If it were taking place 20 years ago, it would have been one of the top events on the calendar for Republicans. Once upon a time, a fundraiser sponsored by former Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife Lynne, with appearances by Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, Cheney’s faithful aide Scooter Libby, former Solicitor General Ted Olson, columnist Mona Charen, and a large number of wealthy donors, and hosted by veteran GOP heavy-hitter Bobbie Kilberg and her lawyer husband Bill at their Virginia home, would have been the sort of thing that anyone in the world of GOP officeholders, consultants, and fundraisers would have wanted to attend.
But the March 14 shindig is taking place in 2022, not 2002. That makes the list of sponsors and guests the political equivalent of a baseball Old-Timer’s Game in which the stars of the past gather to put on their old uniforms and entertain their fans with an inning or two in which they pretend to be their former selves.
But the event in question is not an exercise in nostalgia. It’s a fundraiser for Rep. Liz Cheney’s re-election campaign. Although the people listed as sponsors may be political has-beens or are now utterly marginal to the Republican Party, their money is still green and Cheney needs every cent she can raise from her family’s old friends.
Cheney Struggles to Keep Her Seat
Cheney is facing the fight of her political life as she attempts to fend off a primary challenge for renomination to her at-large House seat from Harriet Hageman, the lawyer and conservative activist who has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump. Hageman has raised more than $1 million for her campaign to date and has benefited from fundraisers hosted by billionaire Paypal founder Peter Thiel.
Moreover, the party apparatus in Wyoming, which once might have shown any member of the Cheney family great deference, has abandoned her. She was censured by the state GOP for voting to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. In November, Wyoming Republicans voted to no longer recognize her as a member of the party. That came after Cheney assumed a leadership role in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Jan. 6 Committee despite the fact that the Democrats refused to allow the Republican conference to name, as was their right, their own members.
Cheney has essentially burned her bridges to the party she grew up in by falsely claiming to be the ranking member of the committee and enthusiastically participating in its fishing expedition that seeks to drag in for questioning a wide array of former Trump administration officials, conservative media figures, and even Republican House colleagues who had nothing to do with the riot. Indeed, there is a growing movement to oust her from the Republican conference, although House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy would probably prefer to avoid a purge and let Wyoming’s Republican voters deal with Cheney in the August primary.
Cheney, who has seemed to grow angrier at her party with each month for its refusal to play along with the notion that Jan. 6 was an “insurrection” that threatened American democracy, is not going down without a fight. And she can count on other GOP celebrities from the past, such as former President George W. Bush and former House Speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan, to assist her with fundraising.
But the idea that the 2002 GOP All-Star team can compete against contemporary Republicans with voters who have long since repudiated their party’s ancien regime is an absurd strategy.
The race is being spun by the liberal mainstream media as a case of a brave, principled conservative standing up against an army of GOP zombies who have sold their souls to Trump. But as in the rest of the country, Wyoming conservatives understand that Trump’s populist defense of the working and middle class is a better fit for the party than one that seemed more in line with the interests of Wall Street.
They think the Bushes exploited them while Trump fought for them. To the surprise of many, Trump wound up leading the most successful conservative administration in memory until it was brought down by a pandemic unleashed by China and a mainstream media/Big Tech alliance aimed at silencing the truth about Biden family corruption.
Republicans understand that Cheney’s acceptance of Democrats’ branding of not just the Capitol rioters or even Trump but all Republican voters as insurrectionist traitors targets them and their beliefs. Even if they aren’t still questioning the 2020 presidential election results, most Republicans seem to comprehend that the real threats to democracy are the McCarthyite tactics of the Jan. 6 Committee that Cheney is helping to lead and her Democratic allies’ attempts to silence dissent on the Internet.
Cheney’s Rise and Fall
That Cheney’s fundraiser is being held in Virginia is something Hageman won’t fail to play up. A Jan. 6 Committee advisor also recently dropped his name from the host line-up.
Cheney lived most of her life in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., before returning to her family’s home state to pursue a political career. She first attempted to muscle Mike Enzi out of his Senate seat leading up to the 2014 elections. But when he refused to roll over, she backed down and settled for Wyoming’s sole seat in the House in 2016.
When Enzi retired in 2020, she flirted with another chance at joining the Senate, but was outmaneuvered by Cynthia Lummis. Still, by then Cheney was on a fast track to House GOP leadership, using her famous name to parachute into the party’s number three position — chair of the House Republican Conference — after only one term. That put her in line to be a future speaker of the House.
But like many other members of the old GOP elite, Trump’s ascendancy was too bitter a pill for her to swallow. While her voting record remained generally conservative, she seized on the Jan. 6 riot to go all in on impeachment and then in trafficking in conspiracy theories about the riot aimed at burning down the party for the sin of letting Trump lead it.
That makes the Wyoming primary more a referendum on the Republican past which she represents than about the relative merits of Cheney or Hageman. Although her family name still counts for something, her claim that she and the remnant of Never Trump allies backing her are the only legitimate standard-bearers for conservative values is not a viable political strategy in Wyoming or anywhere else. GOP voters have long since moved on from the Bushes and their family retainers even as the liberal media is now finally treating the former president and Cheney’s father with some respect, if only as a way to further attack Trump.
That’s why the Cheney re-election campaign is so rooted in the party’s past and her events have taken on the aspect of an ancien regime banquet in which pretenders to a throne lost in the past make-believe that they are about to return to power. They’re in for a rude awakening in August.