Once upon a time, there was an ambitious blonde girl named Cheneylocks. She came from a royal family, and her daddy was once the second-most powerful man in the forest.
One dark and stormy night, on her way to the White Palace, Cheneylocks lost her way in the forest and stumbled upon a cabin. She was tired after many hours of walking, and happy to find a cozy room with three beds.
“I think I could live here forever!” said a giddy Cheneylocks. “Or at least until something better comes along.”
She started to climb into the biggest bed but was startled to find an obese orange bear occupying it. No longer the ruler of the forest, he sure acted like he was. A sore loser, he told his followers to prevent anyone from ever taking his place, even if it meant burning down the rest of the forest and their own homes.
“This bed is disgusting,” Cheneylocks cried, then threw off the covers of the second bed. It was filled with many bears, but she instantly recognized them as good friends, so she eagerly hopped on.
Imagine her surprise when Cheneylocks heard the bears growl at her to leave and never return. “You’re a disgrace, and you’ve dishonored our king!” one shouted as they tossed her to the ground.
“Well, I know when I’m not welcome,” said a crestfallen Cheneylocks. She looked at the third bed, hoping she might still get a good rest. But she was horrified to realize the bears peeking out from under the covers were mortal enemies of her family.
Then she overheard the bears loudly whisper, and Cheneylocks felt a change of heart in the air. Some still couldn’t stand her, but others heartily asked her to join them. One motioned to the first bed and said, “A lot of us hate the ‘king’ over there way more than your father. You can stay here with us.”
Cheneylocks considered her options. “They like me, they really like me!” she reasoned. “Maybe they’ll give me a place to rest so I can continue my journey to the White Palace where I belong.”
For a fortnight, it seemed as though the girl and her new bear friends were getting along. But then she told them that she believed female bears aren’t fit to make their own reproductive or healthcare decisions. The pro-choice bears threw her out of the cabin and she was never seen again.
The moral of this fable is not, as you might suspect, that politics makes strange bedfellows. It’s that one Wyoming political race is so crazy, it has sent the teller of this tall tale right off the deep end.
I think it’s safe to say the vast majority of Wyoming Democrats thought they’d never, under any circumstances, vote for Republican Liz Cheney.
And many still feel that way, even if they believe the congresswoman is honorable for her quest to hold former President Donald Trump accountable for trying to stage a political coup.
I’m not naming those I’m about to quote, because most offered their opinions to me unsolicited and off the record. But unlike my fable, what they told me is real.
“I think what she’s doing to Trump is great, but she’s a hypocrite,” a Democrat told me. “Yes, he belongs in prison. But she’s never done anything but defend her father [former Vice President Dick Cheney], who should be behind bars for war crimes [in Iraq].”
But for every Democrat who’s told me thinking about voting for Cheney makes them sick, there are at least five who admire her defense of the Constitution and the rule of law.
Here’s a typical response: “I don’t agree with anything else she’s done, but I respect her for voting to impeach [Trump] and trying to bring him to justice.”
“A lot of people ask me how I can stand becoming a Republican and voting for Cheney,” a smiling Democrat said. “But I will do it for five minutes, and I’ll actually enjoy it.”
The Cheney contest is filled with many political firsts in the Equality State. It must be the first time a former president didn’t endorse a candidate who supported more than 90% of his positions.
Instead, Trump blessed Cheney’s primary opponent, Harriet Hageman, even though as a Wyoming delegate to the 2016 Republican National Convention she tried to derail his presidential nomination. Hageman called him “racist” and “xenophobic,” which shows she’s not always wrong.
Another first is that Cheney’s 2020 opponent, Democrat Lynnette Grey Bull, told WyoFile if she hadn’t decided to seek her party’s nomination this year, she would likely have crossed over to vote for Cheney over Hageman. Though she knows her chances of winning will “take a hit” if her own supporters switch, she understands their motivation.
In a February New York Times interview, Cheney dismissed the possibility she would ask Democrats to change parties and vote for her.
“That is not something that I have contemplated, that I have organized or that I will organize,” she said.
Last week, the consummate conservative changed her mind, sending a mailer to Wyoming Democrats explaining how to switch parties. They can make the change when they ask for an absentee ballot, at their county clerk’s office up until 14 days before the primary, and even at the polls on election day.
While I believed her initial response, I didn’t understand how she could afford to not ask Democrats to cross over. While Hageman and other opponents attacked her about-face as a sign of desperation, I was surprised Cheney didn’t do it sooner.
Cheney didn’t make any apologies; she doubled-down. “I encourage everyone with principles who loves our country to exercise their right to vote,” she told the Washington Post. “And, damn right, I will continue to give every voter in Wyoming a list of all the key rules for casting ballots in our state. If any eligible voter living in Wyoming wishes to become a Republican, they are free to do so. That is their right.”
But what happened last Friday significantly decreases the chances many will do so, particularly progressives. When Roe v. Wade was overturned, Cheney tweeted, “I have always been strongly pro-life. Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court returns power to the states and the people of the states to address the issue of abortion under state law.”
No one should be shocked by Cheney’s position, which she has long held. Yet for many of the Democratic and independent voters she needs to become temporary Republicans, it’s a bridge too far. Yes, Cheney stood up to Trump for inciting the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection, but she also fully endorsed his three anti-abortion Supreme Court appointments that made reversing Roe possible.
So, what difference does it make to Wyoming’s pro-choice voters whether Cheney or Hageman is elected, if neither represents their views about a fundamental constitutional right?
“Oh God. It was going so well, Liz,” a disillusioned man tweeted.
There was this instant response from a woman confident she was right all along: “Some of y’all can quit making Liz Cheney your damn freedom fighter right now.”
I believe Cheney’s path to a primary victory requires three elements — splitting the far-right vote, a steady decline in Trump’s base, and thousands of non-Republicans voting for Cheney. I think the first two are still possible, and unlike many observers, I’m not writing Cheney off. But if the latter leg of the stool splinters, the sturdiness of the others may not matter.