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Dan Newhouse, lone Republican to survive Trump-backed primary challenge after impeachment vote, represents dying breed in GOP

Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, speaks at a rally to oppose efforts to breach the Lower Snake River dams on Aug. 1 in Richland, Washington.  (Orion Donovan-Smith, The Spokesman-Review)
Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, speaks at a rally to oppose efforts to breach the Lower Snake River dams on Aug. 1 in Richland, Washington. (Orion Donovan-Smith, The Spokesman-Review)

WASHINGTON – When Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming lost her primary last week, it gave Central Washington Rep. Dan Newhouse the distinction of being the sole GOP lawmaker to survive a challenge from a candidate endorsed by Donald Trump after voting to impeach the former president for his role in the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021.

Cheney’s loss to Trump-endorsed attorney Harriet Hageman was widely anticipated after the three-term lawmaker, unlike nearly every other Republican in Congress, refused to submit to Trump’s demands for personal loyalty and continued to condemn his claim that the 2020 election was rigged against him.

Newhouse took a different tack, standing by his decision to impeach Trump in January 2021 but largely avoiding the topic as he squeaked through Washington’s top-two primary Aug. 2 along with Democrat Doug White of Yakima.

In an interview with The New York Times’ podcast “The Daily” in January, Cheney showed no sympathy for Republicans taking that approach, which left her virtually alone as a GOP critic of Trump.

“There’s no moment at which I think that you can with good faith say, ‘Yes, he’s dangerous to the country but I’m more worried about my political future, so I’m just going to keep my head down,’ ” Cheney said. “I don’t know that the republic, frankly, can long endure if that’s the position elected officials take.”

Newhouse and White advanced with barely a quarter of votes each, enough to leave former gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp in third place with 21% despite Trump’s endorsement of Culp. A bevy of GOP candidates who aligned themselves with the former president, including Culp, split nearly 50% of votes, suggesting Newhouse owes his survival more to a disorganized opposition than to popularity in Washington’s 4th Congressional District.

Heading into a general election where he will be favored against White in the heavily conservative district, Newhouse may be less worried about winning re-election than about what would face him when a new Congress begins work in January, purged of virtually every Republican who has crossed Trump.

Of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for inciting the mob that besieged the Capitol and attacked police in an effort to halt the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory, only Rep. David Valadao of California survived the primaries along with Newhouse.

But Valadao, who represents a more moderate district, didn’t have a Trump-endorsed primary challenger and now faces a tough contest against a Democratic state legislator in the general election.

A Valadao loss would make Newhouse even more of an outlier in the House Republican Conference.

Newhouse is no liberal, but touting his “A” ratings from the National Rifle Association and the antiabortion Susan B. Anthony List didn’t win over most conservative primary voters in the district. He has been a leading voice for conservative policies as chairman of the Congressional Western Caucus, a group of House Republicans who represent rural areas.

Meanwhile, his GOP challengers ran campaigns that were light on policy specifics and heavy on loyalty to Trump.

The Newhouse campaign did not respond to a request to interview for this story, but the congressman said during a primary-night call with reporters he would work to rebuild trust among Republican voters in the institutions that uphold American democracy.

“I will work very hard to unite our country, to unite our party,” he said. “If people don’t have confidence in the electoral process in our country, our future is pretty bleak.”

After the Federal Bureau of Investigation searched Trump’s residence at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida on Aug. 8 as part of an investigation into potential mishandling of top-secret documents, congressional Republicans rallied around Trump and unleashed a torrent of criticism at the FBI and Department of Justice.

Few GOP lawmakers have pushed back against that rhetoric, even after a Trump supporter attacked an FBI field office in Cincinnati on Aug. 11 – apparently in response to the Mar-a-Lago search – before being shot dead by law enforcement officers.

Newhouse has been relatively quiet about the investigation, releasing a brief statement Aug. 10 that called the FBI search of Trump’s residence “unprecedented” and demanded transparency from the FBI about the purpose of the search. A federal judge approved the release of a search warrant Aug. 12 that revealed FBI agents seized classified documents from Trump’s home.

A victory for Newhouse in November isn’t guaranteed, with White hoping to win over enough independent voters to pull off an unlikely victory and the possibility of a write-in campaign by Culp looming over the race.

If the incumbent wins a fifth term in Congress, it may be a lonely one.

Orion Donovan-Smith's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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