Some of Rep. Liz Cheney’s most enthusiastic supporters these days are Wyoming Democrats, which is both astounding and genuinely weird. 

Opinion

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.

Rep. Liz Cheney listens to constituents on the Wind River Indian Reservation in July 2022. (Courtesy)

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.”

Her Democratic support is a one-time deal, and won’t carry beyond this Wyoming race. 

Kerry drake

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.

Kerry Drake

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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  1. The Jan 6 committee’s work “has been masterful”? Huh? It is, at best, a one-sided cartoon show. But for an overly enthusiastic MSM media aint nobody watching it, Kerry. It is a big nothing burrito that will not influence opinions one way, or the other, opinions hardened on, say Jan 7. The Trump lovers gonna keep on loving. The haters gonna keep on hating.

    Hageman wins. Cheney lands a network gig somewhere other than Fox. Trump gets indicted.

    Okay, the last one is wishful thinking.

  2. Whatever Cheney’s chance are, a vote for her is a vote for the constitution, the rule of law and our democratic republic surviving. She has the courage to stand up to an authoritarian who would continue tearing down our system for his own sake. Why would Wyoming lose this smart and articulate woman…all in the name of fostering a lie?

  3. Unlike many in Wyoming, or so it seems, I have been glued to the dramatic and riveting Sept 6 hearings, so feel qualified to comment on Liz’s performance . Whatever one feels about Trump or her turning on him, her previous support for dubious Republican agendas, or her father, Dick Cheney, the woman has a very clear and incisive mind and knows how to get her points across. She may often be misguided and flat out wrong ( Obama was born in Hawaii) but she’s a patriot and very smart! And once this Trump noise dies down — and it will– doesn’t Wyoming a small state, with only one representative, need this highly intelligent tough cookie in Congress to help guide its interests through the difficulties we all face in the future?

  4. The Democrat alliance with Cheney has been as strong and resilient as a balsa wood staircase: they could only climb so far before it all came crashing down on top of them.

  5. Thanks for a good overview from an experienced watcher of Wyoming politics. This lifelong Democrat has lived in Wy for nearly 50 years and has never missed an opportunity to vote but this is indeed weird and upsetting; I’m on the fence. Because the far right R’s tried so hard to take away our freedom to switch parties may be enough of a reason to do it.

  6. Kerry Drake does a good job of assessing Cheney’s chances in the upcoming primary and where her support needs to come from. But I think it’s neither astounding nor weird that Democrats are supporting her reelection bid. The left hates Trump perhaps more than any human on the planet because they fear him. Even though he was attacked more than any president in recent memory, he still managed to secure the southern border, take unemployment to record lows, and appoint 3 conservative originalists to the Supreme Court. All issues he campaigned on. It’s uncommon for politicians to successfully implement campaigned promises. Especially if they are impeached twice. Trump is highly effective with his agenda and that scares folks who don’t support it. So it’s little wonder that someone who so completely hates Trump as Rep. Cheney does, would garner wide spread support from Wyoming Democrats. As the saying goes…the enemy of your enemy is your friend. Even if it’s just until the election is over.

  7. This year’s primary race for Congress more resembles a vote of confidence in a fractious Parliament under a monarchy , not a structural democracy . Wyoming primary election voters have three choices this August. Do we vote with our minds , our hearts , or our spleens and gall bladders ?

    Liz Cheney is the smart vote, across the board. If listening to one’s heart hesitantly with pen posed above the ballot behind the curtain , she probably would get the majority there, too. What I fear are the unresolved number of Wyoming Republicans whose vote is strictly glandular , in which case it comes down to the turnout. Getting out the vote by roll call on paper in the swelter of August across an indifferent or preoccupied Wyoming too busy making real hay instead of political hay , during an off year election cycle fraught with fearsome economic and demographic challenges , has always been a wild card.

    The irony is the current state GOP heirarchy is so venally down on election integrity and wailing about ballot irregularities or the phantoms of voter fraud that they forget they will need each and every precious vote to topple Liz. That is because there are really three candidates for Congress to consider. Liz Cheney , a Donald Trump proxy, or None of the Above. The party is divided and thus will be voting against itself as much as for any clear candidate. Harriet Hagemen would have not even reached first base in a political universe without a Donald Trump , or a Wyoming Reich without Frank Eathorne as its chancellor. We’ve observed her for many years and know better. It’s not what she says, it’s what she’s done ). It is also concerning that as few as 15 or maybe 20 percent of voters in one paranoid schizophrenic party can decide the outcome for all of us. Remember, in Wyoming the only election that matters is the primary. All others are secondary.

    Advantage incumbent ?— dunno. I am more worried about the days after the election. If Liz prevails and Harriet does not , expect the dogs of late August to be unleashed and set upon the election judges on the courthouse steps . For Wyoming Republicans the outcome will be a reason to gloat or go for the throat. Do not expect Frank Eathorne’s goosestepping cabal to gracefully concede a Cheney reaffirmation.

  8. I used to think Cheney was a right-wing extremist. I still do, but she is one of the few with the guts to support the democratic process. This is more important than just about anything.

    1. She still is and I agree with her on very little. But the courage she has shown standing up to GOP loonies, Trump sycophants, and the MAGAts that infest the Republican Party is remarkable and praiseworthy. She is one of the few republicans interested in preserving democracy and devoted to the rule of law rather than anarchy.