Liz Cheney and Harriet Hageman are former allies whose careers are moving in opposite directions, thanks to former President Donald Trump.
Hageman walloped the three-term congresswoman by nearly 40 percentage points in the August Republican primary, a victory so resounding it slammed the door shut on Cheney’s political future in Wyoming.
But Cheney is far from done with Trump or national politics. And while Hageman will be off to Washington after a general election contest she’s poised to win by another landslide, she may find life in the Beltway far less satisfying than she imagined from Cheyenne.
Cheney has three months left in office, time she will maximize to sink Trump’s chances of returning to the White House. That’s been her goal since a week after the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection, when she and nine other GOP House members voted to impeach the lame-duck president.
Though it took a year and a half for Cheney’s party to give her the heave-ho in Wyoming, that single vote sealed her fate. Hageman wasn’t initially even considered a dark horse candidate to replace Cheney. But after a job interview with Trump she won his seal of approval, and that was that.
Cheney’s lasting legacy will be her work as vice chairman of the House committee investigating what happened before, during and after Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol. The panel has painstakingly connected the dots between the mob’s actions and the efforts of Trump and his cronies to keep him in office. The committee will hold its final scheduled public hearing Wednesday and, ultimately will issue its official report,
Last week, the House approved a bill sponsored by Cheney and committee colleague Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-California) to reform the 1887 Electoral Count Act. The measure is aimed at preventing another assault on American democracy during congressional certification of presidential elections.
The measure makes it clear the vice president’s role presiding over the Senate is only ceremonial, with no “authority or discretion” to reject an election’s result or delay certification. Trump applied intense pressure on former Vice President Mike Pence to do just that. Pence refused to stop the count.
Instead of allowing a single lawmaker to delay the proceedings by objecting to a state’s electors, the House bill requires 30% of the body to do so. More than half of the members in both chambers would have to vote to sustain an objection.
The House measure appears to have strong bipartisan backing with the support of all 50 Democratic senators plus 10 Republicans, which means it can survive a filibuster and win approval. The two bodies will likely squabble over the final version, but Democrats see this as their golden opportunity to prevent the type of parliamentary coup Trump envisioned. They won’t be denied, and Cheney — a conservative at odds with Democrats on just about every other major issue — will be integral to their success.
“This bill will preserve the rule of law and defend election integrity,” Cheney said.
As a freshman representative from the state with the fewest people, Hageman normally wouldn’t attract a lot of attention. But her massive win over Cheney, with Trump’s backing, will put her in the national spotlight.
That doesn’t mean the coverage will be positive. In fact, Hageman is already controversial thanks to her insistence that the 2020 election was “rigged” against Trump.
“We feel compelled to express our deep concern and disappointment that in recent weeks you have chosen to lend your credibility as a Wyoming lawyer to the myth that the 2020 presidential election was stolen,” 41 attorneys stated in a recent letter to Hageman.
The lawyers and retired judges said Hageman’s claims are contrary to the rule of law and destabilizing to democratic institutions. In response, she seized the opportunity to defend Trump and play the victim.
“Make no mistake, this letter is meant as a threat against me simply because I hold a different political opinion, one that is shared by a majority of Wyoming voters,” Hageman responded. “And this is exactly what Liz Cheney’s allies and the left do to Trump supporters and conservatives at every turn —attempt to threaten, intimidate and cancel anyone who doesn’t see the world the way they do.”
Which is pure nonsense. Hageman owes her political career to Trump, but she can’t change what the courts, cybersecurity experts, the Department of Justice and battleground-state recounts affirm: He was dumped by voters fair and square.
At the Heritage Foundation’s recent Constitution Day event in Washington, Hageman called the FBI’s search for documents Trump took to Mar-a-Lago a “partisan witch hunt.” She sympathized with Capitol rioters and claimed they are being punished by Democrats, the “political elite [who] celebrate their suffering” in jail.
If she’s so confident she’s right, why won’t Hageman participate in a Wyoming PBS debate with Democratic nominee Lynnette Grey Bull and their two minor-party opponents? Hageman relishes lobbing grenades from Washington in front of a right-wing audience, but she does a disservice to all Wyoming voters by refusing to share the stage with her competitors.
In D.C., Hageman trotted out the same boogeymen she did in her Wyoming campaign: Joe Biden, federal bureaucrats, the EPA, federal overreach, Hunter Biden, all of Roosevelt’s New Deal programs and “Silicon Valley oligarchs” out to silence Trump and all conservatives. She accused Democrats of “despising what America stands for.”
Such radical diatribes suggest Hageman is poised to join her party’s most embarrassing lawmakers, including Reps. Paul Gosar of Arizona, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Lauren Boebert of Colorado.
Meanwhile, what happens to Cheney when her Jan. 6 committee work is done? Some observers think she might lead what’s left of her party if Republicans grow weary of Trump’s criminality and election whining. A White House bid is possible, if only to take votes away from Trump or prevent an heir apparent like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis from following in his footsteps.
Cheney is a prolific fundraiser, as she demonstrated in her primary race against Hageman. But I don’t expect Democrats across the country to keep contributing to someone who’s the antithesis of their party.
It’s more likely Cheney puts the Equality State in her rearview mirror and heads home to Virginia, which just happens to have two Democratic U.S. senators to run against. If she can’t jump-start her political career there, other options include TV talking head, think-tank director or lobbyist. A best-selling memoir on her battle with Trump is a no-brainer.
When it comes to predicting what’s in store for Cheney, I’ve mostly failed. When I peer into my Magic 8 Ball and ask about her future, it should respond, “Why bother? You stink at this.”
Nearly everyone immediately wrote Cheney’s political obituary after her impeachment vote, but I thought she could eke out a win if her opponents split the vote and Democrats crossed over in droves for the GOP primary. The latter happened, but Trump’s Hageman endorsement had an even greater influence.
By Election Day it was clear Cheney would lose, but I didn’t believe my Republican friends (yes, I have some) who promised a blowout. They knew the anger of voters who felt betrayed was off the charts.
But Cheney has secured her place in U.S. history as a profile in courage. When you help save our constitutional republic by taking down a former president who will stop at nothing to retain power, you don’t need to pad your resume.