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In Wyoming, Will Liz Hold The Upper Hand?

The Week That Is: Sadler and Wilkinson talk the fate of Cheney, fractures in GOP and Trump's attempt to turn Wyoming against her

US Rep. Liz Cheney at an event with then-President Donald Trump in The White House in 2017 (photo
US Rep. Liz Cheney at an event with then-President Donald Trump in The White House in 2017 (photo
Every Monday in “The Week That Is,” journalist and Mountain Journal founder Todd Wilkinson and MoJo’s national Washington DC correspondent Tom Sadler discuss topical events relating to the nation’s capital city and the public land West. This first exchange focuses on the dust-up between US Rep. Liz Cheney, who has a home in the Greater Yellowstone town of Wilson, Wyoming and those loyal to former President Trump.

TODD WILKINSON: Tom, you've spent a lot of years in Washington making trips over to Capitol Hill, first as a staffer to a Republican senator and later as a journalist, also as a citizen testifying on conservation policy and in other roles with various hook and bullet [hunting and fishing] organizations. What do you make of an upstart Congressman from Florida, Rep. Matt Gaetz, known for his blatant  and documented distortions of truth, flying into Cheyenne as a proxy for  Mr. Trump, then telling Wyomingites what they ought to think and vowing to get Liz ousted from House leadership?

TOM SADLER: My first reaction is the gall of that guy. There used to be an eleventh commandment in the Republican Party I belonged to, “Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican.” Now it appears the new credo is thou shall speak ill of anyone that doesn't genuflect to the MAGA dogma.

Here’s the thing that rankles me as an opinion journalist: I resent having to give Gaetz the oxygen of this publication by having to defend Liz Cheney. As distasteful as it is to comment on Gaetz and his ilk, we need to do it in defense of the true patriots like Cheney and her colleagues who defended our government and voted to remove the chief protagonist. Don’t you agree?

US Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida (Photo courtesy Wikipedia)
US Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida (Photo courtesy Wikipedia)
: As a journalist, I’m not going to make personal judgments about either Ms. Cheney or Mr. Gaetz but I must admit it was kind of humorous to read what one of Cheney’s staffers said about Gaetz before he flew into rough and tumble, rugged individualist Wyoming, aka "the Cowboy State." Cheney's spokesperson, obviously making reference to Gaetz’ highly-coiffed, poofed-up hair salon looks, said that “in Wyoming, real men don’t wear make-up.” Normally, that would have been enough to halt an Easterner in his tracks. But Gaetz still showed up and he invited Donald Trump Jr. to call in, encouraging Wyoming voters to primary Cheney out in the next election.

Let me ask you this question: As a result of the civil war brewing in the Republican Party, do you see a new party emerging and, if so, will it happen with moderates making the move, like those who are leading the Lincoln Project, or from the far right wing? And what would be the consequences of that?

SADLER: That’s hard to answer. It could go either way based on what my sources are telling me. Trump made noise about a new party and there is an FEC [Federal Elections Commission] filing for the Patriot Party to benefit a Trump resurgence. Where that goes is yet to be seen.

What I hope is they kick the lunatics, liars and grifters out of the GOP. As Charlie Sykes puts it,“The enemy is not The Lie. The enemy is the person telling you that it is a Lie.” If Republicans don’t repudiate those who traffic in terms like “space lasers” causing California wildfires, “frazzledrip” conspiracies allegedly involving Democrats and pedophile rings, and other obvious falsehoods, where will they draw the line? They need to figure that out and fast.

WILKINSON: Does a fractured GOP create better or worse prospects for conservation and public land issues?  Would anti-public lands, Sagebrush-Rebellion-people like Sen. Mike Lee of Utah have less power?

SADLER: In the best-case scenario it does create a better environment for conservation and public land issues. The best case means the GOP returns to science, personal responsibility, facts and common sense and moves away from the nonsense I mentioned before.

If those Republicans who embrace the conservation principles of Theodore Roosevelt’s and others like our late friend Jim Range can find common group with sensible Democrats, there can be a coalition of the willing to address those issues.

WILKINSON: A “coalition of the willing" sounds great but is that really possible?

SADLER: Look, I don’t agree with all their positions and certainly not with their politics but there is some history of Western Republicans doing good things for conservation and public lands. My days at the Izaak Walton League and the Trust for Public Land showed me that. There are also Eastern senators—all Democrats these days which is a tell in and of itself— with a love for the West and who understand the issues out there. It could be a powerful coalition for good. But they need to have the courage to put country before party like Cheney did. And both parties need to come to grips with their crazies.

WILKINSON: Let’s back up a bit. Does it strike you as odd at all that US Rep. Cheney cozied up to President Trump in the first place? With US Sen. John Barrasso standing at her side in the White House, Trump handed her a pen after he signed an executive order she supported. But Trump earlier insulted her father, former vice president, Wyoming Congressman and defense secretary Dick Cheney about a book Cheney wrote. (View that below. It will say video isn't available but click on "watch this video on youtube).  As we know, Trump also made disparaging and frankly wacky claims about US Sen. Ted Cruz’s father, tying him to the Kennedy assassination. Sen. Cruz condemned Trump but then apparently forgave him.

SADLER: Yes it does. I can only speculate on why she and others stayed in Trump’s orbit. The logical reason is their base demanded it. And I get that. I’ve worked on enough campaigns to understand the need to be flexible in your bedfellows. There is more than a little truth in the adage of it’s better to be at the table then on the menu. Saying that, Cheney and a few others, including US Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, have finally found a line they will not cross.

WILKINSON: You have identified as a Theodore Roosevelt Republican conservationist, and MoJo even profiled the lion’s great grandson, Ted Roosevelt IV, who loves the Greater Yellowstone region. Honestly, can the GOP, such as it is, having moved to shrink national monuments undermining the Antiquities Act, open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and coastal waters to oil drilling, and undercutting environmental laws, really claim that it is still the party of TR, or even, for that matter, Abraham Lincoln?

SADLER: I continue to believe so. There is a new administration with a different view of the items you mention. I think we will see some Republican senators willing to work with them on those types of proposals.

Biden and Harris know the Senate and how to work it. There are GOP senators who are interested in legislating. I think they will be interested in returning to the old days in the Senate and getting stuff done.  We can only hope because it will benefit all Americans. Therein lies the opportunity.

WILKINSON: Somewhat similarly, what are the implications of internecine conflict for Western Congressional Delegations, especially those in the inner West where Republicans are in the majority? 

SADLER: If you are talking Republican on Republican conflicts, we have the test case playing out in Wyoming don’t we? Let’s see what happens to Liz Cheney. That will be a litmus test. If we are talking conflict between parties in a delegation, that is nothing new and public land issues have been a lubricant for agreement historically. Whether we have crossed a political Rubicon remains to be seen. As I said before there is some historic comity, let’s see if it’s still there.

WILKINSON: What people forget is not that long ago, Wyoming voters elected moderate and conservative Democrats, among them Dave Freudenthal, Mike Sullivan, Ed Herschler, and Teno Roncalio, to name a few. But lately as Wyoming has turned beet red, Democrats have been getting trounced in most places outside of Teton County. Do you think a split in the GOP opens up a window of opportunity for Democrats?

SADLER: I don’t know. What do you think?

WILKINSON: A similar thing happened in Montana. I would say it’s possible but Dems have to do a better job connecting with rural voters who feel left behind and affected by job loss due to the collapse of coal and the downturn in oil and gas production exacerbated by Covid in Wyoming. Interestingly, the science of climate change figures into this and we’ll leave that for another day. Final thoughts?

SADLER: I think you’re right—the link between the craziness in the GOP and its denial of science. America will never be able to develop a reasoned approach to confronting climate change if it doesn't have a functioning ethical democracy that puts a premium on truth and is informed by the best available science. We can discuss Ms. Cheney’s positions on the environment another day, but I praise her and other members of her party who stood up. It took guts and it's a real moment of truth for Republicans. 

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