In 2007, in this blue bastion of one of the reddest states in the country, liberal activists wheeled a giant statue of Dick Cheney through town to protest his star role in the Iraq War — before toppling it, Saddam Hussein style, for good measure.
Fifteen years later, his daughter Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) is turning to the same rare species in Wyoming — Democrats — to save her House seat. And Trumpist Republicans are doing everything in their power to thwart her.
The turnabout for Cheney — one of the more unlikely twists in Republican politics in recent years, in a party that’s had no shortage of them — will come into sharp relief next week at a gathering at Jackson’s Center for the Arts. Cheney will speak on a bipartisan panel about defending elections, addressing what should be a welcoming audience amid her running battle with former President Donald Trump over the Jan. 6 sacking of the Capitol.
What Cheney doesn’t know — until now — is that a band of Trump-loving Republicans will be on hand to greet her. They snapped up roughly a quarter of the 350 tickets, at $10 apiece, to give the embattled congresswoman a piece of their minds.
“I was here when the … Democrats dragged her father’s effigy down a village road behind a truck at one of their rallies, and those are the people who are supporting her now, that she’s embraced,” an angry Rebecca Cloetta, 66, said over breakfast at a greasy spoon called the Virginian.
“Can you believe it? Charging for a ticket! It’s a slap in the face,” said Rebecca Bextel, 41, another Trump-backing Republican planning to attend the voting event. “We have one person representing us” — Wyoming has a single House member — “and she shows up in town and it costs $10 to see her. It’s embarrassing.
“She is not,” Bextel vowed, “going to get reelected.”
Bextel may well be correct. Though there’s been scant public polling of her primary campaign against Trump-backed Harriet Hageman, it’s apparent that Republicans in Wyoming — which voted for Trump over Joe Biden, 70 to 27 percent, in 2020 — have turned against Cheney en masse since Jan. 6, 2021.
Just as obvious is that Cheney needs Democrats and independents to change their party registration and cast their vote for her in the Aug. 16 primary. Her campaign is loath to talk strategy publicly, but the math doesn’t lie — and neither do Cheney’s actions on the ground here in recent months.
She has shunned town halls and other voter forums in Wyoming’s overwhelmingly red counties in favor of controlled events. At the March 22 event, which is being hosted by Issue One, a bipartisan organization that advocates for “sweeping reforms to fix our broken political system,” Cheney will answer pre-selected questions.
When Cheney was censured by the state Republican Party in February 2021, three of the eight votes against the move were by officials from Teton County, which encompasses Jackson. The dissenters included Mary Martin, now the county’s GOP chair.
Since then, however, Martin has soured on Cheney. She said the congresswoman is rarely in the state, despite having been urged to explain why she voted to impeach Trump.
“She was absolutely invited to come and present what her facts were, to defend why you are doing this and instead she opted to call the Republicans radicals, which has made people upset within the party,” Martin said from the Jackson mansion of Nancy Donovan, a prominent Republican donor in Wyoming.
“She’s not in the state, she has not been anywhere, maybe one or two places,” Donovan echoed. “She doesn’t show up … she’s very entitled. Her parents have events at their house, I’ve spent money to go to her house to fund her. … I truly will never vote for her again.” Donovan and Bextel are both members of Hageman’s grassroots leadership team.
Martin went further, calling Cheney’s work on the Jan. 6 committee “duplicity.”
“She’s been MIA since Jan. 6. And what we all truly believe is that the Wyoming seat is a stepping stone to running for president in 2024 and she needs to get Trump out of the way. And to raise money, she’s using the anti-Trump commentary,” Martin speculated.
Cheney declined to be interviewed for this story. But she told The New York Times last month that she will not openly court Democrats by supporting a “Democrats for Cheney” group or encourage an existing political action committee, dubbed “Switch for Wyoming,” that encourages Democrats to vote in Republican primaries.
Without an aggressive campaign strategy to win over Democrats, it might seem like a tough sell: Cheney, after all, voted with Trump 93 percent of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight. But some Democratic voters in Jackson are embracing her. They appreciate Cheney’s work in Congress prosecuting Trump and they’re ready to switch parties to vote for her.
Even if they’re not ready to admit it publicly.
“I think her politics are crap, but I like how much hate she gets from the people of Wyoming,” said a 27-year-old event planner who will register as a Republican for the first time to vote for Cheney. He asked not to be named because “it’s a small town.”
“There are a lot of things about her that don’t appeal to me as a gay man,” he said. “She was not supportive of her sister until it came out in the news, and that is a big red flag. … At the same time, it’s Wyoming, a population of 500,000. Every vote counts.” Wyoming’s population is just under 579,000, according to U.S. Census figures.
Pete Jenkins, 54, a contractor who’s lived in Wyoming for three decades, said he identifies personally as a Democrat — he did not vote for Trump in 2016 or 2020 — but is registered as a Republican just to have some influence in Wyoming politics. He said he intends to vote for Cheney — and has heard from lots of other Democrats planning to do the same.
“I think it’s a fairly popular thing,” he said of the party-switchers-for-Cheney movement.
Cheney needs as many of them as she can get.
Wyoming political strategists say the only path to victory for Cheney is with the help of Democrats and independents. The state’s 2018 Republican primary for an open governor’s seat is instructive. Mark Gordon, the GOP state treasurer at the time, was facing stiff competition from the right. More than 10,000 voters switched parties or registered as Republicans for the first time between the primary and general elections.
Gordon won the primary by 9,000 votes against candidates that included Hageman. Turnout was 116,000 and Gordon received just shy of 39,000 votes.