State Sen. Anthony Bouchard (R-Cheyenne) gave us a preview on Saturday of the stump speech he’ll likely regurgitate across Wyoming over the next 16 months as he tries to unseat U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney in the Republican primary.
The fact that Bouchard delivered the broadside in Florida at an “America First Rally,” and not Wyoming, is telling. It’s clear that the Equality State, like never before, has a race that will be under the national microscope.
It promises to be a colorful contest, if a bit corny. “I’m a septic tank pumper, I service septic tanks,” Bouchard said, pausing for some laughter before delivering the punch line. “And I say you need a professional to drain the swamp.”
Lighter moments aside, Bouchard painted himself as the little guy who’s not afraid to take on Cheney and the party’s establishment. Her vote to impeach former President Donald Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection left Cheney vulnerable to bitter attacks from the party’s extreme right.
In the primary, Bouchard and another state legislator, Rep. Chuck Gray (R-Casper), will try to ride the wave of Trumpian enmity against the old-school Wyoming Republican.
Bouchard hammers Cheney daily on social media. He claimed she’s “the most liberal Republican representative Wyoming has ever sent to D.C.” Taking his cue from Trump, Bouchard calls her “Crazy Liz Cheney.”
But attacks on Cheney’s conservative bona fides, or even her stance on Trump’s policies, all ring hollow. During her time as a Fox News commentator, Cheney was one of former President Barack Obama’s fiercest critics. You can’t endorse waterboarding enemies and keeping American troops in the Middle East forever and be a liberal.
According to the political-data-analysis website FiveThirtyEight, Cheney voted with Trump’s position 93% of the time. That’s eight points higher than Trump acolyte Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Florida), who traveled to Cheyenne and blasted her at a rally on the Capitol’s front steps.
At the end of 2020, Cheney’s bid for a fourth term looked like a breeze. There were few safer seats in Congress than the lone representative of red state Wyoming, which voted 70% for Trump. Cheney received 69% of the vote in last year’s general election.
But after Cheney uttered her famous declaration — “There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution” — the rebuke by the Wyoming Republican Party was swift and complete. It voted to censure Cheney and called for her immediate resignation.
Cheney brushed off the censure and refused to meet with state party leaders, just as she survived a vote of the House Republican Conference to remove her as chairwoman. Cheney isn’t backing down to anyone in Wyoming or Washington.
She’s also done with Trump. “I don’t believe that he should be playing a role in the future of the party or the country,” Cheney said at a House leadership news conference.
I don’t think for a second that Cheney would have moved all in on impeachment if she wasn’t confident in her ability to help take her party back from the QAnon crazies and Trump cultists and lead it toward traditional conservatism. A lot of moderate Republicans are counting on it, too.
In the apparent battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party, national political pundits consider Wyoming and the GOP congressional primary ground zero. The New York Times Magazine titled its April 22nd profile “Cheney vs. MAGA.” The subhead asserted that “The Wyoming congresswoman challenged Republicans to turn away from Trump after Jan. 6. Instead, they turned away from her.”
For his part, Bouchard is playing to what the candidate hopes will be the rage still burning against Cheney. He needs that intra-party divide, for both campaign funds and votes. Like the Wyoming GOP’s far-right leadership, he rails against “Republicans in name only.”
“My fight has been with the RINOs from day one,” Bouchard told a boisterous audience of about 300 in Vero Beach, Florida. “… All of the same things that happen in the big swamp happen in the little swamp. Fight back, get involved, and let’s get rid of Liz Cheney.”
Far from taking a financial hit for her impeachment vote, Cheney’s fundraising is better than ever. She hauled in more than $1.5 million during the first quarter of 2021, a new personal record. Corporate America is coming out huge for Cheney, with political action committees for Google, Toyota, Wal-Mart and GM among her biggest donors.
More than a year before the filing date for the primary, she’s already raised more than half what she did in her 2020 race. If anything is going to stop Cheney, it won’t be a lack of funds.
Bouchard bragged to Floridians that he’s raised more than $400,000 in the past month, two-thirds of it in small donations from all 50 states. He plans to return to the Sunshine State for fundraisers. Bouchard could likely make the political-chicken-dinner circuit all across the country to fill up his coffers.
The Federal Elections Commission reported Gray raised $173,000, though all but $40,000 came from the candidate’s own pockets. He’ll need to step up the fundraising if he hopes to be in contention for long.
The three candidates are mounting far different campaigns in the early stages.
On her “Cheney for Wyoming” campaign website, the congresswoman features a photo of her sitting on a fence, surrounded by her adoring husband, three daughters, two sons and three horses. It’s the all-American family, at home in Wilson, far from their previous digs in northern Virginia. There is no mention of her opponents.
Four full screens detail Cheney’s congressional accomplishments. The first section is devoted to a conservative classic: “ending federal overreach and restoring local control to Wyoming.”
Gray’s website shows the radio talk show host in a static photo, wearing a sports jacket but no tie. In the background, fluid images of iconic Wyoming scenes drift by: the Tetons, Devils Tower, an oil rig, a herd of buffalo and the state flag.
Gray criticizes Cheney, and even accuses her of “betraying Wyoming again!” But for sheer vitriol and intensity, no one matches Bouchard as he roars from the campaign starting gate.
Subtlety is not Bouchard’s forte. A photo of Cheney on his Campaign Facebook page is shown above the word “Democrat,” with the “o” replaced by a hammer and sickle. “Trump Hating political group that spent $82 million in the last election cycle — founded by a ‘registered Democrat’ — cheered on Liz Cheney for impeachment. I’m gonna keep reminding folks of how the Lizard-Swamp-Allies operate!” claims the post.
Trump is expected to endorse a Cheney challenger soon, with the apparent hope that his Wyoming base will coalesce behind one candidate.
I see a few problems with that as a winning strategy.
First, not all Republicans who might prefer Cheney to Trump are RINOs, and they will resent being denigrated.
Second, for anyone not named Cheney to win, Trump will have to retain his grip on the GOP for another year and a half. That’s an eternity in politics. The former president’s legal and financial problems may force him from his self-appointed role of kingmaker at Mar-a-Lago.
Finally, any challenger will also have to contend with the unlikely support from Wyoming Democrats who admire Cheney’s principled stand against Trump. Trust me, there are many members of the party who abhor Cheney’s politics, but will eagerly become temporary Republicans to vote for her in the primary over someone who’s been anointed by Trump.
Go ahead and call us “DINOs.” We’ll get over it.