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

CASPER, Wyo. — In a full-on political war with former President Donald Trump, it’s getting trickier for Rep. Liz Cheney’s allies to defend her to fellow Wyoming Republicans in a renomination bid that many folks here expect her to lose.

“There’s going to be some very serious discussions going forward on what does it look like to actually campaign in Wyoming for Liz,” state Rep. Landon Brown, a Republican who backs Cheney and shares her views on Trump, said in a telephone interview. “I don’t know that the Republican Party wants to see that hard-core fight.”

“At this point,” he added, “I’m not sure it’s going to be an effective strategy for her to solely go after [Trumpism].”

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

Cheney 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,” said a person close to Cheney. “But she’s not going to change her stance to win an election.”

Trump, who won Wyoming by a larger margin than he did any other state in 2020, is happy to shift their battle to the friendliest of turf. On Saturday, he staged a rally here with a dual purpose: to tear down Cheney and to promote her most prominent rival, lawyer Harriet Hageman.

Former President Donald Trump tosses red MAGA hats to the crowd during a rally May 28, 2022 at the Ford Event Center in Casper, Wyo.
Former President Donald Trump tosses red MAGA hats to the crowd at a rally Saturday 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 of her time putting you down, going after your president in the most vicious way possible and loving endless and nonsensical wars,” Trump said of Cheney, who supported U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

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

In Georgia this month, Gov. Brian Kemp won renomination against Trump-backed former Sen. David Perdue by signing a flurry of conservative laws and refusing to engage in public feuding with the former president. His team said his aim — a successful one — was to create a permission structure for voters to back both Trump and Kemp.

That’s not at all what Cheney is doing. She’s focusing on Trump and making the case that his politics are destructive.

“If our generation does not stand 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 that all but named Trump as her enemy. “I am asking you to join me to rise above the lies, to rise above the toxic politics, to defend our freedom to do what we all know is right.” 

Her best hope for re-election is to cobble together a coalition of anti-Trump Republicans, some set of voters who can abide both of them and a combination of Democrats and unaffiliated voters, who are allowed to cast Republican primary ballots in Wyoming’s partly “open” system.

“I will be voting for Liz Cheney, because she has common sense and she promotes democracy. And the other ones do not, and I’m just tired of it,” said Patty Gardner of Cheyenne, a onetime Democrat who switched her registration to Republican last month so she could vote for Cheney. 

But Cheney is leaving little room for possible Trump-Cheney voters.

“There is no middle ground here: You are either Team Cheney or Team Harriet,” said a Republican source with deep ties in the state. “Gotta think Cheney has something big up her sleeve; otherwise she’s going to lose big.”