(OPINION) — The lone Wyoming congressional debate this year featured a lot of talk about Hillary Clinton, with GOP nominee Liz Cheney continually bashing the soon-to-be first woman president and tying her to Democratic opponent Ryan Greene.
I would have loved to hear what Cheney really thinks about her party’s embarrassing standard-bearer, Donald Trump, who has frequently trashed her father — former vice president Dick Cheney — for getting us into war with Iraq under false pretenses. That’s the same Iraq war that Trump actually supported before he was against it when it became convenient for him to pretend that was his position all along.
If I were inclined to feel sorry for hypocritical politicians with whom I totally disagree I might even have some sympathy for Cheney. Imagine having to say nice things about Trump, an off-the-rail disaster who has torn apart the Republican Party like no one could have imagined before he bullied his way to the presidential nomination.
But things seem to be working out fine for Liz Cheney, who has nonetheless stayed 100 percent true to the far-right GOP playbook and raked in a record amount of campaign money from her father’s friends in the Bush-Cheney administration. It’s not difficult to win a Wyoming congressional seat when you raise 10 times more than all of your opponents combined, with the vast majority of it coming from out of state. Liz Cheney doesn’t even need to pretend that she’s not a carpetbagger from Virginia, because now voters either accept it or no longer seem to care.
After Nov. 8, when Cheney wins the election and Trump is trounced, she can assume the role she was born to play as Hillary Clinton’s nemesis on The Hill. Her neocon bloodlines and bloody experience as a non-stop Fox News tormentor of President Barack Obama have already cemented her in the national media’s eyes as a go-to critic of the new administration.
In August, Washington Post writer Paul Kane predicted that Cheney “could become a breakout star for conservatives hungering for a female lawmaker who is ready-made for the combat of 21st-century political news.”
Great — that’s just what Wyoming needs. If we have to be stuck with her as our representative, couldn’t she just hang around in Paul Ryan’s shadow for a few terms?
Ryan Greene has his fans
It doesn’t have to be this way. During last Thursday’s debate at Casper College, Democratic U.S. House nominee Ryan Greene of Rock Springs more than held his own against Cheney. In fact, at least for the in-person crowd at the auditorium, Greene appeared to be the home favorite.
His best moment was when Cheney, of all people, made the mistake of trying to depict him as someone who has just relied on his parents for his livelihood. Greene is a welder and runs operations for his family’s energy company. It’s an honest line of work.
“Now not everybody in our state has the job security of being able to work in their parents’ company their whole career like my opponent,” Cheney said. Greene, quickly speaking over her, managed to make his stinging response heard over the “boo”s she received: “Not everybody was handed a job at the State Department because their dad was vice president.” It earned him a nice round of applause even though the crowd had previously been warned to act like zombies.
Cheney clearly wanted to respond, but the moderator moved on. Later, she charged that Greene is “the candidate in this race who can’t be trusted” because he recently endorsed Clinton and caucused for “socialist” Bernie Sanders.
“Did you caucus here or were you in Virginia?” shot back Greene, referring to the state where Cheney spent most of her adult life until 2012, when she moved to Jackson Hole and briefly challenged U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi before dropping out of that 2014 Senate race after an embarrassing series of miscues.
Cheney appeared rattled, but was also likely patting herself on the back for rejecting Greene’s challenge to meet at five debates instead of the one she agreed to do. Cheney knew that as the front-runner in name recognition and money, she didn’t need to give her opponent any more opportunities to appear on the same stage.
Ticking off their stands on the issues
Cheney’s conservative bag of tricks is older than the hills, but it’s proven effective in Wyoming time and time again. Almost by rote she plunged forward with her attack: Greene will be beholden to Clinton and Nancy Pelosi, two names guaranteed to stir anger and have Cowboy State conservatives racing to the polls.
I wish one of the panelists had brought up Trump’s declaration that he would wait and see how the “rigged” election went before deciding if he would accept the results. It would have been nice to see Cheney defend the validity of her win if the blustery Republican nominee continued his refusal to accept his own inevitable defeat at the top of the ticket.
Cheney’s narrow list of solutions to the state’s problems included repealing Obamacare, reducing federal taxes and stopping “radical environmental groups.” She bashed the EPA for its “overreach” and alleged war on fossil fuels.
After being pressed by Wyoming Public Radio News Director Bob Beck to name any environmental regulation she favored, Cheney essentially said the industry does a great job of policing itself. She disparages climate change as “junk science,” while Greene says he “stands with 99 percent of the world’s scientists” who say it’s real and caused by humans burning fossil fuels.
Cheney railed against wasting hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayers’ money pushing renewable energy, prompting Greene to note that one of her largest donors is major wind-energy developer Phil Anschutz.
“I don’t think you’re going to stand by our miners when you’re funded by wind,” he pressed.
While Greene pushed for equal pay for equal work, Cheney said the government has “no business getting in the middle by mandating wages.” She said any minimum wage increase would be a disaster, while Greene said $10 an hour should be the starting point for discussing a minimum wage hike.
Third-party congressional candidates included Libertarian Lawrence Struempf and the Constitution Party’s Daniel Cummings. They acquitted themselves well in explaining their minority positions, but I wish the forum had been twice as long to give the two major party candidates a better opportunity to stress the different directions they want to take for our state.
Cheney has a clear path to victory, but I think if Greene had access to the same amount of campaign funds his opponent has available, he could have given voters a welcome alternative to the tired, conservative platform Wyoming Republicans have trotted out since her father was elected to the position in 1978.
Wyoming has changed a lot in the past 38 years. We could use a representative like Greene who brings more to the plate than ancient anti-federal rhetoric and fear-mongering.
As he said in his closing statement, Greene is only seeking a two-year term in Washington.
“If I don’t make Wyoming proud, vote me out in two years,” he said. “Getting a Democrat out of office in Wyoming, it’s not that hard. But if we elect Ms. Cheney and we don’t like the results we’re getting, we’re never going to budge her.”
All too true.
Greene still has two weeks to make his case. I wish him well.