Kerry Drake FILE

Drake

This is how bizarre Wyoming politics are these days: I’m a Democrat defending an uber-conservative Republican who’s been condemned by her law-and-order-loving party-mates for voting to impeach a president who, in a deranged attempt to overthrow a lawful American election, incited a deadly insurrection at the Capitol.

Surreal. Since when is defending the Constitution and the rule of law unpatriotic?

Sure, the party apparatchiks voted to no longer recognize U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney as a member of the GOP, but I simply refuse to believe that a majority of rank-and-file Wyoming Republicans think she should be thrown out of office.

I’ve been interviewed by journalists from Washington, D.C., to Switzerland who are fascinated by Wyoming’s odd political climate. Most want to write Cheney’s political obituary, believing the fact Donald Trump hand-picked Cheyenne attorney Harriet Hageman to oppose her is game, set, match. They’ve asked me why Cheney hasn’t dropped out of the race.

Hageman, who finished third in the 2018 gubernatorial GOP primary, isn’t exactly a political powerhouse. A former friend of Cheney who shares most of her conservative views, she opposed Trump’s nomination at the 2016 Republican National Convention.

Anyone who listened to Cheney as Congress marked the first anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack should know she’s committed to making sure Trump will not get away with what she calls his “dereliction of duty.” She is using her position as co-chair of the House committee investigating the riot to show the nation – and Wyoming voters – that Trump’s lies about Democrats stealing the election came dangerously close to unraveling our democratic republic.

His cult following still fervently believes the Big Lie.

Cheney told ABC News, “Any man who would provoke a violent assault on the Capitol to stop the counting of electoral votes, any man who would watch television as police officers were being beaten, as his supporters were invading the Capitol of the United States, is clearly unfit for future office, clearly can never be anywhere near the Oval Office ever again.”

Does that sound like someone who won’t fight like hell to stay in office? She’s relishing this role as truth-teller, to try to bring her party back to reality.

For the most part, Cheney has ignored her detractors, despite their control of the state party. Last week, she called them “radicals” and noted Chairman Frank Eathorne has “toyed with the idea of [state] secession.”

This is a state party that’s been way out of control for several years. Anyone who won’t toe its extreme-right line is lambasted as a “Republican in name only.” Many state lawmakers are in their crosshairs for failing to do as they’re told.

I’ve never seen a political party at war with at least half its members. Why do voters put up with it?

Political pundits in the D.C. beltway have taken notice that Cheney is banking on a “silent majority” within the party’s ranks. “Her backers say the bark of Ms. Cheney’s most vocal Republican critics in the state is worse than their bite, insisting the rabble-rousers in the party are out of sync with the sentiment of most Wyoming residents,” wrote the Washington Times.

The paper talked to former state lawmaker Amy Edmonds. “They are loud, and they are ugly,” she said. “They are a minority, though. That is definitely not Wyoming.”

The way Wyoming GOP officials have treated Cheney is disgraceful. So is the lack of any public support from Sens. John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis.

I keep expecting Cheney’s Republican supporters to break their silence about her principled stand against Trump’s reprehensible actions. He nearly thrust the nation into a constitutional crisis.

Any foe of Trump is a Democratic ally, but most members of my party I’ve talked to feel compelled to point out that while they can’t stand anything else she’s done, they admire her for what she’s doing about Trump.

At first, those words kind of stick in your throat, but I’ve gotten past it. There’s absolutely no need to hedge when you’re supporting someone who’s speaking truth to power.

Because voters can change parties at the polls on primary election day, Democrats who cross over can significantly impact the Republican nomination. However, that could motivate Trump supporters to show up in droves.

Is there a path for Cheney to win her primary and cruise to a fourth term in a state that gave Trump 70% of the vote in 2020? Of course there is.

First, that silent majority of Republicans, if it indeed exists, must actually vote.

The House’s Jan. 6 committee will afford Cheney unmatched opportunities to toss some high-profile bombshells. In Wyoming politics, though, indicting Trump could actually win him more votes.

“We can either be loyal to our Constitution or loyal to Donald Trump, but we cannot be both,” Cheney told ABC News. “And the nation needs a Republican Party that is based on substance and values and principles. … Fundamentally, at the end of the day, we cannot be a party based on lies.”

As a future Republican for a day, I couldn’t agree more.

The Drake’s Take is a weekly column by veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake, and produced by WyoFile.com, a nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.

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