By Leo Wolfson, political reporter
The emotional weight of the moment was too much for U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, breaking into tears as standing ovations rang down from the audience at the groundbreaking of The Mineta-Simpson Institute at Heart Mountain Interpretive Center in Powell Saturday.
Among those clapping longest was her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney. Mr. Cheney is rarely seen in public, and former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson said it was even more remarkable to see him there without a face mask, as the elder Cheney has a compromised immune system.
“It was very special for him to do this,” Simpson said.
His daughter is currently engaged in a vitriolic U.S. House race, with both she and her frontrunner opponent Harriet Hageman attacking each other over loyalty, or lack thereof, to former President Donald Trump.
Due to security concerns, the congresswoman has rarely campaigned in the state, and when she has, it has been so with little to no public notice ahead of time or after. When she has appeared, it has been with a noticeable security detail nearby.
Her current race has shattered Wyoming political records for financial contributions and spending, with outside sources pouring funds into one of the most high-profile races in the country. To many, the race symbolizes a litmus test on Trump and his influence in the Republican Party today.
“I think that Donald Trump has preyed on people’s patriotism,” Cheney told Cowboy State Daily. “I think he’s betrayed millions of people.”
A Political Life
Liz Cheney followed her father into politics. On Saturday, she told the story of her first political foray, assisting with her father and Simpson’s Congressional and Senate campaigns in 1978.
“Al (Simpson) and my Dad had a road show, which we could, by the end, tell you every single line by heart, not that they repeated themselves, but a little bit,” Cheney said with a chuckle to the audience.
Many have criticized Cheney for being a “carpetbagger” and not a true Wyoming native.
Cheney was born in Madison, Wis. on July 28, 1966.
Although her family has roots in Wyoming dating back to 1852, she spent time off and on during her childhood out of state, before eventually graduating high school in Virginia. She would later earn a Bachelor’s degree from Colorado College and attend law school in Illinois.
Cheney later worked as an attorney in Washington, D.C., and then at the State Department in two separate stints.
In 1993, Cheney married Phillip Perry, who attended Colorado College with her at the same time. Perry would later go on to serve in President George W. Bush’s administration, like his wife. The couple have five children.
Following her father and President George W. Bush’s reelection win, Cheney was named Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State For Near Eastern Affairs. In this role, Cheney was accused of meddling in foreign affairs through her Iran Syria Policy and Operations Group.
New Wyoming Focus
According to the Casper Star Tribune, during a 2013 press conference announcing her short-lived Senate campaign against the late Mike Enzi, Cheney said it was time to make way for a new generation that will “stand and fight.”
Enzi told the New York Times at the time that he had not been informed by Cheney or her father she planned to run.
“I thought we were friends,” he said.
During this race, Cheney caught attention for a series of mistakes including residency issues related to her fishing license application and opposing same-sex marriage. This position caused a split in her family at the time, as Cheney’s sister, Mary Cheney, is married to a woman.
Cheney dropped out of that race but found a more favorable political opening when she ran for Congress in 2016, filling the seat of former U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis, who stepped down. This 2016 race was her most competitive to date, yet she won the Republican party primary by 17% of the vote.
Her current race will likely be the most competitive she has faced.
During her first two terms in office, Cheney was widely considered one of the most conservative politicians in the country, voting with Trump more than 92% of the time.
One of the few areas of difference between the two was foreign policy, with Cheney showing a much more hawkish, interventionist streak. When Trump pulled U.S. troops out of Syria ahead of Turkey’s planned incursion in 2019, Cheney blasted him for the decision.
“Withdrawing U.S. forces from northern Syria is a catastrophic mistake that puts our gains against ISIS at risk and threatens America’s national security,” she said at the time.
But at that moment, this rebuke was a rare departure from unflinching support.
That was until Nov. 3, 2020, when Trump started levying his claims the election had been stolen. Cheney issued a few statements against this, including one encouraging the President to pursue the courts to prove his evidence and respect “the sanctity of our electoral process.”
After those efforts failed for Trump, Cheney made it clear she felt he had lost the election.
Her rhetoric against the former president took a heightened level following the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riot.
“By summoning people to Washington (D.C.) and then sending a mob that was armed that he knew was armed to the Capitol, he really did take people’s patriotism and turn it into a weapon,” Cheney said. “It’s really indefensible that any American would do that, but that a president would do that.”
Cheney said she often thinks about how that day and her role on the ensuing Jan. 6 Committee will teach her children and grandchildren’s generation the importance of a peaceful transition of power.
“A president of the United States cannot be allowed to attempt to overturn an election,” she said, “can’t be allowed to attempt to stay in power when he’s lost the election. Can’t be allowed to blow through all the guardrails of democracy.”
It was after the Jan. 6 event, Cheney cast her first vote of impeachment for Trump. This action and her refusal to soft-pedal her rhetoric about Trump in the following months, led to her dismissal from her No. 3 leadership role in the House Republican Caucus, censure from the Wyoming Republican Party and Republican National Committee.
Cheney never wavered in her criticism despite these demotions, and she continued to speak out as she took on the role of vice chair of the Jan. 6 Committee.
“There were constant, continuous decisions to be made about whether I would put party and partisanship ahead of my duty to the Constitution,” Cheney said. “Ultimately, there’s not really a choice because the most important thing is obviously the Republic and the Constitution.”
Cheney took the lead role in the final hearing of the summer in late July.
“We on this committee know we have a solemn obligation not to idly squander what so many Americans have fought and died for,” Cheney said during the closing statements of the July 21 hearing.
Her bid for a fourth term has been a highly unusual reelection campaign in a number of different ways.
No public notice was given that Cheney would be attending Saturday’s groundbreaking and a campaign staffer at the event would not say what her plans were for the rest of the weekend, although it was later confirmed she held a private meet and greet in Cody.
Aside from Trump, Cheney and Hageman do not differ significantly politically.
Still, Hageman has accused Cheney of betraying Wyoming residents, using Cheney as the apex of public frustration in Hagemen’s “Fed Up” speech that she has given at multiple events.
“We’re fed up with inflation and we’re fed up with Liz Cheney,” Hageman said to a raucous cheer at a May rally she held with Trump in Casper.
Cheney’s opposition to Trump has landed her in ill repute with many Wyoming Republicans. During a spring 2021 rally in Rock Springs, she was greeted by protestors holding signs calling her a “traitor.” A recent Casper Star Tribune poll has her trailing Hageman by 22 points.
Hageman has become the darling child among the populist faction of the State GOP, with the party sending out emails last week, accusing “Cheney and her cronies (AKA the Washington swamp)” of “trying to infiltrate our Wyoming Republican Party.”
This was in reference to efforts Cheney has made to encourage Democrats to crossover and register as Republicans to vote for her.
Political parties typically don’t endorse candidates during the primary election but Party Chairman Frank Eathorne spoke at the Trump rally in May, a major fundraiser for the Hageman campaign.
Eathorne was photographed on the outer periphery of the Capitol riot. Days later he said Wyoming should consider seceding from the Union.
“Those are unacceptable, dangerous views that are toxic to our political system,” Cheney said. “There are many, many people across our state, who are Republicans, who don’t want to be represented by those viewpoints in that perspective.”
When the audience gave Cheney ovations on Saturday, it was a rare moment of unbridled public support in Wyoming. Cheney said she has received communications of support from residents on a more private basis and believes an increasing number in the Republican Party share her views.
“The emotion and the gratitude from people around the state, people recognize and understand the threat we have faced,” she said. “The experience of having people stand up and say, ‘thank you for standing up for the Constitution,’ is one that is unique in many ways to this period. It’s very moving and I’m honored to be able to represent the people of Wyoming and to stand up for our Constitution.”
Although she has made new enemies in Wyoming since 2020, Cheney’s actions have also brought her the national spotlight and no shortage of media attention. Residents from California and Virginia alone have given her more than $2 million, compared to the $308,628 she has received from Wyoming residents. Cheney has raised $13.06 million in total and spent $6.2 million, leaving her with $6.9 million in cash on-hand.
The Aug. 16 primary however, is limited to Wyoming voters.
Cheney has not ruled out a run for president in 2024, an endeavor any money she has left over after the primary would help.
Cheney has remained a staunch conservative during her third term, but over the past few months has drifted closer to the political center, issuing a vote of support for gun control legislation and the Respect for Marriage Act that would codify same-sex marriage in America, a reversal from her 2013 stance.
Cheney said she didn’t see the latter vote as a moment of redemption with her sister, but rather, “the right thing to do.”
“I think it’s very important that in the wake of Justice (Clarence) Thomas’ opinion, in the most recent Supreme Court case, which raised the prospect that we could see the Constitutional protections for gay marriage be overturned,” she said. “I felt it was very important that we make sure we were going to codify those protections.”