GOP Rep. Dan Newhouse could have had an open invitation to appear on national TV since his January 2021 vote to impeach Donald Trump. But he eschewed any chance to raise his profile or pad his fundraising — likely hoping that staying quiet would offer a firmer path to reelection.
The Washington Republican is part of a small cohort of impeachment-supporting House Republicans running for reelection this year. But the group has split in two over how to address that vote — embrace it, or largely act like it didn’t happen.
Now, four of them will go through primaries over the next month: Newhouse, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) and Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.) on Aug. 2 and Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) in Aug. 16. The contests that will reveal whether either strategy can help them outrun the wrath of the former president and his base.
“I try to focus on those things that are important today and the issues in my district. If it comes up, I don’t shy away from it,” Newhouse said of his impeachment vote. “But there’s a lot of things that are going on. People are trying to tear down our dams; our agricultural industry has a lot of challenges; Inflation prices of everything has gone through the roof.”
Another four of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump retired rather than face the voters again, and two had primaries earlier this year. Rep. Tom Rice (R-S.C.) lost, but Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.) prevailed.
Rice belongs in one camp of the impeachment-backing Republicans, Valadao in the other. Rice, along with Cheney and Meijer, have all at least somewhat embraced their role as Trump antagonists, hitting the Sunday morning talk shows, participating in long profiles with magazines or taking to Twitter to rehash and relitigate the events of Jan. 6.
Valadao’s group, which includes Herrera Beutler and Newhouse, have tried to avoid the spotlight or excessive talk about their vote.
“I think she is afraid,” Republican Joe Kent said of Herrera Beutler, whom he is challenging in Washington’s all-party primary. “She doesn’t want to talk about impeachment. She does not.”
Cheney is the most stark example of someone who did not shy away from the vote. As the vice chair of the Jan. 6 investigative committee, she has made her support for impeaching Trump a core part of her political identity. She has appeared at least once on all five of the major Sunday talk shows over the past year and a half (including some more than once), and she’s also been on “60 Minutes.”
As her primary looms, polling has become so bleak that her campaign has begun courting Democratic voters. But Cheney insists she is comfortable with the political ramifications of her outspokenness.
“If I have to choose between maintaining a seat in the House of Representatives, or protecting the constitutional republic and ensuring the American people know the truth about Donald Trump, I’m going to choose the Constitution and the truth every single day,” she said in a Sunday interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Meijer, a freshman from Western Michigan, had the largest media presence after Cheney, joining the talk show circuit throughout 2021 and participating in a long profile in The Atlantic.
But he has grown quieter on impeachment in recent months, and he is facing a surprisingly strong threat from John Gibbs, a former Trump administration official who received an endorsement from the former president. The incumbent outspent Gibbs by a 6-to-1 ratio as of mid-July, but Republicans have grown increasingly worried about Meijer’s fate in recent weeks.
While Gibbs has barely aired TV ads, a deluge of pro-Meijer spending flooded the district over the past week. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a pro-Meijer super PAC dumped a collective $1.1 million into boosting the incumbent, joining another veterans group that had already spent some $300,000.
Meijer’s Grand Rapids-based seat tilted to the left when it was redrawn in redistricting last year, and national Democrats hope their candidate will get to run against Gibbs, a staunch Trump supporter who is a fierce proponent of election fraud theories. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee took the unusual step of meddling in the primary, placing a $425,000 ad buy meant to lure GOP voters toward Gibbs on Aug. 2 — a move that angered some in the party.
Washington State, home to two of the Republicans who voted to impeach, will also host primaries next Tuesday. But unlike Meijer, Newhouse and Herrera Beutler will each face a slew of challengers in an all-party contest. Trump has endorsed in each race.
Neither incumbent has meaningfully courted any national media. Though Herrera Beutler spoke publicly in early 2021 about a conversation she had with House Minority Kevin McCarthy, in which he told about a phone call he had with Trump on Jan. 6, she has since been quieter.
“She’s not a national attention seeker, not running to be a talking head on any cable news network,” Herrera Beutler campaign spokesman Craig Wheeler told POLITICO last week.
Her Trump-endorsed opponent, Joe Kent, framed it differently, accusing her of hiding from constituents, refusing to debate him and declining to hold in-person townhalls. The 2020 election, impeachment and Jan. 6 are still “very hot button issues” with a conservative base, he said. “It’s not going away. People want these issues dealt with.”
Trump won her district by less than 5 points, meaning a Democrat is likely to snag one spot in the general election. But Herrera Beutler is competing with several Republicans who could split the anti-incumbent vote against her. Winning for Women Action Fund, a group that backs GOP women, has spent more than $1.5 million to aid her.
To the east, Newhouse is competing in a much more Trump-friendly district against several Republicans, including Loren Culp, the 2020 GOP governor nominee who nabbed Trump’s backing.
GOP operatives are feeling more confident about Newhouse after a sustained $1.2 million ad blitz from the Republican Main Street Partnership’s super PAC. Polling the group commissioned last week indicated the hits were working and that Culp dropped significantly from a previous survey. The group is airing three spots this week.
Newhouse himself has aired nearly $500,000 in ads, and his recent spots went negative on Culp, who has not run any TV ads of his own, according to data from AdImpact, a media tracking firm.
“I follow the race and I have not heard once that he’s mentioned impeachment,” said Sarah Chamberlain, the president of the Republican Main Street Partnership. Inflation, gas prices and food shortages are top of mind for most voters, she noted.
“It’s one thing to take the vote, it’s another to keep talking about it,” she said. “Talk about what you’re doing. That vote was a long time ago. You’ve got a lot of votes between now and that. What are you doing lately?”
That was the tactic adopted by Valadao, who narrowly advanced from his all-party primary in June over a far-right challenger. He kept his focus on water and broadband issues plaguing his rural Central Valley district — and he managed to avoid Trump parachuting into his district to back a challenger before finishing in second place and securing a general election spot against Democrat Rudy Salas.
“We knew what the most important issues to voters were, and that’s what we talked about,” said Robert Jones, a GOP operative and adviser to Valadao. “The things that matter in D.C. and on cable news are not what matters in the Central Valley all the time — usually never.”
Valadao, Newhouse and Herrera Beutler also had all party-primaries which could offer more wiggle room to build a winning coalition.
In contrast, Mejier is set to face a chiefly GOP electorate, like Rice did in South Carolina in June. Rice’s opponent, Russell Fry, cleared 50 percent in the primary, clinching the nomination outright over Rice, without a runoff, in an embarrassing loss for the incumbent.
But Rice remained extremely outspoken about Trump and the perils of Jan. 6, particularly in the final weeks of the race. He sat for an interview with ABC’s “This Week,” called Trump a bully and a tyrant and brought former House Speaker Paul Ryan and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — two Republicans who have also been critical of Trump — to the district to campaign with him.
“He kept doubling down on it,” said Jerry Rovner, the GOP chairman for Rice’s 7th Congressional District. “He started bringing down people that South Carolina people believe are not Republicans.
“That was like a slap in the face,” he said.