Here’s a question Wyoming voters should ponder: If Harriet Hageman really believes the 2020 presidential election was rigged against former President Donald Trump, why did she wait 11 months to finally say so?
Trump has repeatedly shown that a candidate’s total loyalty to him is what matters most. But last September, Hageman convinced Trump to endorse her candidacy against his bitter enemy, U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, without publicly declaring that massive voter fraud cost him the election.
That’s curious, because Hageman wasn’t even a Trump supporter in 2016. As a member of the National Republican Convention’s rules committee, she tried to keep the future president from getting the nomination in favor of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
While most Trump-backed candidates have been shouting “stop the steal!” from the rooftops, Hageman has kept dancing around the issue. She could have launched into a full-blown defense of Trump’s election claims when she appeared with him at a rally in Casper, but she didn’t. Something’s not adding up.
“We have to pay very, very close attention to this so that 2020 never happens again,” Hageman said at a Bar Nunn event in March.
When WyoFile asked for clarification, Hageman emailed a statement that acknowledged she’s frequently asked if Joe Biden was legitimately elected. “I’m afraid the answer is we don’t know,” she demurred.
That’s a far cry from what the candidate proclaimed at a political forum in Casper last Wednesday. “Absolutely the election was rigged,” she said. “It was rigged to make sure that President Trump could not get re-elected. What happened in 2020 was a travesty.”
Cheney had tried for weeks to goad Hageman into playing the card.
“I’d be interested to know whether or not [Hageman] is willing to say here tonight that the election was not stolen,” Cheney said at a Sheridan debate in June. “She knows it wasn’t stolen. I think she can’t say that it wasn’t stolen because she’s completely beholden to Donald Trump, and if she says it wasn’t stolen, he will not support her.”
But Hageman didn’t bite at the time. Why did she hold back until less than two weeks before the Aug. 16 primary?
Former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyoming), a Cheney supporter, provided one possible reason why Hageman would want to keep some distance between herself and Trump’s phony 2020 election claims when WyoFile interviewed him back in March.
“Hageman doesn’t dare go off on that tack, because Wyoming people are rather reasonable,” Simpson said. “If her full-page ad is ‘stop the steal,’ then we know that she’s slipped into some unhinged state, and she’s not going to do that.”
But now she has taken that tack. So what’s changed? Hageman hasn’t suddenly become “unhinged,” so either she made the political calculation that there is no downside in Wyoming to fully embracing her benefactor’s lies, or Trump, realizing that his lacky still hadn’t said the magic words, “It was rigged,” finally pulled her string.
Timing is everything, especially in politics. Last Tuesday, pro-Trump election deniers won high-profile primary races in several states. One was John Gibbs, a former Trump administration official who narrowly defeated Michigan Congressman Peter Meijer.
Meijer has something in common with Cheney: They were two of the 10 GOP U.S. House members who voted to impeach Trump. Most decided not to seek re-election, but they haven’t all been vanquished, and that’s undoubtedly set off alarm bells at Mar-a-Lago. Most notably, Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Washington) finished first in his primary, while Trump’s hand-picked candidate was third.
Politico reported that while Trump “went all-in on several election-denying candidates, as the votes rolled in, he seemed to come out on shaky ground. … The fact that these battles were, and are, close might signal Trump’s hold on the party is loosening.”
Trump doesn’t want to see Cheney merely beaten, he wants her crushed. If there was ever a time for Hageman to jump in the election-is-rigged camp with both cowboy boots, this appears to be it. Several former members of Trump’s administration are working on Hageman’s campaign, including Bill Stepien, the manager of his failed 2020 campaign. It wouldn’t be difficult to get that message to her.
Speaking of messages, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a day after Hageman finally said the election was stolen, Liz Cheney introduced a scathing TV commercial that has her father calling Trump a “coward.” I think she anticipated what Hageman would do, and this was the best counter-punch she could muster.
Will it land? Former Vice President Dick Cheney, who was also Wyoming’s congressman for 10 years, laid it on thick. “In our nation’s 246-year history, there has never been an individual who is a greater threat to our Republic than Donald Trump,” he said. “He tried to steal the last election using lies and violence to keep himself in power after the voters had rejected him.”
Dick Cheney added, “A real man wouldn’t lie to his supporters. He lost his election, and he lost big. I know he knows it, and deep down, I think most Republicans know it.”
But who is the target audience for that ad? Liz Cheney obviously knew it would get a huge national audience. Newsweek reported that within a few days more than 6 million people had already viewed it online.
Do the Cheneys really expect a slew of Wyoming Republicans to suddenly realize they’ve been hornswoggled by Trump and need to take it out on Hageman? Because if they do, I can think of better people to make that pitch than a guy who lied about Iraq having “weapons of mass destruction.”
But Liz Cheney is undoubtedly right about one thing: If Hageman wants to have a political future in the Cowboy State, she will be forever beholden to Trump.
That will likely bode well for Hageman now, as long as people angry at Cheney’s “betrayal” of Trump don’t take her much-anticipated loss for granted and actually show up to vote.
In the long run, though, Hageman may regret this shotgun wedding. Inevitably the truth will come crashing down on Trump. It’s already out there, for anyone who cares to open their eyes.
An Associated Press review of every potential case of voter fraud in the six battleground states disputed by Trump uncovered fewer than 475 instances out of the millions of ballots cast. In no state would it have changed the outcome of the presidential election.
Last month a group of esteemed conservative Republican jurists and officials released a report that concluded while Trump’s supporters have spent 20 months scouring for proof that the election was stolen, “On objective examination they have fallen short, every time.”
Does Hageman actually believe the election was stolen from Trump? I doubt it, but the sad truth is it probably doesn’t even matter much to those who decided to vote for her as soon as she received his official blessing.
Hageman must have realized she wouldn’t be allowed to just skate to victory without making the ultimate show of loyalty to her leader. It may have been tough for her to get the words out the first time, but I bet “absolutely it was rigged” will start to easily roll off Hageman’s tongue. It’s the issue that will forever define her, and that may be the only taste of revenge Cheney gets in this election.