Wyoming’s congressional contest is widely viewed as an intensely personal battle between GOP incumbent Rep. Liz Cheney and former President Donald Trump. And that’s accurate.
Whatever happens in the Aug. 16 primary, Cheney knows she’s on the right side of history. She may not be sent back to D.C., but she must believe keeping Trump out of the White House is worth the risk.
That was made clear during last week’s initial hearing of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol assault on democracy.
Cheney expertly laid out evidence that Trump not only incited the insurrection, but continues to orchestrate a widespread conspiracy to subvert the will of American voters. It’s a damning case, and I’m sure it was satisfying for her to finally tell it to millions of people.
Cheney got to the heart of the matter. She was speaking to the entire country about her congressional colleagues, but it was also a direct message to Wyoming voters considering her political fate.
“We take our oath to defend the United States Constitution, and that oath must mean something,” she said. “Tonight I say this to my Republican colleagues who are defending the indefensible: There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.”
It’s tempting to say the committee’s prime-time event effectively knocked Trump back on his heels, which could boost Cheney’s chance to win a fourth term. To do so, though, is to fall into the trap of covering modern-day campaigns like horse races. How candidates jockey for position and who’s ahead on a particular day isn’t important.
Cheney has raised millions of dollars outside Wyoming, but her primary job until the election is to tell potential voters here that she’s not ignoring the state, and in fact her Jan. 6 committee work is benefiting them.
Cheney knows the extreme-right leaders of the Wyoming Republican Party have done a bang-up job convincing many voters she betrayed them by attacking Trump. Overcoming the odds and beating her Trump-endorsed challenger Harriet Hageman would be a huge political upset.
But in this race, there’s much more than Cheney’s political future at stake. Our constitutional republic is on the line.
Trump’s claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him has long been determined to be one of the biggest whoppers ever told. He lost more than 60 lawsuits alleging voter fraud and corruption, and recount after recount in key states confirmed Joe Biden was legitimately elected.
Cheney faces steep odds to overcome the steadfast belief of many Wyomingites that his “Big Lie” about the election is true, no matter what evidence is put in front of them. They’ll go to their graves never realizing — or admitting — they’ve been taken for suckers by the former grifter-in-chief.
For Republicans with an open mind, Cheney emphasized that the officials who testified Trump knew from the beginning his allegations were phony are members of his own party.
Bill Barr, Trump’s attorney general, was a sycophant to his boss throughout his tenure on the job. But he voluntarily told the committee the truth.
If I was Cheney, I’d broadcast Barr’s candid assessment as many times as I could before Election Day. “I made it clear that I did not agree with the idea of saying the election was stolen and putting out this stuff, which I told the president was bullshit,” he said.
Barr also called Trump’s claim that Dominion voting machines used in several battleground states were rigged against him “complete nonsense.”
“I saw absolutely zero basis for the allegations, but they were made in such a sensational way that they obviously were influencing a lot of people. … I told him it was crazy stuff, and they were wasting their time on that,” Barr said. “And it was doing a great, great disservice to the country.”
Trump’s statement the next day calling Barr a coward was true to form. “He sucked,” Trump wrote on Truth Social, his lame imitation of Twitter.
That juvenile rebuttal aside, the incredible damage Trump has inflicted on the country is not limited to his election lies. He tried to prevent the peaceful transition of power, violating his oath to the U.S. Constitution and trashing the rule of law.
Fortunately, Trump’s scheme to remain in power was clumsily executed.
But nothing could keep Trump from calling on domestic terrorists like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers to storm the Capitol. Members have been charged with seditious conspiracy, but as Cheney noted, the person who “summoned the mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack” must be held accountable.
I disagree with Cheney’s positions on almost every issue, but I share her outrage that House and Senate Republicans who denounced Trump’s tactics on the night of the Capitol siege now defend his delusional rants.
The testimony of Caroline Edwards, one of 140 law enforcement officers injured in the attack, was chilling.
“I saw friends with blood all over their faces. I was slipping in people’s blood,” she said. “You know, I was catching people as they fell. It was carnage. It was chaos.”
Trump targeted Vice President Mike Pence for special abuse because Pence wouldn’t stop the official Electoral College count and declare him the winner.
Cheney said White House staff and family members literally begged the president to tell the rioters to stop, but he ignored them even as the mob chanted, “Hang Mike Pence!”
Cheney promised future testimony that shows the president was angry — but not with those hunting his vice president.
No, Cheney said, Trump told people “maybe our supporters have the right idea,” adding he thought Pence “deserves it.” Trump has denied making those despicable statements, but why would more than half a dozen members of his staff swear that he did?
The sad truth is some of Trump’s die-hard Wyoming backers don’t even mind that Pence’s life was threatened. It’s a mindset epitomized by what Marti Halverson, who cast one of the state’s three Electoral College votes for Trump in 2020, told the Christian Science Monitor at his recent Casper rally for Hageman.
Halverson explained that when she was a state legislator, she received awful threats in her inbox. It’s routine for any politician these days, she said.
“‘Hang Mike Pence’ is nothing,” Halverson told the publication. Besides, she added, she doesn’t believe the rioters actually meant it.
Does that work for you?
Trump is counting on enough Wyoming voters willing to trade our constitutional republic for a banana republic, as long as his candidates win and he’s put back in power. The problem Cheney must overcome is that a large chunk of the population believes he’s still the duly elected leader of the free world.
I think Cheney’s work as vice chairman of the Jan. 6 committee can turn her race around. But if we’re really living in a state where “Hang Mike Pence” means nothing, I’m afraid she’s already lost.