CHEYENNE, Wyo — Wyoming Republican congresswoman and NeverTrump Resistance leader Liz Cheney drew a new primary challenger Thursday who came with a big endorsement. Harriet Hageman, a prominent GOP attorney and former Cheney ally, formally threw her hat into the ring with the coveted support from former President Donald Trump.
“Wyoming is entitled to a representative in Congress who remembers who sent her there and remembers what their wishes are,” Hageman told a small gathering of supporters crammed in a hotel conference room. “Liz Cheney is doing neither, I will do both.”
At the heart of Hageman’s 15-minute remarks was painting a clear contrast between herself as a native of Wyoming with a rancher’s upbringing and Cheney as a beltway creature of the swamp apparently more focused on a potential gig at CNN through a vendetta with Trump than service to constituents. Contempt for the very Republican voters Cheney serves is a product of this misdirected attention.
“Liz Cheney has burned all of her bridges with Republicans,” Hageman said, noting the practicality of GOP allies in order to pass effective legislation. But instead, a lonely congresswoman kicked from House leadership has spent the past year on “nothing less than a vengeance tour.”
Cheney appeared unfazed by the new, and likely most competitive contender in the race.
“Bring it,” she wrote as a “sound bite” after the former president called her the Democrats’ best producer.
Here’s a sound bite for you: Bring it. pic.twitter.com/VmET1JUs12
— Liz Cheney (@Liz_Cheney) September 9, 2021
Behind the scenes, however, the three-term congresswoman ought to be more concerned.
Cheney captured the Republican nomination for her first House race in a crowded 2016 field with less than 40 percent of the vote. Since then, she’s enjoyed the power of incumbency facing futile efforts to dethrone the daughter of a former vice president. But this year is different.
Out of three surveys conducted since Cheney’s feudal escalation with Trump in the election’s aftermath, Cheney never landed more than 25 percent support among likely primary voters. One poll found Cheney the most unpopular Republican in the country, with net-negative approval ratings of 43 percent. Her block of support, however, has raised the importance for opponents to narrow the primary to a two-way race denying her a win through plurality. Trump’s endorsement will likely be the game-changer to do just that.
Brett Neyer, a Wyoming rancher who drove 100 miles to cheer Hageman’s announcement, said Cheney’s call for Trump’s impeachment was a major inflection point in Cheney’s popularity and for him, the final straw.
“It was a very defining moment. One day she’s not bad, the next day she’s bad,” Neyer told The Federalist. “[Cheney] really went off the rails with all this insurrection stuff and the way she went after Trump.”
As Republican conference chair in the lower chamber, Cheney triggered backlash among House colleagues and voters at home in January when she launched a crusade to corral Republican support for Trump’s indictment over the Capitol riot. Only nine House Republicans ultimately joined her to convict, several of whom had already announced their intent to do so before her charge, calling into question Cheney’s real influence.
Following the vote, Cheney was censured by her own party at home and provoked her first primary challenger. Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz flew to the capital at Cheyenne to rally support for a competitive primary ahead of a House vote to strip her of conference chairmanship in a preview of the GOP civil war Cheney has sought.
While she comfortably survived a referendum on her leadership post in February, another referendum in May ultimately stripped her of the title. First battle lost.
Moments before Hageman took the stage, Neyer said to ask nearly anybody in attendance about their final breaking point with Cheney, and they’d surely cite the same vote. So I did. Neyer was right. It was the same story over and over again: that Cheney’s feud with Trump, pursued for nine months straight, antagonized her constituents. And it all started with her vote to impeach an outgoing president for a riot that had already begun before Trump finished speaking on the day in question.
“[It’s] because of January 6th,” said Diane Morrison, on why she couldn’t bring herself to cast another ballot for the congresswoman she supported four years straight in three election cycles, albeit hesitantly. To add insult to injury, said Morrison, who lives in southeast Wyoming, a Cheney visit is a rare occasion. “We never see her in the state.”
Neyer said when Cheney is in Wyoming, it’s almost always in the northwest corner, which he described as the “California” part of the state.
Yet a Cheney more comfortable in D.C. than Wyoming has not backed down from aggressive antagonism against the president who captured his highest winning margins of any state among her own constituents in November. In fact, Cheney was hand-selected by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to give the opening remarks in the Democrats’ weaponized probe to investigate the January riot, after Republicans were kicked from the committee.
“Right now the only job Republicans have in Washington D.C. is to stop the Democrats from destroying our country,” Hageman told her supporters. “But not only is Cheney not helping us to fight what is truly the battle of our lifetimes, she jumped ship, dog-paddled to the other side, and is now shooting back at us.”