Rep. Liz Cheney has the political brain of a sucked egg, as her egregiously self-destructive decision to join her Democratic colleagues in voting to impeach President Trump following the events at the US Capitol on January 6 showed.
In terms of personability and charm, Cheney is the Republican equivalent of Hillary Clinton.
And in a state with a population of 581,024 people spread across 97,914 square miles where politics has always been something like a family affair, she is very much an outsider, even a stranger. Born in Madison, Wisconsin, she lived in the Cowboy State for only a year or so when she was a sixth- and seventh-grade student in the 1970s. Her parents then divided their time between Casper and Washington while her father served first as Wyoming’s sole member of the US House of Representatives and then as vice president of the United States from 2001 to 2008.
Cheney’s vote to impeach last winter inspired 10 or a dozen Republican state politicians to declare that they would oppose her in the primaries next year, to the alarm of other Republicans who fear that a wide field would fracture the vote and return Liz Cheney to Washington for a third term. For this reason Joey Correnti, chairman of the Carbon County Republicans, recently emailed those candidates who have not already announced their withdrawal from the race, asking them to reconsider and make way for the strongest one among them.
Today this appears to be Harriet Hageman, a fourth-generation Wyomingite raised on a ranch in east-central Wyoming and a trial attorney in Cheyenne. Hageman made an unsuccessful bid for the governorship in 2018 and has just been endorsed by Donald Trump as Cheney’s replacement.
Though Trump himself is obviously unconcerned, it seems a matter of some distrust among conservatives here that Mrs Hageman served as an adviser to Liz Cheney’s ill-fate Senate bid in 2014 and campaigned for her during her run for the House in 2016. Worse, not only was she one of Ted Cruz’s delegates at the Republican National Convention that year, she was also a member of the NeverTrump coalition there. Mrs Hageman explains away all this by implying that she has simply changed her mind about both Trump and Cheney, who she claims ‘put DC elites over her constituents and put her hatred of President Trump above all else’ after her arrival in Washington.
Fair enough, I suppose. Naturally, Liz Cheney is presently accusing Hageman of ‘tragic opportunism’. ‘I’m gonna run on what I’ve produced and delivered to the people of Wyoming,’ she continued, without specifying just which of her contributions to the state she has in mind. To which Hageman responded, ‘Liz Cheney is the one who had the opportunity to stand with the views and values of the people of Wyoming, but she didn’t. She jumped ship, dog-paddled over to the Democrats’ boat, and is shooting back at us now… She’s turned her back on us because of her personal obsession with Trump.’
That last accusation is the killer. Liz Cheney is the daughter of one of the most prominent neoconservatives of the past 20 years and a principle architect of the aggressive foreign policy that Donald Trump infamously opposed as a candidate for the presidency in 2016. Now Cheney is seeking not only to help return the GOP to its former owners and operators, but to avenge her father and his boss in the White House for the indignities and reversals Trump visited upon them, and on the Bush family. That, and personal ambition, explain Liz Cheney’s spectacular disloyalty to the former president and his — and her — once shared constituency in Wyoming.
My godmother, the late Nancy Peternal, served several terms as State Representative for Lincoln County in the southwestern part of the state where Bill, my godfather, raised sheep and cattle. They were Democrats, reflecting the lower half of the county where the coal mining unions and oil patch roughnecks predominate. When I arrived in Kemmerer in 1979, the governor of Wyoming was Ed Herschler, a conservative Democrat, rancher, attorney and former Marine, who did a masterful job in the 1970s and ’80s of welcoming the extractive industry to Wyoming while ensuring that they did not rape the state environmentally, financially or otherwise.
The Herschler ranch lies only 50 miles north of Kemmerer, and my godparents were on familiar terms with Gov. Ed and his family. In those days (as still, I imagine, today) anyone was at liberty to turn up outside the governor’s office and walk in on him, if his time were not already engaged. After hours, he could be found most evenings at The Hitching Post in Cheyenne, drinking bourbon with friends and political cronies. I was having coffee at the Peternals’ house in town one morning when the telephone rang and Whitey, Bill’s semi-retired sheep herder, reached for it across the kitchen table . ‘Whitey’s Horse and Mule Barn,’ he said into the receiver; to which I overheard the caller reply, ‘This is the Chief Jack-Ass. May I please speak with Nancy?’
Some years later, passing by the entrance to the Herschler place, I decided on the spur of the moment to drive up there. As I paused at the cattle-guard looking toward the house, a Ford pickup drew up alongside my own and Ed’s son Jim put his head through window. ‘What do you want—’ he began. Then, recognizing me: ‘Oh, hey, Chip! — come to the house, man, and have a drink.’ I sat with him in the house trailer he kept parked behind the barns and drank bourbon until, several hours later, he fell asleep and I left him in his lounge chair and drove home to Kemmerer. One September not long afterward, Jim fell off the top rail at the Rock Springs rodeo and broke his neck. I was acquainted also with the late Malcolm Wallop whose southwestern representative, a good friend of my wife’s, put the senator up at our house in Kemmerer overnight, where he admired and bonded with Maynard, a parrot.
This is how Wyoming people expect their elected representatives to behave with them.
It is very much not Liz Cheney’s way, however. Since her vote to impeach Trump and her appointment by Speaker Pelosi to the January 6 Committee, she has, to my knowledge, made no publicized visits to the state, save to attend the funeral of former senator Mike Enzi a couple of months ago. Word has it that she does fly occasionally into Jackson (which is to Wyoming what the Hamptons are to upstate New York), where she spends her time with friends, benefactors and perhaps a Republican politician or two while sedulously avoiding the rest of the state, 70 percent of which voted for Donald Trump last November.
In brief, Liz Cheney is not Wyoming and never has been, even when it elected her to the House in 2016 owing chiefly to her party affiliation and incumbency. As for the lady herself, it is clear that she chose to run for US Senate in Wyoming in 2014, two years after purchasing a house in Jackson, precisely because she supposed its small population and social homogeneity made it an easy political base to seize and to hold — also because she assumed her absence would go unnoticed were she to spend scarce time in the state while amassing greater power and influence for herself in the Capitol.
This explains why it appears to have been so easy for Liz Cheney to choose the Swamp over President Trump and her constituents. Wyoming has always been, to her, a small and remote Western butte in a vast desert, a stepping-stone up to the Magic Mountain on the Eastern Coast.
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