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  • Schuyler Beltrami

The Price of Principle: The Wyoming Primary Election and the Fall of Liz Cheney

On Tuesday, voters in the deep-red state of Wyoming went to the polls to vote in the primary elections for the upcoming general elections in November. Although voter turnout for the primary was much higher than in previous years, the result was never in doubt. Incumbent Representative Liz Cheney, who was one of only a small group of Republicans to turn against former President Trump after the events of January 6th, was going to lose. The only question was by how much. As the votes came in, it was clear just how strong of a hold the former President has on the Republican Party.

Representative Liz Cheney (Photo: NPR)

A Martyr for the Left, a Traitor for the Right

There is probably no more famous last name in the state of Wyoming than Cheney. In 1978, future Vice President Dick Cheney won the lone seat representing Wyoming in the House of Representatives. After a term of 11 years, Cheney would give up his seat to become Secretary of Defense under former President George H.W. Bush, but the Cheney family would hold sway over the politics of America’s least populated state for the next three decades, culminating in the election victory of Cheney’s daughter, Liz, in 2016. One of the most conservative members of the House of Representatives, Liz Cheney represented the model ideal of a small-government, low-tax rural Conservative and enjoyed immense popularity in her state. Although the need for government and the trust in the federal government was always relatively low in Wyoming, Cheney was trusted by her constituents to provide a lifeline to Washington. Until, almost overnight, she lost that trust. After the events of January 6th, Cheney, who had previously been a staunch ally of former President Trump (she voted in favor of his legislation 93% of the time during her tenure in the House), broke swiftly from the former President. She became one of only ten Republicans in the House to vote to impeach the former President after January 6th. Last night, Cheney became the latest of these ten to lose in her primary election. Of these ten House members, only two won their primaries for a chance to be reelected in November. Although Cheney’s national exposure grew as a result of voting to impeach the former President and by becoming the Vice-Chairwoman of the House Special Committee on January 6th, her image in her home state was almost completely destroyed. Labelled as a traitor by many Republican voters in Wyoming, her chances at reelection were reduced to zero; especially after her main opponent, Harriet Hageman, was endorsed by the former President. This endorsement essentially gave the election to Hageman. In the 2020 Presidential election, former President Trump captured nearly 70% of the vote in Wyoming, defeating President Biden by more than 40%. On Tuesday night, the role played by Joe Biden in 2020, was played by Liz Cheney. Garnering only 29% of the vote, Representative Cheney lost to her challenger Hageman by a margin of approximately 38%, with Hageman earning more votes by herself than all the Republican candidates combined in the last primary in 2020. Cheney will remain in her seat until January 2023 when the new session of Congress begins.

“The State’s Voters Have Turned against Her for Multiple Reasons”

As the least populated state in the country, Wyoming very seldom makes it into the national spotlight, but the media coverage around this particular primary was vastly outsized in comparison to the relatively small role Wyoming plays in American politics. Perhaps rightly so, the media and political experts portrayed the Republican primary in Wyoming as a true showing of just how strong of a grasp former President Trump has on the Republican Party. Despite being out of office, he had turned a member of Congress that was highly popular and came from a powerful political family into someone who a majority of her former voters now considered a traitor to her party and the former President. To understand the feelings of voters on the ground in Wyoming, the Millennial Agora spoke to one Wyoming resident who gave his thoughts on the situation. “I am not surprised that the state’s voters have turned against her for multiple reasons” he said, in response to our question if the shift in voter attitudes towards Cheney was unexpected. “Wyoming is the most conservative state in the nation. Cheney is commonly perceived as a traitor due to her move aligning with the Democrats, and her stance is commonly viewed as a politically-biased move against Trump”. This move against Trump, who this particular resident described as “very popular” in Wyoming, is seen as being the main catalyst for Cheney’s downfall in Wyoming. Many political experts both within the state of Wyoming and outside of the state considered it a mistake on the part of Liz Cheney to center her entire campaign on the events of January 6th and the danger which the former President could present to the state of American democracy. Polling data suggests that only 13% of Wyoming voters considered January 6th to be the most important topic in this year’s elections. Speaking about the opinions around January 6th in Wyoming, this resident of Wyoming said that “Most people here (based on my experiences) believe January 6 was nothing more than a highly emotional group of people acting unruly and breaking the law. I don't know anyone who thinks it was even a possibility that a group of people would be able to overthrow the U.S. election results via force. I have spoken with many who all agree that the actions of the group are unacceptable, and whoever broke the law should face the consequences. Most people here believe January 6 is being turned into something more than what I just explained simply as a political move by the Democrats.”

Between a seemingly misguided focus on a certain event, which was unimportant for most voters, and a crucial endorsement from the former President for her opponent, the downfall of Liz Cheney was easy to predict. Despite her primary defeat she will remain as Vice-Chairwoman of the House Select Committee on January 6th until January 2023 and some political experts believe that Cheney may try to run for President in 2024, a situation which may bring her in direct contact with the former President who is almost ensured to run again. Although the result of the primary on Tuesday in Wyoming was known weeks in advance, the consequences of this primary, along with others in which anti-Trump Republicans were contesting for reelection, will permeate through the Republican Party and American politics for months and even years to come. Despite being out of office and losing control of the Executive and Legislative branches, the control that former President Trump still wields inside of the GOP ensures that for any future Republican hopefuls vying for political office, it is far better to be an ally of Trump’s than an enemy.

The Millennial Agora would like to thank the Wyoming resident, who, on the condition of anonymity, agreed to an interview and offered valuable insight for this article.

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