- Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming is in an intense political battle to hold on to her seat in Congress.
- Her supporters say they are a silent majority in the state and are hopeful about her reelection.
- “When it comes to Liz Cheney and the rest of the Republican Party, there’s gonna be some pretty damning upsets,” one GOP official said.
CASPER, Wyoming – A slew of campaign billboards along the highways of Casper reminds voters in the state’s second-largest city of the bitter political war ahead: Rep. Liz Cheney’s fight to keep her seat and thwart former President Donald Trump’s target on her.
The August 16 Republican primary is still two months out, but Wyoming is already gearing up to become a battleground between far-right MAGA adherents and establishment Republicans.
“You’ve got those that want to take a very hard stance to the right, and those that are more moderate and want to be more inclusive, the Big Tent Republicans, and now you’re seeing that competition rear its ugly head,” Troy Thompson, a veterinarian, and Laramie County commissioner who’s politically active, told Insider.
Despite Trump’s full-fledged efforts to oust her from Congress, Cheney — a member of Wyoming political royalty — still commands lots of respect in the Cowboy State. Her supporters, decrying Trump’s antics, say their voice exists and has so far gone unheard.
“The people who hate Liz Cheney will gladly stand at their pulpit and scream it to the ends of the world,” Landon Brown, a state lawmaker who supports Cheney, told Insider.
“I’m not positive if that’s the case, but I certainly feel that we have a silent majority that is not as loud and not as vocal as what you see with the Trump supporters,” he continued. “And just because they’re loud does not mean that they’re the most prominent. And I do believe when it comes to Liz Cheney and the rest of the Republican Party, there’s gonna be some pretty damning upsets.”
Insider spoke with nearly a dozen GOP officials and voters in Wyoming who say they reject Trump’s grip over the GOP and will vote for Cheney over his preferred challenger, Harriet Hageman, an attorney, and former Republican National Committee member. Cheney’s supporters commend her record, admire her decision to defy Trump, and have defended her against a barrage of attacks in the red state.
The election, like many GOP primaries across the country where Trump looms large, will test his influence and offer a glimpse at what the future of the Republican Party looks like. Both Cheney and Trump say this race is the most important of the year – perhaps the one thing they agree on today.
Cheney attempts to fend off a formidable challenger
In large, white block letters on one billboard, Cheney’s campaign blasted Hageman over her opposition to Trump, before she transformed into his loyal follower.
“The weakest,” “racist and xenophobic,” reads the sign – words Hageman used to describe Trump when he ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
“Ouch. That hurts,” the tagline says.
An anti-Trump poster in the western state seemed largely unimaginable a couple of years ago. In 2020, Trump won Wyoming with 70% of the vote – his largest margin of victory in the country. Cheney, at the time, similarly coasted to victory in Wyoming, a Republican stronghold.
But ever since Trump sought to overturn the 2020 election results, culminating in the deadly violence at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, divisions between Republicans in Wyoming have deepened. Cheney voted with all Democrats and nine Republicans to impeach Trump on a charge of “incitement of insurrection.” She’s become one of Trump’s loudest critics in Congress and sits on the House select committee investigating the attack. A revenge-seeking Trump is now determined to get her out of power.
One voter who’s involved in GOP politics in Cheyenne, Wyoming’s capital and largest city, said Cheney’s decision to go after Trump has made her “pretty vulnerable.”
“She was really unbeatable before,” the voter, who asked not to be named to avoid backlash, told Insider. “I do feel like she’ll win. But I don’t know.”
Trump aggressively campaigned for Hageman on May 28 in Wyoming, his first-ever political appearance in the state, to a crowd of thousands. His supporters showed up in force, cheering on his smears of Cheney.
Cheney, a 55-year-old staunch conservative who is the daughter of former Republican Vice President Dick Cheney, is framing the race not as a referendum on Trump, but on the truth and the Constitution.
“If we set aside our founding principles for the politics of the moment, the miracle of our constitutional republic will slip away. We must not let that happen,” she said in her first campaign video released on May 26, the day she filed for reelection.
Hageman, who grew up on a ranch near Fort Laramie, is trying to distinguish herself as a better candidate than Cheney with a platform centered around energy, the border, and stopping the Biden administration’s policies.
Cheney has already raked in nearly $3 million in the first quarter of the year and has $6.8 million cash on hand, an unusually high amount for a House race. A strong fundraiser, she’s received support from establishment Republicans, including former President George W. Bush and former House Speaker Paul Ryan. Hageman, in comparison, has around $1 million cash on hand, and a network of Trump allies in her corner.
The Cheney family has never lost an election in Wyoming. The lawmaker’s father, who first ran for the at-large congressional district 44 years ago and was re-elected five times, is still widely revered in the state.
“There may be a perception nationally that we are more rigid in our politics than we really are, that we are more far, far uber-right than we really are,” Rita Meyer, a former state auditor and longtime family friend to the Cheneys, told Insider. “The media’s gonna pick up the old pickup truck with the guns in the back and the redneck driving in the front – that’s not a reality for the whole of Wyoming.”
‘Liz Cheney delivered’
At the base of an 8,000-foot mountain lies the sprawling city of Casper, home to around 59,000 people in central Wyoming. Nicknamed the “Oil City,” Casper became a hub for oil and gas more than a century ago, and the statewide industry remains a big economic driver in Wyoming, contributing more than $4.4 billion dollars to the state in 2020.
Since she joined Congress five years ago, Cheney has been a relentless advocate for fossil fuels, voting against bills that would prevent their development and endorsing legislation to protect Wyoming producers.
“Liz Cheney delivered. Anytime that we needed her, her help, she was there,” Pete Obermueller, president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, told Insider. “There’s just no doubt about it. We’re grateful for that. And we haven’t forgotten that.” Obermueller did not disclose who he is voting for.
Besides her energy policy, Cheney is pro-Second Amendment, anti-abortion rights, and a fervent military and defense hawk, boasting one of the most conservative records in the House. She voted with Trump 93% of the time during his one term.
“Liz has voted the right way for all of us in Wyoming,” Meyer said. “In the end, I think that she will continue to be our elected representative in Congress.”
Cheney, however, has been ostracized by her party for her defiance of Trump. House Republicans, led by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, purged her from her leadership post last year. The Wyoming Republican Party also censured her, and later voted to no longer recognize her as a Republican.
Still, some Republicans back home are standing by her. Joe McGinley, a state committeeman for the Natrona County Republican Party and a Cheney supporter, voted “no” on both of the resolutions against her.
“I was censured three times here in Wyoming, so it doesn’t really carry much weight,” he told Insider, dismissing the Cheney votes as a “joke.”
Republicans who have stuck their neck out for Cheney said the ramifications she’s endured show how divided and intolerant the party has become, partly fueled by Trump’s rhetoric.
“She is still a Republican. Nobody can take that away from her. And she’s also still our representative and there’s nothing that they can do to take that away from her,” Brown, who represents parts of Cheyenne, told Insider. “It’s based off of her [impeachment] vote and, what they see as heresy, her continued dialogue against Donald Trump. They all see him as the Messiah.”
Those who support Cheney think they still have the numbers, even though the MAGA faction of the party may steal the spotlight.
“I believe there’s a silent majority out there, a true silent majority that are humble, quiet conservatives,” McGinley said. “They may or may not agree with the January 6th committee or the impeachment vote, but they believe in Representative Cheney’s voting record.”
Cheney vs. Trump
Amid the criticism, Cheney has doubled down in a bid to wrestle away control from Trump.
“She’s grown up in the political sphere. She understands it’s not for folks that aren’t really tough,” Meyer told Insider. “Liz is tough and she articulates well, she understands the Constitution, and she is a great upholder of the Constitution.”
As vice-chair of the January 6 committee, Cheney has been at the forefront of unraveling what Trump did that day, and is expected to reveal the panel’s findings in public hearings starting on Thursday. Cheney’s supporters, while they may disagree with some of her approaches, have applauded her independent streak and called her courageous to confront Trump.
“I would’ve done it differently. But philosophically, I’m proud of her,” Jack Speight, a longtime attorney in Cheyenne, told Insider. “She had some balls to stand up to a bully, i.e. Trump. She knows right from wrong.”
Some Cheney fans, who consider her an important voice for democracy, fear that she may have committed political suicide with her anti-Trump position and that the MAGA base may prevail.
“She’s gonna lose and it breaks my heart,” said one Republican voter with deep ties in the state. “I think she’s an American hero, but she’s gonna lose.”
That voter, who asked not to be named for fear of repercussions, said they could see a path to a Cheney victory if she focuses on the economy, tells voters what she’s done for the state, “and then just bombarding Harriet with negatives because Harriet’s not a good candidate.”
Several Trump-backed candidates around the nation have recently lost their primary elections, reflecting what some say is his diminishing grasp over the party. It’s still too early to predict how Cheney will perform, and there has not been significant polling on the race yet.
“If she wanted to skate in, she would do what most sycophants are doing: Republicans which are pandering to the Trump train simply for political gain, simply to remain in office,” Susan Stubson, a precinct committeewoman for the Natrona County Republican Party, told Insider. “The fact that she’s not doing that is, in my view, is this is a calculation that she’s made that is much bigger than politics.”
Win or lose, Cheney’s supporters say they are unwilling to forfeit the party to Trump.
“We’re not gonna let them hijack who we are,” Stubson said.