines stand, they will only be used for the next two Congressional cycles. Despite his conservative stances and the new 13th’s narrow Democratic lean, Miller begins this year’s campaign as a favorite. So far, the Lean Republican rating is more attributable to the Democratic recruitment void than to Miller’s strength. Physicist Aaron Paul Godfrey, Gonzalez’s 2020 opponent, seems like an early Democratic primary favorite.

A more capable candidate like state House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes may want to wait until 2024, when the national environment will probably be neutral enough to make her victory possible.

Jaime Herrera Beutler (WA-03)

Jaime Herrera Beutler has been in Congress for a longer period of time than most of the other members on this list. She flipped an open Vancouver/Olympia-based seat in the 2010 Republican wave, quickly becoming one of the cycle’s rising stars. Herrera Beutler did not face a close race again until 2018, when the national environment was working against her. The long-time incumbent was reelected more comfortably in 2020, outrunning President Trump handily.

For her impeachment sins, Herrera Beutler is facing two challenges from the right. The first, and perhaps most potent, is from Joe Kent. The former Green Beret is running with Trump’s endorsement. A November poll from the Trafalgar Group showed him in first place with 31% of the vote.

The second challenger is Vicki Kraft, a state Representative with a message similar to Kent’s. While Kraft may not have the endorsement list of her competitor on the right, her legislative seat gives her a platform from which to increase name recognition ahead the summer campaign.

Other Republicans include Heidi St. John and Matthew Overton, with the former seemingly receiving the most attention. Democrat Brent Hennrich has been the most visible member of his party on the scene so far.

Washington State uses a jungle primary system similar to California and Louisiana. For those that are not familiar, this method of election ensures that the top two primary candidates advance to the general election regardless of party.

If the Republican opposition vote is divided enough by Kraft’s entry into the field, Herrera Beutler might be able to reach the second round to compete against someone like Hennrich. If, on the other hand, Kent continues to hold his own as new polling is released, Herrera Beutler could be in more trouble than most observers expect.

The overall partisanship of Washington’s 3rd district changed little in redistricting. It currently stands at roughly Trump +4, enough to make a Republican candidate the favorite in the fall. Given all of the primary uncertainty, Split Ticket currently rates the district Likely Republican.

John Katko (NY-24)

In 2014, Syracuse-native John Katko trounced Democratic Congressman Dan Maffei by nearly 20 points. His ensuing victories occurred in more hostile national environments emboldened by the Democratic leanings of the 24th district, making them all the more impressive. 2020 saw Katko outrun Trump by 10 points in Onondaga County, enough to cruise to reelection in his blue seat.

Unlike most of his colleagues on this list, Katko would almost certainly be more vulnerable in a general election than in a primary. This reality would result from redistricting, which could place the well-known moderate in a Biden +17 seat.

A change like that would not make an incumbent as strong as Katko dead on arrival, but it would endanger his reelection prospects significantly. It is unclear whether the incumbent will be able to stimulate ticket splitting in heavily-Democratic Ithaca, assuming Tompkins County is added to the new seat like most pundits expect.

Katko’s brand is uniquely tailored to make him electorally appealing to his otherwise inhospitable district. Up to this point, Republicans have understood that primarying him would likely result in losing the 24th. Since Katko is really the only chance the GOP has of competing in a seat including Ithaca, more conservative members of the party upset with his impeachment vote will probably hold their tongues.

Adam Kinzinger (IL-16)

Adam Kinzinger is one of the longer-serving members on this list. He was first elected in 2010 as a Tea Party outsider, easily defeating freshman Democrat Debbie Halvorson. Two years later, he won a competitive redistricting primary against fellow incumbent Don Manzullo. Since then, Kinzinger has become electorally entrenched.

But the Trump-era changed Kinzinger’s tone significantly, bringing him into conflict with the more conservative elements of his party at the state and national levels. After beginning his most recent term, the Illinois Republican’s acrimonious relationship with his party’s standard-bearer peaked.

He heartily voted in favor of the second impeachment, marking a stark change in tone from his opposition to the House’s first attempt to remove Trump from office the previous year. Throughout the remainder of 2021, he joined Liz Cheney in outspoken opposition to the direction of his party. Both lawmakers sit on the Jan. 6th committee as it currently exists, but have lost most credibility with the Republican base.

Sensing impending electoral doom after being double-bunked with fellow Congressman Darin LaHood, Kinzinger was quick to announce his retirement. Originally considered a potential nominee for Governor, the Congressman has since eschewed calls to run for higher office.

Peter Meijer (MI-03)

Imbued by his youth, the strength of his family name, and his pragmatic messaging, Peter Meijer ascended to Michigan’s open 3rd district. He defeated Democrat Hillary Scholten in one of the nation’s most contested Congressional matchups. At the time the Grand Rapids-based seat was held by Justin Amash, a Libertarian convert.

Since entering office, Meijer has adopted a similarly pragmatic conservative brand to colleagues like John Katko and Brian Fitzpatrick. The former President’s opposition to him seems to stem solely from Meijer’s impeachment vote, considering he was one of the few members on this list to vote against President Biden’s Infrastructure proposal.

Trump is backing John Gibbs in the August 2nd primary. Gibbs previously served as an administration official for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Compared to some of his colleagues, Meijer might actually have a good chance of surviving the primary. Kent County’s ancestral Republicanism is rooted in the Dutch-American tradition, and tends to be anathema to Trump and his associates.

At nearly Biden +9, redistricting has made the 3rd significantly more Democratic. Even with a strong incumbent like Meijer amid a Republican environment, victory will be hard-fought. It is unclear whether Scholten will officially run again, though her name has been mentioned repeatedly. Split Ticket classifies the upcoming race as a Tossup.

Dan Newhouse (WA-04)

Jaime Herrera Beutler is not the only Washington State Republican risking primary defeat this year. Neighboring Congressman Dan Newhouse is also facing a slew of opposition candidates. He won the 4th district in 2014, succeeding long-time incumbent Doc Hastings. The centrally-located seat is primarily based around Yakima and the Tri-Cities.

Newhouse’s leading primary opponent is currently Loren Culp, the 2020 Republican nominee for Governor against Jay Inslee. Although Trump has not endorsed him, Culp led handily in the only publicly-released internal poll of the race. Other Republican candidates include state Representative Brad Klippert and former NASCAR driver Jerrold Sessler.

Farmer Doug White is currently the sole Democratic candidate in the race.

Because of Washington’s jungle primary system, it is possible that Democrats could be locked out of general election contention in the state’s reddest district. This last happened in 2014, when Newhouse beat fellow Republican Clint Didier by under two points.

If a Newhouse v. Culp general election does come to fruition, it will be interesting to see how much the incumbent can appeal to the 4th’s Democratic minority while maintaining enough Republicans to form a winning coalition. Newhouse surprised the political scene with his win eight years ago, but it is unclear whether he can do so again. Safe Republican

Tom Rice (SC-07)

Tom Rice was probably the impeachment vote that the political world least expected. In hindsight, his public statements indicate that he had become fed up with the President despite broad policy agreements between them on important conservative issues. Prior to his vote, the Horry County Republican had represented the Palmetto State’s blood red 7th district since 2013.

Under all of the publicly-released redistricting drafts, Rice’s district is more or less similar to its current iteration. Regardless of the final design, the 7th is certain to remain a heavily-Republican Myrtle Beach-based seat. That keeps Rice at risk in the primary, where he is being challenged by nine Republicans.

The opponent that has attracted most of the attention since his announcement is state Representative Russell Fry, also from Horry County. Businessman Tom Dunn, ex-Myrtle Beach Mayor Mark McBride, Horry County School Board Chairman Ken Richardson, Graham Allen, and Steve Reichert are also running.

There has been no public polling of this crowded race so far, but every political wonk’s calendar should still be marked for June 14th. If a runoff is needed, it will occur June 28th.

The last South Carolina Republican to upset the conservative base was Bob Inglis, whose endorsement of a carbon tax in 2010 cost him renomination to Trey Gowdy by a 2:1 margin in the ensuing primary.

Fred Upton (MI-06)

Fred Upton has been a fixture of Republican politics in the House for over three decades. He was first elected in 1986 after defeating incumbent Republican Mark Siljander in the primary. After votes in favor of Trump’s second impeachment and Biden’s infrastructure bill, the dean of the Wolverine State’s Congressional delegation now finds his own primary future uncertain.

Redistricting has greatly complicated Upton’s fate. Initially, he was set to face off against Trump-backed state Representative Steve Carra in his southwestern Michigan seat. Then the state’s Commission drew the southern-most extent of Bill Huizenga’s 2nd district into Upton’s 6th. Now the two men are expected to run in a redistricting primary against each other.

On paper, Upton should be a commanding favorite because the overwhelming majority of the territory in the district was represented by him under the old lines. If Trump endorses Huizenga, or forces Carra to drop out, Upton’s chances could be reduced. Although they voted against both Trump impeachments, Rodney Davis (IL-15) and David McKinley (WV-02) find themselves similarly at risk in double-bunking primaries against weaker incumbents that they would almost certainly beat if the former President were not a factor.

Western Michigan has been moving toward Democrats at the federal level as of late, but the 4th remains Trump-won under the new lines. Given the national environment and Upton’s tentative frontrunner status in the primary, Split Ticket rates the general election in this seat Safe Republican.

David Valadao (CA-21)

The final impeachment Republican is David Valadao. He was first elected in 2012, and kept winning until his upset loss to T.J. Cox in 2018. Generally a strong candidate and a talented campaigner, Valadao ousted Cox in a 2020 rematch while outrunning President Trump throughout California’s 21st district.

Much like Katko, and arguably Meijer, Valadao’s biggest threat this year is the general election. Redistricting has increased the height of his electoral obstacle by making his renumbered 22nd district a few points more Democratic. The Biden +12 seat is being contested by Assemblyman Rudy Salas, a well-regarded Democratic recruit. In a Republican year, this contest starts as a Tossup.

Conclusion

Out of the ten House Republicans who voted in favor of President Trump’s second impeachment, eight are running for reelection. Six of those eight face credible primary opposition. Valadao and Katko, the two incumbents not dealing with perilous primary challenges, will be hard-pressed to win general elections following redistricting. In short, there is a non-zero chance that most of these lawmakers will not be in Congress next January.

My name is Harrison Lavelle and I am a political analyst studying at the College of New Jersey. As a co-founder and partner at Split Ticket, I coordinate our House coverage. I write about a variety of electoral topics and produce political maps. Besides elections, my hobbies include music, history, language, and fitness.

Contact me at @HWLavelleMaps or harrisonwlavelle1@gmail.com

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