Liz Cheney’s ‘uphill’ path to re-election goes through Trump

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CASPER, Wyoming — In an all-out political war with former President Donald Trump, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for Rep. Liz Cheney’s allies to defend her to fellow Wyoming Republicans in a renomination bid that many people here expect her to lose.

“There’s going to be some very serious talk about what it’s really like campaigning in Wyoming for Liz,” said state Rep. Landon Brown, a Republican who supports Cheney and shares his views on Trump. , in a telephone interview. “I don’t know if the Republican Party wants to see this hard fight.”

“At this point,” he added, “I’m not sure it’s an effective strategy for her to just pursue [Trumpism].”

But Cheney made his national argument that Trump is a danger to the party and the country the centerpiece of his campaign in a five-party primary on Aug. 16. To some, her decision to focus on Trump looks like a kamikaze political mission that could only benefit her if a defeat could turn her into the 2024 presidential candidate – or at least give her a bigger platform outside of the competition. electoral politics.

Cheney’s allies insist she is running to win, but not at the cost of delivering her anti-Trump message.

“She knows it’s an uphill battle,” a person close to Cheney said. “But she won’t change her position to win an election.”

Trump, who won Wyoming by a bigger margin than any other state in 2020, is happy to move their battle to friendlier territory. On Saturday, he staged a rally here with a dual purpose: to tear down Cheney and promote his most prominent rival, attorney Harriet Hageman.

Former President Donald Trump throws red MAGA hats to the crowd during a rally May 28, 2022 at the Ford Event Center in Casper, Wyo. (David Stubbs for NBC News)

“Wyoming deserves a congresswoman who stands up for you and your values, not one who spends all her time putting you down, pursuing your president in the most vicious way possible, and loving endless, senseless wars,” Trump said of Cheney, who backed US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Cheney’s strategy is unique among Republicans who have stood up to Trump: Many chose to retire rather than face tough re-election bids; others sought to appease his base.

In Georgia this month, Governor Brian Kemp was renominated against Trump-backed former Sen. David Perdue by signing a series of conservative bills and refusing to engage in a public feud with the former president. His team said their goal — a success — was to create an authorization structure that allowed voters to support both Trump and Kemp.

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That’s not what Cheney does at all. She focuses on Trump and argues that his policies are destructive.

“If our generation does not stand up for truth, the rule of law and our Constitution, if we set aside our founding principles for the politics of the moment, the miracle of our constitutional republic will slip away,” Cheney said in a video. last week. who almost named Trump as his enemy. “I ask you to join me in rising above lies, in rising above toxic politics, in defending our freedom to do what we all know is right.”

His best hope for reelection is to cobble together a coalition of anti-Trump Republicans, a set of voters who can support them both, and a combination of Democrats and unaffiliated voters, who are allowed to vote in Republican primaries in the Wyoming partly “open system.

“I will vote for Liz Cheney, because she has common sense and promotes democracy. And the others don’t, and I’m just sick of it,” said Patty Gardner of Cheyenne, a former Democrat. who changed her registration to Republican last month so she could vote for Cheney.

But Cheney leaves little room for potential Trump-Cheney voters.

“There’s no middle ground here: you’re either Team Cheney or Team Harriet,” said a Republican source with deep ties to the state. “I have to think Cheney has something big up her sleeve or she’s going to lose big.”

Harriet Hagemen (David Stubbs for NBC News)

Harriet Hagemen (David Stubbs for NBC News)

The biggest thing Cheney has going for her is a campaign treasure that had $6.7 million at last count, more than six times Hageman’s tally and enough to have Hageman’s advisers wondering if Cheney can spend it all on a state with cheap media markets.

It’s hard to overstate the intensity with which Trump’s staunchest supporters hate Cheney, who voted to impeach Trump, joined the Democratic-led committee investigating his role in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and continues to castigate him publicly at every opportunity.

Debra Carson, 64, of Rock Springs, succinctly expressed her feelings in an interview at Trump’s rally here: “She’s a traitor.”

Not everyone who dislikes Cheney has made the leap to support Hageman, who must compete with three other candidates for the anti-Cheney vote.

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“The goal is to replace her,” said Brent Bien, one of several candidates trying to deny Republican Gov. Mark Gordon renomination.

Wyoming gubernatorial candidate Brent Bien (David Stubbs for NBC News)

Wyoming gubernatorial candidate Brent Bien (David Stubbs for NBC News)

Well, who stopped short of endorsing Hageman, said he fears Cheney will win his primary if Republicans don’t unite around one of his challengers. That group includes Conservative Senator Anthony Bouchard, who last year admitted conceiving a child with a 14-year-old daughter when she was 18.

In recent primaries, some Trump-backed candidates have lost or struggled to win, often failing to clear the one-third mark with the electorate.

Ousting Cheney is the top priority of Erin Carbert, a Ranchester educator, who said Hageman had “more of a chance” than the other challengers.

“Cheney has to go,” said Carbert, who wore a homemade t-shirt with the words “Ultra MAGA deplorable” at the Trump rally. “She’s more Democrat than Republican.”

Trump Rally attendees (David Stubbs for NBC News)

Trump Rally attendees (David Stubbs for NBC News)

This concept is central to Hageman’s argument. Speaking before Trump – in remarks welcomed by an audience filled with voters from Wyoming and neighboring states – she accused Cheney of not knowing what it means to “ride for the mark”, a term used to describe loyalty from the hands of the ranch to their employer.

For Hageman, that means Trump’s GOP.

Cheney, who also uses the phrase, takes a different view.

“In Wyoming, we know what it means to ride for the brand,” Cheney said in his launch video. “Our trademark is the Constitution of the United States.”

Some Republicans here are proud that Cheney risked her seat — having already been kicked out of the House GOP leadership — to speak out against Trump after the Capitol riot and as he continues to lie that the 2020 election was stolen.

“Cheney’s position, knowing that she could end her political career, took a lot of courage,” said Lorenzo Chouinard, 75, a retired educator who lives in Cheyenne. He and his wife, Mary Jo Chouinard, a retired manager, said they would. vote for Cheney.

But Cheney faces unprecedented opposition from his national party, and it’s not just Trump. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., a frequent target of Cheney’s criticism, and Rep. Elise Stefanik, R.Y., who replaced Cheney as House GOP conference chair last year , recorded videos endorsing Hageman that were played at Trump. rally.

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When McCarthy appeared on screen, a handful of boos could be heard in the Ford Wyoming Center arena. Stefanik received a round of applause when she identified herself as Cheney’s replacement for the GOP leadership.

A woman applauds at the Trump rally on Saturday, May 28, 2022 in Casper, Wyo (David Stubbs for NBC News)

A woman applauds at the Trump rally on Saturday, May 28, 2022 in Casper, Wyo (David Stubbs for NBC News)

Hageman’s fundraising is complemented by a super PAC called Wyoming Values, which is run by Donald Trump Jr.’s team, and his campaign is filled with aides and advisers who worked for the former president.

Her challenge is to make a two-step case that Cheney should be kicked out and that she is the best alternative.

“People are sick of it, and Harriet is showing who she is – a good, solid, viable replacement,” an adviser to Hageman said.

Cheney declined an interview request for this article; Hageman did not respond to a question shouted at him outside the Trump rally.

It’s unclear what role Cheney would play in Congress if she were to be re-elected, after being alienated from her party caucus. Hageman and her allies argue that Cheney would not be influential if returned to the House for a third term.

Saturday May 28, 2022. Casper, Wyoming.  UNITED STATES.  Trump Rally (David Stubbs for NBC News)

Saturday May 28, 2022. Casper, Wyoming. UNITED STATES. Trump Rally (David Stubbs for NBC News)

“If she comes back to Congress, she won’t have a vote,” said Rep. Ronny Jackson, R-Texas, a key Trump ally in the House who attended Saturday’s rally. “It’s not just about electing Republicans. … It’s about electing the right Republicans.”

Brown, the state representative who supports Cheney, said he was discouraged by the Trump cohort in Congress, naming Reps. Marjorie Taylor-Greene, R-Ga., and Madison Cawthorn, RN.C., as lawmakers particularly pissed off.

“We don’t want her as the face of our party but there are also a lot of people who don’t want her as the face of our party saying Trump is the worst person on earth and you can’t do that. ‘have as president,’ Brown said.

“She stands for the rule of law. She stands for the Constitution. And that’s what these people claim to live by and claim to honor and claim that’s the backbone of their political candidacy,” he said. “When the truth comes down to this, when the rubber hits the road, they’re mad at her for doing this, because it was against their savior, Donald J. Trump. And that’s just a fucking shame .”

As for Cheney’s future, Brown said he could show promise nationally, but he’s confident she’s focused on this race.

“Could I see her become president? Definitely. Could I see her do something bigger than what she’s doing now? You bet,” he said. “I just don’t think that’s what she’s doing right now. I think what she’s doing right now is snuggling up and getting ready for the campaign of her life.”

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