Some of Rep. Liz Cheney’s most enthusiastic supporters these days are Wyoming Democrats, which is both astounding and genuinely weird.
Cheney has impeccable conservative credentials plus the bloodline to match. She’s not just former Vice President Dick Cheney’s daughter, she’s his political clone.
In former President Donald Trump’s barrage of attacks, his truest charge is that the Cheneys have never met a war they didn’t like. That reality, coupled with her own political hatchet jobs on prominent Democrats — like the time on Fox News she defended Barack Obama’s “Birther” critics and questioned why he is “so reluctant to defend the nation overseas” — would seem to disqualify her as the new darling of the Democratic Party.
Yet it doesn’t. Equality State progressive and moderate Democrats have shown a remarkable willingness to forgive Cheney for voting in favor of Trump’s positions more than 90% of the time, as long as the former president is now their common enemy.
This strangest of all Wyoming “Kumbaya” moments was not lost on a Cheyenne Democrat I met last week. He shook his head “no” while explaining the Aug. 16 primary will mark the first time in his life he’s registered as a Republican. Even he couldn’t believe it.
Then with a wry grin, he said he’s put one of Cheney’s signs in his yard, and is proud to do it. “I admire her so much for what she’s doing,” he said, referring to Cheney serving as vice chair of the House panel investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection, and Trump’s role in orchestrating the mayhem.
I get it: When the core value you share with any politician is protecting American democracy from someone willing to lie, cheat and set his attack dogs on Congress and law enforcement in a sociopathic rage to stay in power, stopping him is what matters most. I fully expect Democrats will turn out in droves and become temporary Republicans to vote for Cheney against her Trump-endorsed challenger, Harriet Hageman.
I was looking forward to it myself. Then I learned a friend of nearly 40 years is running in a contested state House Democratic primary in my district, and all thoughts of leaving my party vanished. I’ve thanked her for keeping me in the fold.
I’m not sure how many unaffiliated voters or independents will register for the GOP primary, but they’re a key part of Cheney’s narrowing path to victory. I could be wrong, but I don’t think they will have the same level of engagement as Democrats. They’re unaffiliated because they don’t like party politics.
The second element necessary for a Cheney win is Hageman losing a significant chunk — let’s say at least 20% — of the total non-Cheney vote to the other three GOP challengers, State Sen. Anthony Bouchard of Burns, Denton Knapp of Gillette and Robyn Belinskey of Sheridan.
It’s simply not going to happen. Bouchard is the only one with any statewide name recognition, but support for the extreme-right, self-styled maverick is reportedly still stuck in single digits.
The Wyoming Republican Party, which censured Cheney and no longer recognizes her as a member, is in lockstep with Trump’s order that the GOP unite behind Hageman. Party leaders partially credit Mark Gordon’s 2018 gubernatorial primary win to Foster Friess and Hageman splitting the far-right vote, and they’re not about to let it happen again.
Cheney appears to be losing the numbers game, possibly by a margin she can’t overcome. Democratic support will certainly help her, but it alone won’t come close to bailing her out. If most independent voters do what comes naturally and stay home, and party-before-country Republicans upset with Cheney’s all-out war with Trump indeed rally behind Hageman, what votes are left for Cheney to peel off?
The third essential ingredient for a Cheney win is her hardest challenge: using the committee’s work to convince the MAGA crowd that Trump’s conduct is so egregious, they can no longer support him. The best way to show it, of course, would be voting for Cheney, a life-long conservative Republican.
Could it work? The panel, which last week completed the initial phase of its probe with its eighth public hearing, has been masterful. Much of the credit goes to Cheney for producing a clear portrait of Trump masterminding a failed coup based on his lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him.
“You saw an American president faced with a stark, unmistakable choice between right and wrong,” Cheney said last Thursday. “There was no ambiguity, no nuance. Donald Trump made a purposeful choice to violate his oath of office, to ignore the ongoing violence, to threaten our Constitutional order. It was indefensible.”
Cheney noted the committee will hold more sessions in September to unveil new evidence. The big question is whether she will return from Wyoming in three weeks as a representative with a renewed mandate, or a lame-duck.
The Jan. 6 hearings may be causing Trump to lose some power over his party. For the first time, a New York Times-Siena College poll showed less than half of Republicans want him to run again, two years before the election. But will it play in Trump-loving Wyoming?
Maybe. “I feel like there’s too many people against [Trump] right now,” a Wyoming GOP voter who backed him in 2020 told the Republican Accountability Project. “I feel like somebody else needs to step in that has similar views but not as big of an ego.”
Whether the hearings can move the needle here in favor of Cheney, though, is in doubt. Many Wyoming Republicans believe it’s a show trial that unfairly targets Trump, and they have no desire to tune in.
Few people I’ve talked to believe polls that show Hageman leading by more than 20 points are accurate. However, while they think the margin will be much closer, not one was confident enough to say Cheney will definitely win.
For months I’ve listened to people claim Cheney doesn’t mind losing this election, because it will better position her to run for president. The theory goes that she won’t have all her time taken up representing Wyoming, freeing her to raise money and regain control of her party from Trump.
I don’t buy it, but not because I don’t think that’s her ultimate goal. It would be difficult to make a White House race against Trump competitive if she can’t withstand his current attacks. She needs a Wyoming win to stay in Congress and remain politically relevant, especially if the GOP retakes the House.
The Jan. 6 hearings have put Cheney at a distinct disadvantage. A campaign spokesperson acknowledged to WyoFile that the time-consuming Jan. 6 committee work “is her focus, it’s our top priority. No political considerations or anything like that is going to interrupt that.” Spending so much time on Capitol Hill and so little in Wyoming feeds into Hageman’s narrative that Cheney is not representing her constituents.
Cheney is in a vulnerable position that could leave her in political limbo. If Republican voters sour on Trump but just want to replace him with an equally bombastic, younger version, like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, how can she win their hearts and minds?
Nothing says “establishment conservative” like the Cheney brand. I don’t see any room on a future GOP ticket for a Bush or Cheney.
Yes, she’s proven she can raise a lot of money, including from Democrats. That will help. But her Democratic support is a one-time deal, and won’t carry beyond this Wyoming race.
On the national stage, even an unprecedented fight to preserve democracy has a shelf life.