The person Wyoming voters should really listen to when deciding whether to dump Liz Cheney as their representative in the U.S. House wasn’t onstage for the first debate of the race.

Opinion

No, I’m not talking about former President Donald Trump, who continues to ask Americans if they’re going to believe him or their own lying eyes.

The person I’m talking about is Hageman’s campaign advisor Bill Stepien. His front-row view of the “big lie” and his understanding that, despite all of the talk, the 2020 presidential election was not stolen from Trump, are now on the record.

That could prove awkward for Hageman, who needs voters to believe that whopper. For her part she keeps strategically dancing around the issue. Cheney tried to bait her former ally into showing her hand at a Wyoming PBS debate in Sheridan last month, but Hageman refused.

“She knows it wasn’t stolen,” Cheney said. “I think that she can’t say that it wasn’t stolen because she’s completely beholden to Donald Trump.”

Stepien, Trump’s former campaign manager who bailed because he also knows his former boss can’t tell the truth, hasn’t fully distanced himself from misinformation.

His new boss, Hageman, said she shares the public’s “serious concerns” about the integrity of the election, referencing debunked conspiracy theories and vaguely accusing Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg of buying the election for Democrat Joe Biden. 

But Cheney, vice chair of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection, got the truth out of Stepien. His videotaped testimony explains why he broke ties with Trump.

Stepien told Trump on election night he shouldn’t claim victory before all the votes were counted, but the former president did it anyway.

As Trump’s lawyers concocted increasingly outrageous lies about the election being stolen, Stepien said the White House was divided into two camps: “Team Crazy” and “Team Normal.” Though he organized Trump’s initial “Stop the Steal” rallies, Stepien claimed to be a member of the latter.

Showing why Stepien deserted Trump and then highlighting it at the debate was a brilliant maneuver by Cheney, but only if voters bothered to notice. Stepien casting himself as one of the few sane people around Trump but then going to work for one of his candidates seems far-fetched, but he may get away with it.

Stepien has worked for winners like George W. Bush and Trump and losers like John McCain and Chris Christie (and Trump), and he told Cheney’s panel he’s always maintained a good professional reputation.

“I didn’t think what was happening [after Trump’s defeat] was necessarily honest or professional at that point in time, so that led to me stepping away,” he testified.

Wyoming voters don’t have to consider what anti-Trumpers like me write to judge whether Biden legitimately won the last election. But they should listen to the man who led the re-election campaign, then quit when he could no longer stomach lies that led directly to contesting a peaceful transition of power.

The debate made it clear loyalty to Trump is the only thing that matters in this contest. On all other issues, there wasn’t the proverbial dime’s worth of difference between Cheney and Hageman.

Hageman is counting on Trump’s ability to keep conning the people who put him in the White House, and since Wyoming gave him his largest margin of victory in both 2016 and 2020, it’s not a bad strategy. Factor in the extreme-right taking over leadership of the state Republican Party and Cheney has plenty of reasons to be worried.

What about the other Republicans on the ballot — State Sen. Anthony Bouchard of Burns, retired U.S. Army Col. Denton Knapp of Gillette and Sheridan businesswoman Robyn Belinskey? Well, their collective punches to Cheney landed with all the power of a wet noodle left outside on a hot summer day. The trio joined Hageman in declaring nobody in Wyoming cares about what happened on Jan. 6.

Hageman said Cheney and her committee aren’t focusing on issues important to Wyoming, and are “ignoring the corruption that is absolutely destroying Washington, D.C., and as a result taking down the rest of the country.”

Hageman lamented that liberal Democrats aren’t held accountable for bad decisions, while their conservative opponents “are being punished for expressing their First Amendment rights.”

Let that sink in for a moment. Hundreds of protesters stormed the Capitol after being encouraged by Trump “to fight like hell” to keep lawmakers from certifying Biden’s Electoral College victory. 

How can anyone believe what transpired on Jan. 6  is “legitimate political discourse,” as the Republican National Committee claimed when it censured Cheney?

This was a coup attempt carried out on live television. The facts about the crimes are clear and archived for the world to see. The last time I checked no one has a First Amendment right to plunge the staff of an American flag into police officers’ bodies, or try to hunt down the vice president to hang him, or smear feces on the Capitol’s hallowed halls.

Yet 18 months after these and many other criminal acts were carried out by Trump supporters, Wyoming will hold an election in which only one candidate is telling the truth about what happened and what’s at stake.

We all know Equality State voters will send a message about democracy to the rest of the world. Their choices can be boiled down to two actions: reward Trump by sending his surrogate to D.C., or punish him by re-electing his most feared rival. It’s that simple.

Hageman said “the press and certain people have obsessed” over Jan. 6, but campaigning across the state she’s found “the only time that the J6 situation ever comes up is when people talk about how unfair this entire committee is.” 

It’s a politically dangerous game Hageman and Stepien have chosen to play. On one hand they have to downplay and willfully lie about Jan. 6 and pretend it doesn’t matter at all; on the other, they must keep talking about it to foment anger against Cheney.

Cheney also faces a difficult challenge: convince voters that if they “embrace the lies of Donald Trump, if we tell the people of Wyoming something that is not true, we will soon find ourselves without the structure and the basis and the framework of our constitutional republic.”

Cheney only has a month to overcome the deep distrust of people who genuinely feel she’s betrayed them. Anger pushes people to the polls; it’s harder (but not impossible) for a traditional conservative to fire up enough independents and Democrats to make a difference in a primary race.

But I’ve never heard a better closing statement than the defiant tone Cheney struck in vowing to never violate her oath of office. “And if you’re looking for somebody who will,” she added, “then you will need to vote for somebody else on this stage, because I won’t.”

As a campaign manager, Stepien has never had to take an oath of office. But Wyoming voters should remember that when he swore to tell the truth to the Jan. 6 committee, what he said helped Cheney and hurt his own candidate.

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. Dear Mr. Drake

    I really wish the people that criticize your opinions would proof read their submissions.

    I think they get so upset that they can’t think straight. Your opinions are clear and well written. On the other hand the criticisms they write are dazed and confused. Oh wait. They are just imitating number 45. Their Hero. The supreme ruler!!!

    Sorry my mistake.

    Hopefully they can find the mistakes I made in this post.

  2. Good piece. If Liz wins, given the media coverage of this particular election, Trump will be finished. He’s already on the fade, but Wyoming is the inflection point. Good luck, Liz.

  3. It does not matter if you agree with everything Liz says or does. She has the guts to say what she believes and stand behind her beliefs. She is a lot like Ronald Reagan, she will not back down from a fight no matter the odds or the public opinion. We need more strong leaders like her and less puppets willing to tow the party line.

    It is time, lets make Liz Cheney the first woman President of the USA.

    Liz Cheney for President in 2024.

  4. Here on the North West Coast we also have Trump supporters, but in general we all avoid talking about the National Election. Water quality, trees, and transportation are bigger issues. The first time I met a Trumper I called her a traitor. I was scolded for being mean to old ladies. (I am only 78). I agreed that I needed to control myself. So now I make a point of just asking why the person likes Trump. One business owner said that she didn’t like Trump’s personality, but Trump cut her business taxes which got her vote. I did agree that the increase in the standard deduction under Trump’s administration did save me time. Actually the floods in Wyomings National Parks gain more attention than Trump.

  5. I admire Liz Cheney and her gumption and will cross over to vote for her. There are no good candidates only tRump toadies or Liz. I’d rather have Liz even though I don’t agree with her politics, but I certainly don’t agree with the Hag.

  6. Future Me tells Today Me that neither Trump nor Biden will be on the ticket in 2024.
    I do wonder if Trump had been thrown down and forbidden to run for public office again, what would the 2022 Congressional primary race look like in Wyoming ? Sure, Liz would be there, and in the absence of Trump would probably cruise to reelection. Tony Bouchard would have tried and failed just as spectacularly as he is doing now. I’ll give him a lefthanded compliment: he’s the right guy in the wrong line of work. Bouchard needs to fully re-devote himself to his day job, that of a septic tank pumper. Now THERE is a public service position , if ever. Harriet Hagemen is a scary proposition , but I said that long ago before Trumpism became the other pandemic. It takes a Harriet Hageman to make Barbara Cubin and Cynthia Lummis pathologically palpable. Denton Knapp and that Belinskey lady are not on any radar screen in the control room. The Dems have nothing to put forth.

    The race comes down to recycling Liz Cheney or None Of The Above. If on the ballot, NOTA would win a surprising number of elections across Wyoming from the root cellar to the halls of Congress.

    The good candidates Wyoming could offer up have regrettably determined it is in their best interests and health concerns to just not bother in the present nationally divisive heavily polarized bipolar disordered political battlefield. That was not the case just a few election cycles ago .

    1. I believe Dewey Vanderhoff is spot on with his analysis of the upcoming election. Liz will probably lose the primary to a Benedict Donald lackey, which is sad because Liz has shown so much grit. She is the kind of leader I want in the (theoretical) foxhole with me.

  7. You need to rethink your “Take”. A few hundred or even a few thousand people wouldn’t come close to a Coup of the American government. You and Liz have no idea of what a real insurrection looks like. Great political talking point though even if it’s wrong.

    1. Speaking of “rethinking”, any attempt to stop the legitimate transfer of power in this country is a real insurrection, no matter how poorly executed. The irony is that it was an insurrection against a democratic republic that operates (mostly) under rule of law. If this stunt had be tried in another country (e.g. Russia, China, Iran), those “few thousand” folks would have been “disappeared” a long time ago.

      1. Please explain how Mao, Stalin, Hitler, Khomeini epitomized a “peaceful transfer of power” and detail how nobody who opposed them “disappeared”.

          1. The reference to Marxists who successfully seized illegitimate power and slaughtered their opposition made perfect sense. Crack open a history book, preferably not written by your Comrade, Howard Zinn. Perhaps you should stop reading by gaslight at 9:26 pm?

  8. The resident Marxist provocateur is only saying what he’s told to say. How truly depressing it must be to parrot the false narratives of a failed ideology.

  9. To think it took weeks after the debate to come up yet with another desperate attempt at electioneering that will fail miserably.
    I

  10. Well done, Kerry. You have given us facts that we can offer when we are astounded by the beliefs of our Wyoming friends and family.

  11. Here’s what I think will happen: Wyoming will go for Harriet. The Republicans will not nominate Trump whose approval rating is even lower than Biden’s . If you poke your head out of Wyoming you will see that a lot, if not all, Trump-sponsored candidates lost their primaries Whoever wins the next Presidential election will give Liz a prestigious Federal Post.

    1. Nice try, but at last official count America First candidates were 136 wins 10 losses. That’s 93%. Biden has had the worst approval ratings in history.

      1. Well , Kelly, the Trump candidates, like Raffensbergee, lost big in Georgia! And also here in Colorado except for Lauren Boebert who could always move to Wyoming if she loses the general here. Trump probably won’t get nominated, or so say the pundits. And Liz would be more effective in promoting Wyoming’s interests.

        1. Meh, Democrat dark money and crossovers will eventually be undone. But by all means, keep believing everything those “pundits” tell you. Liz has only ever promoted her own and establishment interests. Wyoming was slow to wake up to the corrupt establishment Republicans. She will be the first of many to fall.

  12. Mr. Drake is like many so called “journalists” including Liz Cheney. Living in a fantasy world and unwilling to view the world realistically. I would also use the word delusional to describe them. You have your version of the the truth and I have my opportunity to “ditch Liz” and I am relishing the opportunity. I’m going to speculate she won’t get 25%. Good riddance.

    1. Mr. Drake a Wyoming liberal is successful in courting a minority. It seems to me that the majority party in Wyoming is becoming passive on this forum?

    2. Maybe in this race. But just imagine what “Federal posts” she will be asked to fill.