When Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) voted to convict Donald Trump at his impeachment trial after the Jan. 6 insurrection, she did so knowing full well that it could end her political career.
Less than two years later, Alaskans voted to send Murkowski back to Washington for a fourth six-year term: She defeated her Trump-backed rival, fellow Republican Kelly Tshibaka.
Under Alaska’s system of ranked choice voting, Murkowski won a majority of votes after supporters of Democratic candidate Pat Chesbro, who finished third, ranked the incumbent senator as their second choice.
That system, as well as Alaska’s elimination of a closed partisan primary, was instrumental in helping Murkowski weather a zealous Republican revolt not just over her vote to convict Trump but years of votes that have infuriated the conservative faithful—such as her opposition to repealing Obamacare and to confirming Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
Winning over a broad swath of independent-minded Alaska voters with her record on infrastructure projects and local issues, Murkowski demonstrated the limited appeal of a MAGA-fueled grievance campaign, even in a state Trump carried twice.
“I have always been a coalition builder,” Murkowski told The Daily Beast during an October interview in Anchorage. “In any campaign that I’ve been part of, it’s been about, how do we broaden our community here—not just catering to a partisan base.”
Murkowski’s victory is a blow to Trump, and Tshibaka’s loss will be one of the biggest failures of his 2022 vengeance campaign to oust Republicans who have broken with him. It’s also a victory for Trump’s biggest enemy in the GOP: Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
Though Alaska was irrelevant to the battle for control of the Senate, McConnell, through his super PAC, spent nearly $7 million on TV ads attacking Tshibaka on her record as a government official. His involvement enraged many Alaska Republicans and Tshibaka herself, who called his efforts “un-American” and said that McConnell was trying to buy a vote he could control.
Although Tshibaka raised more than $4 million, her allies in the Trump wing of the party never contributed the cash to help her blunt McConnell’s air war. In the home stretch of the race, with Tshibaka’s momentum fading, Murkowski—intentionally or not—trolled her many conservative haters by endorsing Rep. Mary Peltola, a Democrat, for Alaska’s House race.
With her victory, Murkowski will spend another six years taking votes that, at times, frustrate members of both parties, including the Republican who spent so heavily to keep her in office. Regardless of who controls the White House or Senate, Murkowski is poised to remain a key player in brokering deals like the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure law that passed last year.