CNN Paints Cheney Challenger As NeverTrump Flip-Flopper, But So Was Half The Republican Party

CNN Paints Cheney Challenger As NeverTrump Flip-Flopper, But So Was Half The Republican Party

CNN ran a hit piece highlighting Harriet Hageman's past opposition to Donald Trump in 2016. Such a switch was widespread in the GOP.
Tristan Justice
By

CNN’s investigative unit published a hit piece last month painting GOP Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney’s primary opponent, attorney Harriet Hageman, as a political opportunist who was a prominent NeverTrumper before she became a champion of the former president.

Highlighting a Wyoming GOP convention speech in spring 2016, CNN’s KFile pulled footage showing Hageman introducing Cheney on stage as the eventual three-term congresswoman sought her first term in the lower chamber.

“I know that Liz Cheney is a proven, courageous, constitutional conservative, someone who has the education, the background and experience to fight effectively for Wyoming on the national stage,” Hageman said of her later opponent, with a slight to Trump’s popular rise on the verge of clinching the party’s presidential nomination. “There have been and will continue to be concerted efforts to force true conservatives to sit down and shut up. Those efforts have never worked on me and I know that they will not work on and have no effect on Liz Cheney. I am proud to introduce Liz Cheney as the next congressional representative from the great state of Wyoming.”

CNN branded Hageman’s state convention speech of five years ago compared to her current campaign against Cheney as an “abrupt about-face from the Wyoming attorney, who received Trump’s backing in the GOP primary against Cheney earlier this month.”

“Once a leader of efforts to oppose Trump’s nomination, she now calls Trump ‘the greatest president of my lifetime,'” wrote CNN reporters Andrew Kaczynski and Em Steck, who outlined Hageman’s work that summer to deny then-candidate Donald Trump the nomination in Cleveland.

Hageman’s apparent 180, however, is far from unique to the primary challenger seeking to unseat a three-term incumbent and former ally. In fact, the same criticism could apply to half the Republican Party, particularly in Wyoming, where support for Cheney was nearly universal before GOP voters came home to Trump that fall.

When Hageman gave her speech in 2016, a lifetime ago in American politics, the Republican presidential primary remained far from certain. The contest had narrowed to a three-way race between Trump, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (who had Hageman’s backing), and then-Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a longshot candidate who pinned his hopes on a brokered convention.

Cruz captured all of Wyoming’s 14 RNC delegates awarded at the April meeting after he overwhelmingly claimed nine out of 12 awarded in the March caucuses. Trump’s win wasn’t certain until a month later, and the Republican Party didn’t rally around its nominee until after the convention.

Even then, prominent Republicans who would later become stalwart proponents of the Trump agenda, including Cruz, distanced themselves from the campaign. Trump received nearly 63 million votes in November 2016, while only receiving fewer than 14 million in the entire Republican primary, which means more than 75 percent of those who voted for him in 2016 didn’t support his run for the nomination.

Since jumping into the race with Trump’s endorsement last month, Hageman has been forthright about her past friendship with the congresswoman she now brands in Wyoming as a traitor.

“When she ran for Congress the first time, she asked me to introduce her at the Republican state convention,” Hageman told supporters at her campaign kickoff in Cheyenne. “Had I known what she would do five years later and side with Nancy Pelosi and the radical left, I would have never answered her first phone call.”

In an interview with The Federalist immediately after her speech, Hageman outlined two defining moments that alienated her from a former political partner.

One of them, she said, was Cheney’s role as a primary culprit spreading the fake story of Russian bounties placed on U.S. troops in the summer of 2020. The supposed intelligence, later revealed to be an anonymously sourced rumor, was used to attack President Trump in the heat of election with Cheney peddling the false allegations without apology.

“That story was fabricated by The New York Times but Liz Cheney ran with it, and I was very surprised that she did, but she did and she attacked President Trump and it was a baseless story,” Hageman said.

The second inflection point in their relationship, Hageman said, came over election disparities that emerged in the aftermath of the November contest, which featured record turnout via mail-in voting.

“She called me and said that there were no election irregularities, that President Biden was the legitimate president, that Donald Trump needed to concede. And I said that I believed that there were issues that needed to be looked at,” Hageman told The Federalist. “That was probably the end of our relationship. I haven’t spoken with her since then.”

Many Wyoming voters began to sour on their at-large representative at similar points, often citing Cheney’s conduct following the January Capitol riot as the defining moment in their refusal to give the daughter of a former vice president a fourth term.

“One day she’s bad, the next day she’s not bad,” said Brett Neyer of Cheney’s home support. He drove 100 miles to attend Hageman’s campaign announcement. “[Cheney] really went off the rails with all this insurrection stuff and the way she went after Trump.”

The week after Cheney’s futile effort from House leadership to corral Republican support for Trump’s impeachment, she was unanimously censured by her own party in Wyoming. Her home favorability ratings plummeted, angry voters rallied at the state capitol and House Republicans sought a referendum on her conference chairmanship. While she maintained her number three role in the lower chamber, a second vote overwhelmingly removed her from the post in May.

The latest polls show Cheney deep underwater in her home state after alienating its conservative base. Out of three surveys conducted since Cheney’s escalated feud in the election’s aftermath, Cheney has yet to land more than 25 percent support among likely primary voters, far short of the 40 percent vote share she earned in the 2016 House primary. According to a survey by McLaughlin and Associates in July, 77 percent, or nearly 8 in 10 Republican primary voters said they would back a candidate besides Cheney in an upcoming contest.

Cheney’s downward trend among the state’s conservative voters is unlikely to be reversed by her recent endorsement from Occupy Democrats and recent support for the transgender agenda. Nor has it been bolstered by the congresswoman’s active role as an enthusiastic vice chair of the House Democrats’ weaponized Jan. 6 Committee targeting with subpoenas private citizens who exercised their right to protest.

“I’ll write somebody else in,” pledged Tom Durham outside the state Capitol with Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz in January. Along with nearly every voter in attendance then, Durham’s simmering frustration with Cheney reached a breaking point in the last election’s aftermath.

Tristan Justice is the western correspondent for The Federalist. Follow him on Twitter at @JusticeTristan or contact him at [email protected]

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