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Wyo politicos reflect on Cheney’s trouncing

U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney (Photo: Cowboy State Daily)

By Mike Koshmrl, Wyofile

TETON COUNTY—The way former Donald Trump-appointee Rob Wallace sees it, U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney scored a victory on Tuesday night.

That’s one way of interpreting the congresswoman’s resounding loss in the Republican primary election this week, said the Teton Village resident, who was picked by the former president to oversee the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the U.S. Department of the Interior.

“Liz Cheney won and so did Harriet Hageman,” Wallace said, “to the degree that Liz is now free to follow her unfettered passion for tracking down the consequences of Jan. 6.”

“Look at her national profile: It’s sky high,” he added. “There’s a lot of interest in what she’s going to do next, and she now doesn’t have to worry about all the stuff she should worry about if she’s representing Wyoming.”

Wallace was among the Cheney supporters gathered north of Jackson at the Mead Ranch on Tuesday night, when election results were rolling in. Moments after it became clear the congresswoman’s time in office was running short, Cheney told friends, family, donors and media gathered near a cattle pasture that she “easily” could have won another term. All it would take, she said, was going along with former President Trump’s lie about the 2020 election, which would have provided the once-popular politician and Wilson resident with a clear path to reelection.

“It would have required that I enable the ongoing efforts to unravel our democratic system and attack the foundations of our republic,” Cheney said. “That was a path I could not and would not take.”

Cheney lost to Trump’s pick to take her on, natural resources attorney Harriet Hageman, by an overwhelming 37% margin in Wyoming’s Republican primary election. There were 2.3 Hageman voters for every person who voted for Cheney.

“Any debate about whether or not Wyoming is a Donald Trump state was put to rest,” Wallace said. “I don’t know what it means, I just know that it is.”

Cheney, a staunch conservative and daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, voted with Trump 93% of the time. She was popular in Wyoming through her first four years in office, topping her Republican challenger in the 2020 primary election by a 47% margin.

Former Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal . (WyoFile)

“I guess that wasn’t enough,” said Dave Freudenthal, a former two-term governor of Wyoming. “Harriet Hageman is not going to vote on issues a lot different, if at all, than Liz Cheney did. If you think about the campaign, they didn’t disagree on anything of substance as it relates to Wyoming except for Jan. 6 and the election.”

Cheney’s immediate reaction to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol building was to repudiate Trump, and it earned her a quick slot on the former president’s list of enemies.

“There’s no question the president formed the mob,” Cheney said the night of the attack. “The president incited the mob. The president addressed the mob. He lit the flame.”

Cheney was one of 10 congressional Republicans who voted to impeach Trump a week later. Now only two of them will be on the ballot in November. Cheney’s vice-chair role on the committee investigating the insurrection further solidified her reputation as a rare Republican who would not fold to Trump and parrot his disproven claims of election fraud.

But the perception Cheney was feuding with Trump bought her no favors in Wyoming. The Wyoming Republican Party, chaired by Jan. 6 attendee Frank Eathorne, overwhelmingly voted to censure her last winter for her impeachment vote. Cheney’s support among her constituents fell off dramatically.

Exit scene

Brad and Kate Mead escorted Cheney onto the stage Tuesday. Brad is brother of former Wyoming governor Matt Mead and grandson of Clifford Hansen, a U.S. senator and Wyoming governor. Prior to publicly appearing, the Cheneys and Meads watched the election results roll in together and they could immediately see that her path to victory was “pretty tough,” Brad Mead said.

Brad and Kate Mead, at right, hosted an event for Liz Cheney and her supporters at their family’s ranch on Aug. 16, 2022, the night the incumbent congresswoman was beaten badly in an attempt at reelection. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

Cheney didn’t wait until her odds were eliminated. She spoke around 8:15 p.m., and early on announced that she’d called Hageman and conceded.

“But now,” she said, “the real work begins.”

The scene at the Mead Ranch was festive. The couple hundred donors, family and friends who attended listened to a cover band playing the Allman Brothers, ate tacos and barbecue, sipped wine and mingled. There were murmurs in the crowd that Cheney would directly segue from her defeat and announce a presidential run in 2024. She didn’t go there. But Cheney did hint at it and she quoted at length from Abraham Lincoln — a former president who was first defeated in House and Senate elections.

Cheney was a little more specific when pressed on NBC’s Today Show the next morning.

“That’s a decision I’m going to make in the coming months,” the congresswoman said of a potential presidential run. “It is something I’m thinking about.”

The Cheney campaign also modified itself immediately after her election loss, filing paperwork to convert the campaign committee to a leadership PAC named The Great Task — a phrase from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

“In coming weeks, Liz will be launching an organization to educate the American people about the ongoing threat to our Republic, and to mobilize a unified effort to oppose any Donald Trump campaign for president,” Cheney spokesperson Jeremy Adler told Politico.

Trump has repeatedly hinted at his own 2024 presidential run, including during a stop to stump for Hageman in Casper. Polling data suggests he has retained his favorability among Republicans, and in fact is gaining popularity. Trump-endorsed candidates, meanwhile, have fared generally well, though their election success has proven a mixed bag, including in Wyoming. Hageman, his pick for secretary of state, Chuck Gray, and his pick for treasurer, incumbent Curt Meier all won Tuesday, though another Trump pick, Brian Schroeder, was narrowly defeated in the primary election for Wyoming superintendent of public instruction by Megan Degenfelder.

Odd alliance

Although she lost badly, Cheney was able to mobilize an unconventional, cross-party alliance of supporters in Wyoming’s Republican primary. Outside the town recreation center in Jackson, Ian Jan “Tarzan” Campbell explained after voting how he changed his registration to Republican to vote for Cheney and others because he’s “vehemently, obnoxiously anti-Trump.”

Ian Jan “Tarzan” Campbell (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

At the time, Campbell was hopeful, though unsure, whether crossover voters like himself would be enough to make a difference.

“I pray,” he said, “and I’m an atheist.”

Several people WyoFile interviewed spoke favorably about how Cheney went out, sticking to her convictions.

“I admire her so much, and I’m impressed by her courage,” Brad Mead said. “I think this is just the start for her.”

Former U.S. Sen. Al Simpson (R-Wyoming) said that Cheney knew all along “the perils of what she was doing.” The 90-year-old Cody resident, a member of Cheney’s campaign leadership team, said that he had no special insight into whether she’s going to run for president, but thought that she has what it takes to take Trump on directly.

“It ain’t through, because of her dedication to democracy, the Constitution and the government of the United States,” Simpson said.

There’s a big reservoir of voters, he said, who are waiting for a woman with “power and smarts.”

“She speaks without forked tongue,” Simpson said of Cheney. “She’s the only person speaking with guts and courage and savvy and smartness. Let her rip. If she wants to get in the race there’ll be plenty of Americans who’d like to jump right in there with her.”

Simpson didn’t make much of the end, for now, of the Cheneys’ politicking for Wyoming. A family political dynasty, he said, doesn’t mean much these days.

“My dad was a governor and U.S. senator, and if I were to run this year they would have beat my ass,” Simpson said. “I know where I am: I’m high on the range of the RINOs.”

Dick Cheney sits at the Mead Ranch on Aug. 16, 2022, awaiting remarks from his daughter, Liz Cheney. The congresswoman’s parents, her husband, Phil, and four of her five children attended the event, during which she conceded that Harriet Hageman had won the Republican nomination for Cheney’s current seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

The Cheneys’ political dynasty in the Equality State started in 1978, when Dick Cheney, then a former White House deputy chief of staff during the Ford administration, was elected to Wyoming’s lone slot in the U.S. House of Representatives. Liz Cheney followed in her father’s footsteps and won the same seat 38 years later, though not before a failed attempt at unseating incumbent Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming).

Freudenthal, the former governor, said that any attempt to characterize the Cheneys’ political legacy is premature.

“Our capacity to estimate that [legacy] in the present, history has proven that we’re generally wrong,” he said. “What that legacy is, is unknown.”

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