I guess we can all go home now.
Donald Trump has endorsed Harriet Hageman, the third-place finisher in the last GOP gubernatorial primary, as his pick to beat “warmonger and disloyal Republican” Liz Cheney.
The former president already declared that he wants only one candidate to run against the three-term congresswoman, who dared to cast a vote to impeach him. A larger field could split the vote, he reasoned, and give Cheney a viable chance to win the nomination.
This script — let’s call it “The Sermon on Mar-a-Lago” — was written in Florida and tweeted to Wyoming.
On cue, two candidates — Cheyenne attorney Darin Smith and Sheridan County Republican Chairman Bryan Miller— immediately dropped out. A third, state Rep. Chuck Gray of Casper, followed suit a few days later.
But neither Smith nor Miller would have taken home more than a very thin slice of the proverbial electoral pie. Gray’s campaign, financed almost entirely by himself and his daddy, was going nowhere.
The national media, hungry for a juicy Cheney-Trump story, has treated his endorsement of Hageman as game, set, match. Politico addressed Cheney’s “grim chances” and speculated that now she’ll likely drop out of the race.
I was interviewed by an astute political pundit in Washington who was ready to write Cheney’s obituary. She’s also heard that Cheney would skip the election — after all, it’s just Wyoming! — and opt to add to her mountain of campaign cash for a 2024 presidential bid against Trump.
Far removed from the Equality State, it may make sense at this premature stage to crown Hageman the victor. Wyoming voters love Trump, giving him 70% of the vote in 2020. If he hand-picks somebody, won’t his followers obey his command?
But I’d advise Hageman’s backers not to pop the champagne corks just yet. For starters, a Hageman campaign didn’t even exist publicly until she announced on the day Trump endorsed her. It’s still 11 months until the GOP primary.
You can’t win a race in one day, no matter who says you should.
Cheney is still the person to beat. Let’s not forget that she won her last contest with 69% of the vote. All that support won’t disappear by August 2022. She’s also raised more than $2.8 million, and Hageman is essentially starting from scratch.
Hageman will be able to raise money from far-right political action committees, but if she expects Trump to actually pony up some of his own dough to help her, she’s dreaming.
Trump, who came to power as a political outsider, made the safest pick possible in Hageman. Politically, except for the impeachment vote, the conservative lawyer from Cheyenne is the spitting image of Cheney.
Hageman even worked on Cheney’s aborted senatorial campaign in 2013. Challenging four-term incumbent Sen. Mike Enzi was a misguided effort even before she racked up embarrassing gaffes like buying an in-state fishing license while still officially residing in Virginia. Anglers are still angry about that one.
Hageman didn’t sign on for Cheney’s successful 2016 U.S. House race, but she donated money to it. But when Cheney started to cross Trump, Hageman parted company.
Hageman hasn’t always been in Trump’s camp, either. At the 2016 GOP National Convention, she cast her vote for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
In his endorsement announcement, Trump called Cheney “the Democrats’ number-one provider of soundbites.”
She fired back on Twitter: “Here’s a sound bite for you: Bring it.” Does that sound like a candidate ready to cut and run?
Cheney will never let Trump dictate her race, especially since his extreme-right cult in the U.S. House removed her as Republican Conference chair. Finding herself with some free time on her hands, she accepted a new, more impactful role as vice chairman of the bipartisan committee to hold Trump accountable for inciting the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.
A lot can happen to diminish the former president in the eyes of Wyoming voters, some of whom have likely tired of his “stop the steal” whining when it’s been established he lost to President Joe Biden fair and square.
Ironically, the most “Trumpy” candidate in the race is one that Trump didn’t even interview: state Sen. Anthony Bouchard of Cheyenne. He’s a wild card gun-rights advocate who will directly appeal to the disgraced ex-president’s base.
Like Trump, many dismissed Bouchard following his first big brush with scandal — the revelation that when he was 18, he impregnated a 14-year-old girl. Bouchard called it a “Romeo-Juliet” story, and it apparently hasn’t hurt his fundraising. He actually passed it off as a plus to “pro-life” voters, because he married the girl instead of arranging for an abortion.
The Wyoming Democratic Party called Bouchard out for posting an outrageous meme showing an image of Dr. Anthony Fauci superimposed over a noose. “After prosecution, the chair, the gallows, or lethal injection?” Bouchard asked.
Bouchard used his Facebook campaign page to tell Democratic Chairman Joe Barbuto to “GO POUND SAND!” When one commenter objected to his tactics, 15 others rushed to their candidate’s defense. If Trump saw the meme, I’m confident he’d retweet it.
Like Cheney, Bouchard isn’t going anywhere just because Hageman entered the race. Bouchard’s been busy posting photos of Cheney and Hageman together in happier times. He also rails against vaccine mandates and blasts “Republicans in name only” every chance he gets. It’s a sad commentary on the current state of Wyoming politics that it’s not a bad strategy.
Cheney excels at debating, and I can see her scoring a lot of points against Bouchard, who has shown in the Senate that he can be knocked off his game if he feels attacked. But Hageman, who’s honed her skills by gutting environmental protections in courtroom battles, will be a worthy opponent on any debate stage.
In 2016, when she ran for governor, Hageman was the last to speak at the final debate before the primary. She used her minute to calmly try to pick off three opponents in one fell swoop.
On Foster Friess: “We have a part-time Jackson jet-setter who vowed from the beginning that he was going to spend whatever it takes to buy this race.”
On Mark Gordon, who won the election: “He has never adequately explained why he gave money to Democrats John Kerry and John Edwards while they were running against George W. Bush and our own Dick Cheney.”
On Sam Galeotos: “[He] advocates for a new model of doing business [renewable energy] in Wyoming that undermines our fossil fuels industries on the one hand, while taking money on the other.”
We’ll have plenty of time to examine the issues as they develop. Given the history between Cheney and Hageman, it will be fascinating to see how personal the attacks get. Bouchard, if he goes the distance, could gum up the works by splitting the anti-Cheney vote with Hageman.
And let’s not discount the influence of the Democrats. As extreme right leaders of the Wyoming Republican Party fear, many will likely cross over to vote in the GOP primary. While they may despise just about everything Cheney stands for, many Dems also admire that she voted her conscience to impeach Trump and is still after him.
We’re in for a real barnburner, folks. It could all change on a dime, but right now, with three candidates who truly do not like each other clawing for an advantage, it could be one for the ages in Wyoming.