The far-right media has become very interested in Wyoming politics, but only because it smells blood.
Liz Cheney’s blood, to be precise.
But I’d caution anyone who thinks it’s time to write Cheney’s political obituary that there’s much yet to unfold before the state’s GOP voters go to the polls a year from now.
Can a three-term Wyoming congresswoman who has taken a principled stand against a disgraced former president to uphold American democracy return to the U.S. House?
I don’t see why not. Cheney has money and the support of her party’s traditional establishment.
It’s not the scenario faux-news outlets like Breitbart, NewsMax and other Donald Trump allies predict. They see Wyoming voters as sheep who will automatically choose Trump’s hand-picked candidate, thereby crushing Cheney.
Recently, Trump released this statement: “The easiest way to defeat deplorable Liz Cheney is by having only ONE conservative candidate run and WIN! Wyoming patriots will no longer stand for Nancy Pelosi and her new lapdog RINO Liz Cheney.”
No one doubts that Cheney’s vote to impeach Trump, combined with her decision to join the House panel investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection he incited, will cost her some votes.
But Cheney’s fundraising haul of $3.1 million in just the first half of 2021 is her personal best. She has more than five times the cash on hand as all of her competitors combined.
The top three are State Sen. Anthony Bouchard of Cheyenne, State Rep. Chuck Gray of Casper and Cheyenne attorney Darin Smith. Gray’s top donor is, well, Gray. The right-wing broadcaster raised $220,000 in the second quarter, but $165,000 came from loans he made to his campaign.
I don’t know how much Gray spent to hire John McLaughlin and Associates, but he’s getting a lot of mileage from the move. The firm is Trump’s favorite, since it only fed him positive (but inaccurate) projections about his re-election chances.
McLaughlin claims Cheney can’t muster more than 23% Republican support in the state if the large field doesn’t dwindle. The firm admits, however, that 23% would be good enough to win her the nomination if none of the challengers drop out. The pollster says in a three-way, Cheney-Gray-Smith contest, the incumbent would lose to Gray by three percentage points.
But it’s in the head-to-head match-ups that Gray supposedly sparkles. McLaughlin has him beating Cheney, 63% to 24%. Smith would also win such a contest, albeit by a tighter margin.
This dream scenario for Gray concocted by his pollster ignores an important factor. What happened to Bouchard?
The Washington Examiner justifies dropping the current challenger fundraising leader with this assessment: “Bouchard is said to be out of the running for a Trump endorsement since he admitted to sex with a 14-year-old girl when he was 18.”
That fits the extreme right’s narrative: Bouchard can’t win because Trump is going to pick Gray, and everyone else must fade into the sunset.
But Bouchard is attacking Cheney like a pit bull that hasn’t been fed for a week. He’s not leaving.
Many on the far right are quaking in their boots about what the House committee probing the Jan. 6 Capitol crimes will find. Cheney will have her own bully pulpit from which to castigate her tormentor-in-chief for siccing the mob on the People’s House.
“If those responsible are not held accountable, and if Congress does not act responsibly,” she noted in her opening remarks, “this will remain a cancer on our constitutional republic, undermining the peaceful transfer of power at the heart of our democratic system.
“We must also know what happened every minute of that day in the White House — every phone call, every conversation, every meeting leading up to, during and after the attack,” Cheney added. “Honorable men and women have an obligation to step forward.”
Some Wyoming Republicans will likely conclude that Cheney’s impeachment vote was right all along.
I wonder if someone should tell Trump that Gray is spending his own money on this campaign.
Trump shook down the special interests to pay for his presidential ambitions, and I trust he’d brand any candidate who bankrolls their own run a “loser.”
So how could he endorse a loser? Well, Trump did it in last week’s U.S. House special election in Texas, in which his chosen candidate lost the GOP primary by six percentage points.
But if you ask him, no one really loses if they have Trump in their corner.
“This is the only race we’ve ... this is not a loss, again, I don’t want to claim it is a loss; this was a win,” Trump said after the loss. “The big thing is, we had two very good people running that were both Republicans. That was the win.”
Gray isn’t a lock for Trump’s endorsement. But if he gets it, I hope it’s a comfort for the candidate that even if he spends his own dough, but loses his party’s nomination, the guy who handpicked him will still declare victory. Or maybe, when Cheney embarrasses him once again, he’ll just claim the election was stolen.