Cheney allies flock to her defense against Trump challenge
Allies of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) are starting to make a concerted effort to boost her reelection bid as she wages the fight of her political life against a Trump-backed challenger.
Former President George W. Bush will hold a fundraiser for Cheney next month, as reported Wednesday, handing her a boost with the traditional wing of the GOP. But backers say they expect more Republicans aligned with Cheney’s brand of conservatism to get off the bench to help her in a primary knife fight against attorney and erstwhile ally Harriet Hageman.
“I’ll knock on doors, I’ll make calls if I have to, I’ll use my social media presence, professionally and personally,” said state Rep. Landon Brown (R), a Cheney ally.
“I think it’s going to be much more than many people anticipate,” he added. “You’re gonna see a lot of the people that are out there that do support her and recognize her value … and it’s just going to be a matter of who shows up more and who can get more people to the polls.”
The Dallas fundraiser Bush is hosting with GOP strategist Karl Rove next month is thus far the biggest show of support for Cheney from a slice of the party that’s been increasingly sidelined as former President Trump tightens his grip on the party.
The Wyoming Republican has also gotten money and support from former Speakers Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and John Boehner (R-Ohio), as well as Country First, the outside group helmed by Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), another vociferous Trump critic within the GOP.
Allies say that help, and more, could be key to keeping her seat, both in raising the millions it will take to fend off Trump’s financial juggernaut and exciting her own voters.
“For Rep. Cheney to have support of true conservatives that had represented the party for decades, I think it is helpful. Rep. Cheney has been successful with fundraising in the past, and having stalwarts of the party like President Bush speak up is only going to help that,” said Joe McGinley, the former chair of the Natrona County, Wyo., GOP.
“The more individuals that speak up and speak out on your behalf, it’s just going to help rally the troops.”
Cheney landed herself in hot water with Trump earlier this year when she voted to impeach him over his role in inciting the Jan. 6 riot. She continued to lambast the former president after he left office and again drew a wave of condemnation from the grassroots after agreeing to Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) invitation to join the special House committee investigating the insurrection.
The backlash against her culminated in a vote from House Republicans in May booting Cheney from party leadership. Trump ultimately endorsed Hageman earlier this month in a blistering statement panning Cheney as a “RINO,” the derogatory moniker for “Republican in name only,” and Democrats’ “number one provider of sound bites.”
While Cheney allies unanimously agree that Trump’s involvement produces significant headwinds for her reelection bid, some say his endorsement may be motivation to get some supporters in the game.
“Everybody here was just sitting around waiting to see who got picked. … Now that everybody’s had a little bit of time to sit back and watch, I think that she’ll start to see some things moving,” said Mark Christensen, a former Campbell County commissioner and a Cheney ally. “I think that you’ll probably start to see some of that happening in the next couple of months.”
Cheney’s team is expected to time announcements for endorsements and fundraisers meticulously to maximize their effect against the Trump-led onslaught. But the calendar is one thing she has on her side.
Wyoming does not host its primary until August, giving Cheney time to both fortify her defenses and allow as much time as possible to pass between her controversial impeachment vote and when voters will cast their ballots, something that allies say could be key in the primary.
“I think that the ire against her is cooling with time. If the election had been March of 2021, right after the impeachment, she’d be gone,” Christensen said.
Observers speculated that Cheney won’t bring out her big endorsements until the summer, when primary voters begin paying attention to the nominating contest.
But beyond nailing down the timing of when Cheney’s allies come out in force, her backers are torn over who is best to come to her defense.
Some say support from people like Bush could be significant, noting the former president’s sway and affiliation with a less volatile brand of conservative politics.
“Individuals like President Bush stepping up and speaking out helps. That traditionally is what Wyoming voters believe in, that flavor of politics where it’s based on policies, not personalities,” McGinley said.
However, others warn that bringing in too many outsiders could hurt Cheney and reinforce the perception that she is too focused on national politics.
“Her fundraising in Texas will offend people because it’s not in Wyoming and it’s out of state and all this stuff,” said Paul Bertoglio, the current chair of the Natrona County Board of Commissioners. “Well, as I like to when they bring that up, I always like to point out, Donald Trump doesn’t have anything in the state of Wyoming that I’m aware of, any businesses, and yet he’s just doing the exact same thing.”
Bertoglio predicted that some of Wyoming’s statewide elected officials could come in to boost Cheney — even if it risks angering Trump — and that people more familiar with her conservative voting record need to take center stage over people like Bush.
“As elected officials, we all make a vote or two that just absolutely puts your constituents over the top and they say, ‘I will never vote for you again.’ And yet when they look at your whole record and you put that up against somebody else, they go like, ‘Well, you know what, maybe I can look past that.’ And I think she has to bring in those people that say, ‘Wait a minute, you have to look at her whole record,’” he said.
“I think they will,” Bertoglio added when asked if Wyoming lawmakers would make endorsements against Trump’s chosen candidate. “They know that she did a tremendous job. … And you go down the vote, other than a couple of things voting against what Trump did, she is not a RINO or any of that.”
Still, the race is likely to be a magnet for the remaining national figures who oppose Trump, since the primary is being interpreted as a test of his power.
“We’ll certainly see more of this,” GOP strategist Doug Heye said. “I don’t think we know if it’ll be enough. I think we won’t know until the primary, but very clearly, this is as much about one member of Congress as what the direction of the Republican Party is moving forward.”
Trump’s allies, meanwhile, boast that Cheney is destined for defeat, saying that the marginalization of Cheney’s flavor of conservatism on top of the former president’s expected heavy involvement in the race will be too much to overcome.
“There is no Cheney wing, just a Cheney sliver of the party that is dying out fast,” said one adviser to Wyoming Values PAC, an outside group opposing Cheney.
“She is the definition of walking dead. She knows she’s toast.”
Allies say it remains to be seen whether help from Cheney’s wing of the party will be enough to prevent a primary defeat. While some insist a “silent majority” supports her, they concede she still faces steep headwinds against Trump’s opposition.
“I don’t know just because in Wyoming, the silent majority remains silent,” McGinley said. “It’s hard to get a feel for that.”
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