Opinion: Trump’s endorsement won’t seal Liz Cheney’s fate

Opinion by Kerry Drake, WyoFile

The far-right media has become very interested in Wyoming politics, but only because it smells blood.

Liz Cheney’s blood, to be precise.

But I’d caution anyone who thinks it’s time to write Cheney’s political obituary that there’s much yet to unfold before the state’s GOP voters go to the polls a year from now.

Can a three-term Wyoming congresswoman who has taken a principled stand against a disgraced former president to uphold American democracy return to the U.S. House?

I don’t see why not. Cheney has money, the support of her party’s traditional establishment and the genes of former Vice President Dick Cheney, who never lost a political race.

Granted, it’s not the scenario faux-news outlets like Breitbart, NewsMax and other Donald Trump allies are predicting. They see Wyoming voters as sheep who will automatically choose Trump’s hand-picked candidate, thereby crushing Cheney.

Let’s test that theory of Trump as the ultimate kingmaker, shall we?

Last week Trump released this statement: “The easiest way to defeat deplorable Liz Cheney is by having only ONE conservative candidate run and WIN! Wyoming patriots will no longer stand for Nancy Pelosi and her new lapdog RINO Liz Cheney.”

No one doubts that Cheney’s vote to impeach Trump, combined with her decision to join the House panel investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection he incited, will cost her some votes.

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But both Cheney and Trump captured about 70% of the Wyoming vote in their respective races in 2020. Why does anyone believe her support would completely crater among all Republicans?

Cheney’s fundraising haul of $3.1 million in just the first half of 2021 is her personal best. She has more than five times the cash on hand as all of her competitors combined.

When the Washington Examiner spoke to a dozen Wyoming voters in June for a profile of Cheney’s race, not one could name a single candidate running against her

Based on fundraising and polling, the top three are State Sen. Anthony Bouchard of Cheyenne, State Rep. Chuck Gray of Casper and Cheyenne attorney Darin Smith. Bouchard and Smith are receiving many of their donations from out-of-state contributors who want to see Cheney humiliated, while Gray’s top donor is, well, Gray. The right-wing broadcaster raised $220,000 in the second quarter, but $165,000 came from loans he made to his campaign.

I don’t know how much Gray spent to hire the GOP’s most famously wrong pollster, John McLaughlin and Associates, but he’s getting a lot of mileage from the move. The firm is Trump’s favorite, since it only fed him positive (but inaccurate) projections about his re-election chances.

McLaughlin released a survey last week that sparked outrageous headlines 

like this one in the Washington Examiner: “Cheney in trouble: 77% GOP would not reelect, 53% call her ‘liberal.’”

McLaughlin claims Cheney can’t muster more than 23% Republican support in the state if the large field doesn’t dwindle. The firm admits, however, that 23% would be good enough to win her the nomination if none of the challengers drop out. The pollster says in a three-way, Cheney-Gray-Smith contest, the incumbent would lose to Gray by three percentage points.

But it’s in the head-to-head match-ups that Gray supposedly sparkles. McLaughlin has him beating Cheney, 63% to 24%. Smith would also win such a contest, the poll indicates, albeit by a tighter margin.

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Notice that this dream scenario for Gray concocted by his pollster conveniently ignores an important factor? What happened to Bouchard?

Well, the Examiner justifies dropping the current challenger fundraising leader with this assessment: “Bouchard is said to be out of the running for a Trump endorsement since he admitted to sex with a 14-year-old girl when he was 18.”

That fits the extreme right’s narrative: Bouchard can’t win because Trump is going to bestow his blessing on Gray, and everyone else must fade into the sunset. Smith has reportedly said if he isn’t Trump’s chosen one, he’ll gracefully bow out.

Hold on a minute. I’m pretty sure Bouchard isn’t going anywhere, even if Trump listens to state pols who don’t particularly like the upstart state senator and former director of Wyoming Gun Owners.

And since when has a sex scandal kept Trump — who has survived many —  from endorsing a candidate? Does the name Roy Moore ring a bell? Trump threw his considerable weight behind Moore in the 2017 special U.S. Senate race in Alabama, even though the former judge had a reputation as a pedophile and had been publicly accused of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl.

Moore lost that race in a state that hadn’t elected a Democratic U.S. senator in a quarter-century. Thanks, Donald!

As Bouchard noted early on after the story of his teen relationship broke, he married the 14-year-old he impregnated. He’s hoping the GOP base will see it as a plus and ignore the sex-with-a-minor admission.

“It’s almost 40 years ago,” Bouchard told the Examiner. He said Wyoming voters “have their mind [on] issues that are happening today.”

Does that sound like a man who will drop out of a contest in which he’s attacked Cheney like a pit bull that hasn’t been fed for a week?

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I don’t think so. I also don’t believe Trump is going to hand Gray or any candidate a victory. And while the Wyoming race will continue to garner a lot of his attention, I don’t think Trump will get his revenge and oust Cheney.

Many on the far-right are surely quaking in their boots about what the House committee probing the Jan. 6 Capitol crimes will find. Cheney, as one of only two Republicans on the panel, will have her own bully pulpit from which to castigate her tormentor-in-chief for siccing the mob on the People’s House.

“If those responsible are not held accountable and if Congress does not act responsibly,” she noted in her opening remarks, “this will remain a cancer on our constitutional republic, undermining the peaceful transfer of power at the heart of our democratic system.

“We must also know what happened every minute of that day in the White House — every phone call, every conversation, every meeting leading up to, during and after the attack,” Cheney added. “Honorable men and women have an obligation to step forward.”

Many Wyoming Republicans will pay attention as the committee pursues the truth, and some will likely conclude that Cheney’s impeachment vote was right all along.

I’d sure hate to throw a monkey wrench into these wacky proceedings, but I wonder if someone should tell Trump that Gray is spending his own money on this campaign.

Everyone knows Trump shook down the special interests to pay for his presidential ambitions — despite pledges to self-fund his campaign — and I trust he’d brand any candidate who bankrolls their own run a “loser.”

So how could he endorse a loser? Well, Trump did it in last week’s U.S. House special election in Texas, in which his chosen candidate lost the GOP primary by six percentage points.

But if you ask him, no one really loses if they have Trump in their corner.

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“This is the only race we’ve … this is not a loss, again, I don’t want to claim it is a loss; this was a win,” Trump said after the loss. “The big thing is, we had two very good people running that were both Republicans. That was the win.”

Gray isn’t a lock for Trump’s endorsement. But if he gets it, I hope it’s a comfort for the candidate that even if he spends his own dough but loses his party’s nomination, the guy who hand-picked him will still declare victory. Or maybe, when Cheney embarrasses him once again, he’ll just claim the election was stolen.

 

 

WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.