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A Storm Front Moves Into Red State Wyoming
September 14, 2021
A Storm Front Moves Into Red State Wyoming
Liz Cheney says she is fighting for truth and country but why do facts often evade her when it comes to honest discourse about environmental issues? That's a topic for MoJo's The Week That Is
by Tom Sadler and Todd Wilkinson
In a state like Wyoming, Democrats for now are almost irrelevant when it comes to the governorship, having influence in the legislature and deciding who the state sends to Capitol Hill. It’s ironic that the Grand Old Party doesn’t need any challengers from the other side of the aisle; seismic fracture lines are threatening to tear apart not only party solidarity, but political alliances and friendships on the verge of turning bitter.
Donald Trump is causing the kind of upheaval in Wyoming's once implacable GOP that Democrats in the state could only dream of.
In this week’s installment of The Week That Is, Mountain Journal founder Todd Wilkinson and Tom Sadler, who self-identifies as a lifelong Republican, hunter, angler, fiscal conservative and MoJo Capitol Hill correspondent, discuss Wyoming’s nightmarish predicament. They also discuss the fact that being a crusader for truth, justice and the American way ought to be more than situational.
TODD WILKINSON: You alluded to it in August, Tom, that following Labor Day you wanted to discuss the ongoing challenges facing US Rep. Liz Cheney coming from members of her own party. The Republican Primary is about a year away and it is likely to be a rhetorically turbulent time ahead.
TOM SADLER: Yes, I think Cheney and her political situation are shining a spotlight on a big problem for not only the Republican party but for our country.
TW: As a lifelong hook and bullet Republican, your head must be spinning.
SADLER: Spinning, for sure and party vertigo as well, and some profoundly serious head shaking.
TW: Speaking of where we are as a country, I just read that a rally is being planned this month to support those jailed for violently storming their way into the US Capitol. And just this week, a Republican challenger to incumbent Liz Cheney wrote a blog that he thought Anthony Fauci should be executed. On top of it, former President Trump just gave his endorsement to a different Cheney challenger. Things just keep getting weirder every day. What do you make of it?
SADLER: Here’s the thing, rallies like that are performative outrage. The seditious assault on the Capitol was perpetuated by the big lie from the former president and his sycophants that the election was stolen, despite all evidence then and now to the contrary. The clowns who stage these rallies are a) taking advantage of the gullible for financial reason or b) they are delusional. It is emblematic of the political times we live in and it’s getting more dangerous by the minute. The whole anti-vaccination, anti-mask thing is following a similar path and folks are needlessly dying because of it.
TW: You are a Republican commenting on your own party. So let’s return to Liz Cheney. Whoever could have thought that loyalists to former Trump in Wyoming would wage a campaign to primary out Cheney by backing candidates whose beliefs are much further to the right than her own?
SADLER: More performative bs from the former guy in charge and his band of grifters. What we are seeing there and in other states is grifters convincing crack pots to run for office. They wave a Trump endorsement like it is some kind of magic potion. Cheney will have a race, but I think she will win. If she doesn’t then I feel sorry for Wyoming.
By the way, I know that Mountain Journal is not and does not aspire to be a political magazine. So let’s turn this back to the fact that Cheney has a connection to Greater Yellowstone.
TW: Yes, thanks for noting that. Cheney has a residence in the tiny town of Wilson located in Jackson Hole at the foot of the Tetons. I once lived in Wilson. I should note it was full of great people long before Ms. Cheney called it home. But it’s changing with an inundation of new people. By the way, Ms. Cheney’s parents, former Vice President Dick Cheney and Lynne Cheney, have a house a bit north of there in a gated golf course community known as Teton Pines.
SADLER: That’s surprising. Beside the connection to Jackson Hole, what else?
TW: Maybe some more context. Dick Cheney, as many know, served as Defense Secretary under President George H W Bush and was a Congressman from Wyoming prior to that. Back in the 1980s I interviewed him in Jackson Hole when I was a young journalist there and he’d make trips back to the state. It’s worth adding, as a topical anecdote, that his spokesman then was Pete Williams, a newsman from Wyoming, who today covers the US Supreme Court and other aspects of intrigue relating to the federal government for NBC News.
SADLER: I like Williams, I didn’t know he was from Wyoming.
TW: In many ways it’s ironic that Congresswoman Cheney has taken great pleasure in battling environmentalists, yet she has a strong affinity for Jackson Hole whose aesthetic charm is a product of environmentalists who fought for protection of wildlife and natural landscapes. Nature-tourism, in fact, is one of the most reliable economic juggernauts in the state.
SADLER: That area, as I recall, is not a bastion of conservative politics. Has choosing Jackson Hole as a residence affected her standing?
TW: In many ways, the Cheney family, now with two generations having achieved prominent roles in national politics, has rarefied stature across Wyoming. At least they used to—before the Trump era. In Jackson Hole, the response to them is mixed. The Cheneys are, as one would expect, treated like royalty by many conservatives in Jackson Hole but with the valley also holding the most progressive liberal voting population in Wyoming, the adoration of them is not universal. You have identified as a lifelong Republican, Tom, and worked for a US senator from New England. What’s your take on the clan?
Liz Cheney gets a hug from her dad, Dick Cheney, on the day she won the Wyoming GOP primary in 2016 for the House seat she currently holds and which was once held by her dad.
SADLER: When I came to DC, Dick Cheney was, as you noted, a Representative from Wyoming. I knew he was a fly fisherman and Wyoming was a favorite fishing destination for me, so that was something that interested me about him. I didn’t have a lot of interaction with him or his staff. While he was in Congress, I wasn’t working on things that would bring me into his orbit. In later years I worked with some members of the Wyoming congressional delegation, folks like Senators Al Simpson, Malcolm Wallop and Craig Thomas. I appreciated what they stood for even if I didn’t always agree with them. I considered Dick Cheney a cut from the same cloth and feel the same about Liz Cheney.
TW: So, let me cut to the chase and ask you: What do you think of Congresswoman Cheney making a “last stand” within her party. She is holding President Trump and his devotees to account for the events of January 6. And in a case of strange bedfellows, she’s become a darling of the Democrats.
SADLER: I’m not sure I would go so far as say she in the darling of the Democrats, but she is greatly appreciated by former Republicans like me when she stands up to the insurrectionists. This doesn’t appear to be a political ploy for her. She is putting country first and perhaps her political future on the line with her actions. She is not backing away from this fight and is now the Vice Chair of the U.S. House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol. I think she sees this as an existential threat to our form of government. That may seem alarmist but if the actions by the insurrectionists and their enablers don’t scare the heck out of you then you aren’t paying attention.
TW: The problem is that the congresswoman hasn’t been a purist in pursuit of the truth.
SADLER: You have a somewhat different view of Cheney. What is it?
TW: Obviously, if Cheney survives this inter-party challenge, and if the country survives attempts by Trump to topple many of the pillars of our democracy, I think she will be referenced as one of the heroic figures in US history. What’s your take?
SADLER: No doubt, she has earned her place in history for doing the right thing. I think she sees the grave threat to our form of government. But your concern about Cheney and her stated desire for “the truth” goes further.
TW: It’s her lack of consistency, is all. As journalists, and as an environmental journalist, the pursuit of truth with politicians isn’t something we approach as an ala cart proposition. Truth isn’t situational or opportunistic. Reporters are not taught to hold politicians accountable on some facts, and on some issues, but give them a free pass on others.
SADLER: Do you think that happened with Cheney?
TW: Her support for a bi-partisan commission to investigate who planned the US Capitol invasion is obviously important. She’s been less than honest on environmental issues—things that figure prominently in the well-being of Greater Yellowstone
SADLER: Less than honest, how so?
TW: Climate change and wolves, for starters.
SADLER: Let’s start with climate change.
TW: Congresswoman Cheney has stated publicly that the evidence of human-caused climate change is based on “junk science.” That’s obviously a gross and deliberate misrepresentation of the fact-based truth and other accumulating evidence. The National Academies of Sciences, which is a vetting entity on legitimate vs. illegitimate science, does not pedal in junk science, as opposed to some scientists who have taken a lot of money from the fossil fuel industry to sow distrust about science.
SADLER: I can’t and won’t defend that but she’s not the first politician who makes statements that are politically motivated. Should we be surprised when she takes that skeptical position given, she’s from Wyoming, the largest coal-producing state in the country? I’m not saying that it’s ok, but consistency isn’t a common trait in politicians these days. Worse, hypocrisy is becoming consistent attribute. That’s alarming.
TW: But isn’t creating alternative, unsubstantiated realities when it comes to scientific truth part of the reason we’re in this mess? About climate change? Vaccines? Gray wolves? Congresswoman Cheney and her own party?
SADLER: Indeed it has. And hopefully elected officials will understand the difference and start behaving in a more responsible manner. The beast no longer slouches towards Bethlehem, it is running. It is past time for the Republicans in Congress to start acting like serious people.
TW: Tom, let me ask you a parallel question.
TW: You live in Virginia which along with Kentucky and North Carolina have been leading tobacco-growing states. Elected officials there for decades denied the connection between smoking and lung cancer. Those elected officials sided with tobacco growers and cigarette manufacturers that supported their election and waged campaigns to discredit scientists all the while that their smoking constituents were dying from cancer. Is that being morally and ethically responsible to those whom you represent?
SADLER: Nope, no way. One of the challenges with being a politician and wanting to get elected/re-elected is the money game. But let’s leave that for another day. I so see the parallel between coal and climate change and tobacco and cancer. You also mentioned wolves. That was a hard-hitting nature cartoon in MoJo by John Potter (below).
TW: It’s not only Congresswoman Cheney but members of the Congressional Delegations of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, as well as some governors, who claim wolves have decimated big game herds and represent a major threat to the ranching way of life—and, based on an examination of facts, it’s just not true. Facts do not support those generalizations. I address this issue in a new story about the impacts of what new anti-wolf laws mean for wolves moving from Yellowstone into Montana.
SADLER: Yeah, wolves are a third rail issue out there. I fear that discussion will follow the same tribal politics and performative outrage paths that the bs about the election, vaccinations and masks are on.
TW: If politicians from both parties committed themselves to telling the truth, to provide leadership by insisting on facts, we’d probably be able to solve a lot more serious problems facing the country.
SADLER: That’s right. Cheney and Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) are stellar examples when it comes to January 6, but that attitude needs to apply for everything. Our elected officials need to be able to separate politics from policy and put country before party.
TW: The same kind of illogical thinking that Congresswoman Cheney has used to undermine public confidence in science with climate change is now being used against her. Of course, warping of the truth is not limited to the GOP.
SADLER: At this point I’m willing to be supportive of her, given her stand against the insurrectionists in the Republican Party. But that doesn’t mean I will turn a blind eye to inconsistently applying truth or hypocrisy.
TW: What’s the end game for not only the Trump loyalists but for people like Congresswoman Cheney who is doing exactly what citizens hope she would do. She’s kind of like the Jimmy Stewart character in the Frank Capra film, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. Another quick fun anecdote. The movie was based on an unpublished story titled "The Gentleman from Montana" and which was reportedly inspired by events in the career of US Sen. Burton K. Wheeler of Montana.
SADLER: I’ve begun to wonder what the politics of the future looks like. Both parties are being held hostage to their more radical wings and a growing lack of space exists for folks who want responsible solutions to the growing issues facing not only the ecosystem and the country, but the planet.
TW: How does it end?
SADLER: There are groups beginning to call bs on the radical wings, nut cases and grifters but it is going to be a tough slog. I don’t think anyone believes Liz Cheney is timid and will roll over.
"As far as I’m concerned, the situation has gone from horrendous to cataclysmic. To quote Fred Thompson, the late former Republican Senator from Tennessee who went on to play an Admiral in the movie The Hunt for Red October, “This business will get out of control. It will get out of control, and we will be lucky to live through it.'” —Sadler
TW: You are in the nation’s capital. Is there talk of a third party being formed by members of the GOP that would return it to the values of Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan?
SADLER: History has not been kind to third parties. While I don’t want to predict the future, the answer to break the strangle hold the radicals in both parties have on their respective parties, is to field candidates that appeal to a block of voters rather than a party. You need to field candidates that can pull votes from both parties. The logistics and mechanics of doing that are pretty complicated to make that work and in some, if not many distracts the rules may be too big a hurdle.
TW: Do GOP moderates from the West —people like former Montana Gov. Marc Racicot, former US Sen. Alan Simpson and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman—have play in trying to bring the party back to center?
SADLER: I truly hope so.
TW: I don’t make predictions but I’d like you to. Do you really think Liz Cheney will prevail in Wyoming’s Republican Primary next year and get re-elected?
SADLER: Yes, I have faith that the good people of Wyoming will use their heads, recognize her value as a defender of the constitution and return her to Washington.
Top: Trump and Lummis. Just above: U.S. Sens. from Wyoming Cynthia Lummis and John Barrasso—two-thirds of Woming's Congressional Delegation, pose with constituents at a meet and greet in Washington D.C. The looming question is: Will Lummis and Barrasso back incumbent Cheney in next year's GOP primary for Wyoming's lone Congressional seat or will they side with Harriet Hageman, endorsed by Trump who is irate with Cheney for saying the catalyst for the unprecedented Jan. 6 insurrection at the US Capitol needs to be investigated.
TW: You started this chat suggesting that her fate holds symbolism for where the country is. So, what are the consequences of her losing to radical idealogues in her own party?
SADLER: Here’s the thing. When I was on the Hill you could “go along to get along.” It worked because there was a basic trust that that approach went both ways and people were operating in good faith. That’s not happening any longer. Comity is no longer respected and people who operate from that position are getting taken advantage of.
There have always been Congressional members who are charlatans. For most of my time in Washington that has been a fringe element, ignored or marginalized by the serious people in this business. Not so any longer.
TW: And the consequences are?
SADLER: As far as I’m concerned, the situation has gone from horrendous to cataclysmic. To quote Fred Thompson, the late former Republican Senator from Tennessee who went on to play an Admiral in the movie The Hunt for Red October, “This business will get out of control. It will get out of control, and we will be lucky to live through it.”
TW: Given that Cheney's new Trump-backed primary opponent, Harriet Hageman, was once a member of Cheney's election team when she pondered running for senate and given that ideologically there's ordinarily not a lot of ideological separation between them, is this, then, really more about what Wyomingites think about Trump?
SADLER: Lots to unpack in Trump’s endorsement of Harriet Hageman. But the quick answer to your question is yes, it is likely to be a referendum on Trump and the Trumpist view in the GOP. But there’s more intrigue to the endorsement story.
TW: Such as?
SADLER Trump’s endorsement says Hageman has the support of Wyoming’s US Sen. Cynthia Lummis. But according to Lummis’ people (as quoted in Punchbowl) that is not completely true.
The report says, “Sen. Lummis has known Harriet Hageman for decades, and has always considered her a dedicated supporter of our Wyoming way of life, a defender of our state’s values, and a friend. While Sen. Lummis is not making an endorsement at this time, she believes President Trump has made an inspired choice in backing Harriet Hageman.”
Trump’s endorsement says Hageman has the support of Wyoming’s US Sen. Cynthia Lummis. But according to Lummis’ people that is not completely true.
TW: Lummis in her run for the Senate was endorsed by Jim Jordan, Mark Meadows, former Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, Ted Cruz and President Trump himself. It's doubtful she would do anything to warrant Trump's scorn. Acclaimed Wyoming writer and musician David Romvedt wrote in an op-ed in the Casper Star-Tribune: "Barely out of the gate, [Lummis] has set in place her legacy and will be remembered for encouraging misinformation and conspiracy theories, for siding with a president who after losing an election refused to step aside, for breaking her sworn pledge to defend and protect the Constitution, and for undercutting the norms and practices of representative democracy."
SADLER: Where do you think the momentum is?
TW: Not that this means anything but in the 2020 election, Lummis tallied 198,100 votes in her Senate victory, Trump got 193,559 votes and Cheney notched 185,732 in her Congressional re-election.
SADLER: Wyoming is going to be in for a real donnybrook, maybe unprecedented in the GOP's history there.
TW: Indeed, it's been extremely rare for a senior politician to turn against an incumbent, especially one like Congresswoman Cheney with deep ties to the GOP. Lummis and Cheney, folks have told me, aren’t exactly fond of each other.
SADLER: Read into that what you will, but no one should be shocked by the Trump folks and perhaps now Hageman—who you can reasonably assume would have seen a draft —playing fast and loose with the truth.
TW: It’s going to be a bruising year of negative campaign ads and hurt feelings. Telling will be who the big money backs from both inside the state and outside. If Cheney prevails in the primary, that will put her in a strange place with Lummis, maybe setting up Cheney challenging Lummis for her senate seat.
SADLER: This race is going to continue to get a lot of national attention and watch what happens on Fox News. Dick Cheney got star fawning treatment on Fox and so did Liz from people like Hannity. This will show what kind of friend the guy really is. If it goes down to a one-on-one race; and at least from what’ve read, one candidate already pulled out, but another vowed to fight on, it will get very interesting and likely help answer your referendum on Trump question.
TW: I don’t make predictions but you think Cheney will pull it out—which would be a severe blow to Trump.
SADLER: Yes, I have faith that the good people of Wyoming will use their heads, recognize her value as a defender of the constitution and return her to Washington. I mean really? Are the good people of Wyoming ready to elect someone like State Sen. Anthony Bouchard who thinks Dr. Fauci should be tried and executed?