Liz Cheney’s fight to keep her U.S. House seat is supposed to be a slugfest.
How could it not be? There’s so much inherent drama: Cheney, the fallen GOP princess, locked in a duel against her party’s once (and perhaps still) king, Donald Trump. His hand-picked surrogate is a former friend and ally, Harriet Hageman, who claims Cheney betrayed their leader.
If Wyoming votes out Cheney, can she still someday make it to the White House? Folks, it’s Survivor: Politicos of the Plains!
Except this showdown for the heart and soul of the Republican Party has been more like a snoozefest. Picture two soccer moms on opposite sides of the field. One is yelling for her kid to kick the ball all the way to Washington, and the other woman is handing out snacks and ignoring the game. An orange-toned man is managing one of the teams, and he’s decided to steal the ball and kick it himself.
Who wants to watch that?
But you can count on things heating up. Soon the headlines will no longer be about heaps of cash they’ve raked in (Cheney has raised $10 million to Hageman’s $2 million) when they finally start spending it.
Cheney has $6.8 million in the bank and much more to come. She could blanket the state in flyers, inundate broadcast and social media with ads, hold non-stop rallies, rent all the billboards, fly everywhere, hire boatloads of campaign workers to knock on every door, and dial every phone number in the state and not spend it all by the Aug. 16 primary election. But this is more than a race against Hageman. This is a referendum on the 45th president.
Trump hates all 10 House Republicans who voted for his second impeachment, but Cheney is his top target.
Back in September, after interviewing several Wyoming hopefuls who came to kiss his (ahem) ring, Trump tweeted his endorsement of Hageman and attacked Cheney as a “warmonger and disloyal Republican.”
And if those fighting words weren’t enough, the former president also called her “the Democrats number one provider of sound bites.”
“Here’s a sound bite for you: Bring it,” Cheney responded.
Not much has been brought so far. Hageman has taken a few jabs in Cheney’s direction. Her best was a fake website and YouTube campaign spot sponsored by “Virginians for Cheney.”
“Liz grew up right here in Northern Virginia and bases her family here,” the spoof site claims. “Liz is running because she understands the priorities of Northern Virginians, like funneling money to the military industrial complex, listening to big dollar DC lobbyists, and fighting for special interest groups.”
It’s clever, but hardly a stinging blow, especially since it didn’t stir even a ripple of response from her opponent. Cheney may well be in what Potomac pundits see as the fight of her political life, but back home she’s pretending it’s just another ho-hum day, hanging around the family ranch in Wilson with her husband and five kids.
Cheney’s campaign website is as bland as it gets. There’s no mention of Hageman, Trump or her job as vice chairman of the House’s select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. Cheney says the panel has already gathered enough evidence to refer the former president for federal criminal charges.
Obviously it’s all by design, but it’s a fine line Cheney’s chosen to walk: defend democracy while trying not to rile up Trump’s considerable Wyoming base. Controversy must be in her genes. Her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, lands somewhere on the GOP spectrum between outspoken elder statesman and co-architect of the unpopular second Iraq War.
Liz Cheney has been endorsed by her family’s friends, including former President George W. Bush, who appeared with her at a Dallas event. Cheney’s dad, according to a new book by New York Times reporters, called Trump “a maniac.”
But Wyoming Republican Party leaders branded her a traitor and claimed she no longer represents them. The National Republican Committee censured her. And while Hageman has far less money to spend, her in-state donations more than triple Cheney’s total.
The U.S. House Republican Conference kicked Cheney out as chairman, and more than 100 of her colleagues have endorsed her opponent. Many appeared at a Washington, D.C., fundraiser for Hageman in March co-hosted by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California). Tickets were priced between $1,000 and $5,800.
Who was the other host? Jeff Miller, a Trump-allied lobbyist whose many clients include Amazon and Pfizer.
On his Facebook campaign website, state Sen. Anthony Bouchard (R-Cheyenne), another GOP candidate in the race, chided Hageman for taking a dip in “the D.C. swamp.”
On her website, Hageman claims Cheney “cast her lot with the Washington, D.C. elites and those who use their power to further their own agenda at our expense.” It’s difficult to take Hageman seriously when she’s also courting the Capitol power brokers and influence peddlers.
Want to see photos of Cheney and Hageman smiling together in past campaigns? Bouchard’s site is the place to go. Calling Hageman “Cheney 2.0,” Bouchard’s only hope is to take conservative votes away from the Cheyenne attorney. A year ago, long before Hageman’s candidacy, Bouchard raised more than $330,000. His first-quarter take in 2022 trickled to about $11,000.
The idea of a competition to be more conservative than Cheney was laughable before her impeachment vote. Cheney aligned with Trump’s position about 95% of the time.
Cheney calling out Trump’s “Big Lie” that the election was stolen from him is a heavy lift in Wyoming. Few states are as red, and to the extreme-right, a candidate’s loyalty to Trump holds more weight than their conservatism.
On a CBS News’ “Red & Blue” segment last week, anchor Major Garrett perfectly conveyed the attitude of the beltway media. They’ve already picked the winner.
“Here in Washington, the general assumption is that Liz Cheney is cooked, that she has no chance,” Garrett said. But he speculated that losing “in a sort of fit of Trumpian rage” might be part of her long-term strategy “to eventually rise again in a post-Trump Republican Party.”
Jim King, University of Wyoming political science professor, told the newsman that “the leadership of the [state] party that censured her is not the electorate. There are tens of thousands of voters who have yet to be heard from.”
Could Cheney lose? Sure. But as Republican Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan recently told Newsweek, candidates blessed by Trump don’t automatically go to the winner’s circle.
“He lost the White House and the Senate and the House and governors’ races and state legislative bodies,” said Hogan, who supports Cheney. “I wouldn’t call that being a winner. And now he’s going to lose in 2022.”
Independents and Democrats can crossover at the polls to vote in the Republican primary, where most Wyoming races are determined. Their numbers are dwarfed by registered GOP voters, but they can still be a factor.
So much is yet to come: polls, debates, rallies, parades and many pot-luck dinners. Trump is scheduled to appear at a Hageman rally in Casper on May 28 at the Ford Wyoming Center.
I think the Jan. 6 panel’s public hearings next month will be critical to Cheney’s political fate. She will have a daily audience of millions of Americans, but it’s also a prime opportunity to show Wyoming voters why she’s so determined to hold Trump accountable for inciting the Capitol insurrection.
Even if they’ve been lulled into slumber, I guarantee people will wake up and tune in to the show we’ve all been waiting for.