The war between former President Donald Trump and U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney is so intense that I wondered if Harriet Hageman might fade inadvertently into the background at her own rally.
The Cheyenne attorney and congressional hopeful dispelled that notion when she addressed a pumped-up crowd of about 10,000 Saturday at Casper’s Ford Events Center before the former president took the stage. After a perfunctory introduction of her life’s accomplishments, Cheney’s main GOP challenger and former political ally got down to business.
In a mere 12 minutes Hageman managed to recite an impressive “greatest hits” list of what the far-right is fed-up with, in order: the federal government, out-of-control spending, Joe Biden, baby formula shortage, gas prices, inflation, the Green New Deal, attacks on fossil fuels, open borders, illegal immigration, human trafficking, fentanyl, critical race theory, transgender female athletes, abortion industry, liberal media, social media, socialism, federal corruption, mask mandates, Anthony Fauci, Democrats, Nancy Pelosi, the Jan. 6 commission and RINOs – “Republicans in name only.”
Whew! These proven winners with the MAGA crowd all played extremely well in Wyoming. Her biggest applause line, however, was reserved for the night’s villain when Hageman dubbed Cheney the biggest RINO in Wyoming and vowed to send her back to Virginia.
I’ll admit to being impressed by Hageman’s dexterity with the red meat — she flung the crowd plenty of what they came to chew on — but I was also amused by a fantastic Freudian slip. Hageman said she earned Trump’s endorsement “because he knows I am that person who will best represent your fallacies – your families – your businesses, and your interests.”
I’ve covered politics so long, I fondly recall when the biggest enemies of Republicans were Democrats like myself. Whether they insulted us as liberals, radicals, leftists or socialists, we took pride in the fact we got under the GOP’s skin.
So it was jarring to hear Trump and nearly every other speaker save their most vicious attacks for Republicans.
“Few members of Congress in history have personally caused more damage and destruction to our republic than the thinking — ridiculous and stupid thinking — of Liz Cheney,” Trump said. “She’s aided and abetted the radical Democrat Party in one of the most unhinged, lawless and dangerous witch hunts of all time: the ‘Unselect Committee on Jan. 6.’”
He was just getting warmed up. Trump, who incited hundreds of supporters to storm the Capitol in his failed attempt to keep Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s victory last year, labeled it “the insurrection hoax.” Just more fake news, folks. Sad.
Trump charged Cheney with perpetrating “the most chilling assault on your civil liberties in generations,” while antifa and Black Lives Matter “can steal money and live in $6 million mansions, and nobody does a damn thing.”
Some politicians try to heal the nation’s wounds, while others stoke the flames of fear at every turn. If there’s one thing his rallies show, it’s that Trump is no healer.
“A house divided against itself cannot stand,” Abraham Lincoln said of the country’s bitter unrest over slavery that led to the Civil War. But can the party of Lincoln survive in its current divided state, embodied by a Trump-Cheney clash of political titans?
I doubt it. Only one wing of the GOP will be left standing, and there’s no sure winner yet.
When Cheney accepted a “Profile in Courage” award earlier this month from the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, she recalled JFK said “only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger.”
“Today, that role is ours as we face a threat we have never faced before — a former president attempting to unravel our constitutional republic,” Cheney said. Americans, she noted, have choices to make.
“Will we defend our Constitution? Will we stand for truth? Will we put duty to our oath above partisan politics?” Cheney asked. “Or will we look away from danger, ignore the threat, embrace the lies, and enable the liar?”
Trump called the Wyoming congressional race the most important primary election in the country. Cheney has described it as a battle for the heart and soul of the GOP. It’s nice to see they agree about something. I’ll join them, because neither is overstating the stakes.
I did not brave the crowds in Casper, opting instead to stay in Cheyenne and view Trump’s rally on my computer, tuned into the right-wing Real America’s Voice network. The unabashed fawning over the 45th president — the “correspondents” would lead you to believe he’s still in office — would have made a Fox News host blush.
I’d never watched a Trump rally from start to finish, so I was curious to see if he would maintain the same high energy level that marked his 2016 and 2020 campaigns. Brief news clips from other events around the nation had me believing that his act may be wearing thin, and that some fans had grown weary of his obsession with the 2020 election.
No such fatigue was displayed on the broadcast I tuned into, where Trump looked delighted to be among his people. This was the first rally he’s held in Wyoming — in fact it was the first time he’d been to Wyoming since launching his political career — mainly because he’s never needed to campaign here before. The state gave him his largest margin of victory in both presidential runs.
But if Wyoming didn’t already exist, someone would have had to create it for Trump’s enjoyment. It’s perfect for an ex-president who pretends the election was stolen from him by colluding Democrats and RINOs who abhor the thought of returning him to the White House.
Was there ever a doubt that Trump would venture from the safe confines of Florida’s Mar-a-Lago to take on Wyoming’s congresswoman on her own turf? He strutted into Casper like he owned the place, because he essentially does.
I lived in the Oil City for two decades, and I know moderate and traditionally conservative Republicans there who cringed at Trump’s visit. But he won over the hearts and minds of many Wyoming residents long ago, and that bond was only strengthened as he promoted Hageman’s candidacy.
Let’s be clear: The Cheyenne attorney made a name for herself in MAGA country by suing the feds over environmental regulations, but she wasn’t a powerhouse political force in Wyoming before Trump hand-picked her to take on Cheney. Hageman finished third in the 2018 Republican primary for governor, her first political race.
Several former Trump staffers are working on Hageman’s campaign, and while she’s not raking in as much cash as Cheney, she’s getting more from Wyoming donors.
The rally positioned Hageman well for the race to the Aug. 16 primary. The extreme-right issues she used to rile up Trump’s base were exploited for maximum advantage. Even if Cheney brings in heavyweights like former President George W. Bush and her father, Dick Cheney, a raucous crowd filling the events center isn’t likely to happen.
But don’t sell Cheney short, she’s got a political trick or two tucked up her sleeve, and she’s not afraid to use them.
Anyone who visited the Casper Star-Tribune website on Saturday looking for rally coverage was greeted by a big banner ad with a smiling photo of Cheney and Hageman. It was taken in 2016, when the latter worked for and donated money to the congresswoman’s initial campaign.
There’s also a priceless quote from Hageman about her former pal: “Liz Cheney is a proven, courageous, constitutional conservative.” Then the kicker from Cheney’s campaign, which paid for the spot: “Thanks, Harriet!”
Game on. It promises to be a wild ride, and I’ll only make one prediction: after the royal reception he received, I’m pretty sure Trump hasn’t made his last trip to Wyoming to roast his chief critic.