JACKSON, Wyo. — Rep. Liz Cheney’s supporters have mixed feelings about the brutal defeat likely heading her way in Tuesday’s Republican primary: resignation about her fate, pride in her for standing up to former President Donald Trump at a personal price and hope that she will rebound to a more prominent place in national politics.
There are few visible signs that Cheney is even trying to win re-nomination against the backdrop of polling showing she trails her main challenger, Harriet Hageman, by 57% to 28%.
Locals say she has appeared in public a few times in recent weeks — to meet with members of the Jewish community, for example — but her campaign had no public events scheduled over the weekend or on Monday. On Saturday, in a rally more appropriate to a town council race than one of the most closely watched congressional races in recent political history, about a dozen of her supporters of Ella waved Cheney signs at cars passing the town square. There was no trace of the candidate.
On television, Cheney’s ads are focused on her fight with Trump — the apostasy that alienated her from most GOP voters here and across the country. Cheney, the third-ranking Republican at the start of this Congress, was virtually read out of the party for voting to impeach Trump and taking a leading role in the House inquiry into his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol.
She is likely to finish the race with a substantial unspent war chest, reflecting both the ease with which she raised money from anti-Trump donors across the country and the futility of dumping millions of dollars into a lost cause. Three weeks ago, she still had $7.4 million in the bank in a state where TV ads are cheap.
Should Cheney lose to Hageman on Tuesday, she’ll be the final Republican to fall to a Trump-backed primary challenger after having voted to impeach him. Four of the 10 opted to withdraw, three have already lost primaries, and two survived primaries (in one of those two, Trump didn’t endorse a challenger).
Cheney has arguably given up the most of any elected Republican — one who had been on a path to potentially become speaker of the House someday — to draw a line against Trump and his efforts to overturn the 2020 election by all means available to him.
But she now has a national fundraising platform, cash in the bank and a bipartisan set of admirers, leading many Republicans and Democrats to believe there’s method to the way she has run her campaign.
“Nobody would piss off the entire state of Wyoming without another plan,” said Kasey Mateosky, a Republican running for a seat on the Teton Board of County Commissioners. “She She has to have an endgame.”
Some of Cheney’s backers hope Tuesday’s election is a point of metamorphosis, the moment when Cheney fully sheds the skin of a Wyoming Republican and becomes a presidential candidate who can argue she has prioritized the health of the republic over partisanship.
“I think this is going to open the door for her — she’ll stay in politics,” said Thomas Grisell, 75, a lifelong Democrat who switched parties to vote for Cheney. He credited her with responding to his call for help on a restorative justice program, and, while he hopes she causes an upset Tuesday night, he wants her to run for president.
“She would love to run against Trump,” he said.
Voters like Grisell were part of Cheney’s Hail Mary strategy to beat Trump’s forces in Wyoming, which he won in 2020 by 43 percentage points, his largest margin in the country. In a state where it is fairly easy for voters to switch party affiliation to vote in primaries, she tried to create a coalition of anti-Trump Republicans, independents and Democrats.
Her top two adversaries have been Trump and math. The former president is looking for retribution, and his supporters of him in the state are quicker to curse Cheney’s name than they are to identify themselves to reporters.
Unless there is a major last-minute shift in base Republicans’ views of Cheney, there simply don’t appear to be enough newly registered GOP voters to push her to victory.
In January, there were 280,741 registered voters in Wyoming: 196,179 Republicans, 45,822 Democrats and 35,344 independents, along with a relative handful of Constitution and Libertarian party voters. By the beginning of August, the GOP’s rolls had swelled by about 11,495 voters — while the Democratic and independent numbers had failed by a combined 7,644 voters.
Still, Cheney’s battle against Trump has made some Republicans respect her more, both across the country and here. Alexandra Alessandro, who held a Cheney sign in the Jackson town square Saturday, said she voted twice for Trump for president but is proud of her representative’s work on the committee.
“The biggest thing for me was January 6th,” she said. “That changed for me, like I said, ‘I’m a Republican, I have Republican beliefs I have instilled in me from my parents,’ but January 6th is what really, really turned for me.”
Hageman’s main line of attack is that Cheney, the Virginia-raised daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, doesn’t really have “Wyoming values.” A super PAC by that name, formed by Trump allies, has been the primary outside spender in the race, pumping more than $1 million into boosting Hageman and hurting Cheney.
The message has broken through with some GOP voters.
“I’ll be voting for Hageman because I think she stands more for Wyoming values than Liz Cheney,” said a primary voter who spoke in Afton but declined to give his name. “I had a lot of respect for Liz Cheney, and some of the things she’s done of recent, I didn’t think it represented the voice of the Wyoming people.”
Cheney’s campaign declined to make her available for an interview before the primary.
Bryan Tarantola, a retired architect and urban planner who typically votes Democratic, said “one of the joys” of Wyoming’s primary system is that it affords voters the option of switching to prevent someone from winning a nomination.
Tarantola, 75, said that the “technique has been used around here for a long time” and that he realized the opportunity to speak his mind in response to a robo-message he got from a pro-Hageman group.
“I was sorry to hear Wyoming has abandoned truth, honesty and integrity in favor of the big lie, treason, insurrection and a proto-fascist dictator,” he wrote back to the message sender. “We don’t need a Drumpf lackey, we need someone who isn’t afraid to defend democracy and the Constitution. You’re part of a dangerous, nihilistic cult, and Liz Cheney is anything but liberal.”
But the temporary enthusiasm of Democratic voters isn’t likely to spare Cheney in the short term.
“Unless the biggest miss in the history of primary polling occurs, it does seem like everything is baked in,” said a GOP political operative who has been active in the state for Hageman. “There weren’t enough Democrats in the state for her.”
More telling, said the operative, who declined to give his name for fear of taking a premature victory lap publicly, Cheney’s decision to use her airtime to attack Trump — including an ad in which her father called Trump a “coward” — didn’t align with a strategy of wooing the GOP base.
“It has not been advertising that you would run to win over Republican primary voters,” he said.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism