BUFFALO, Wyo. — During the fifth hearing of the select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack last week, Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming leaned toward the microphone and delivered an assessment clearly and somberly, like a doctor telling an ailing patient a hard truth.
“It can be difficult to accept that President Trump abused your trust, that he deceived you,” Cheney said, directing her words at millions of Americans — mostly Republicans like her — who still support the former president. “Many will invent excuses to ignore that fact, but that is a fact.”
A few hours later that day and some 1,800 miles to the west, Cheney’s opponent in the Republican primary in Wyoming offered voters something they found much sweeter: a laundry list of suggestions, head-snapping but false, that the 2020 election was not fair to Trump. It included “things going on in Georgia,” funding for election offices from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Pennsylvania drop boxes, and absentee voting in Wisconsin.
“We got a lot of stuff exposed in 2020, and hopefully that will never happen again,” Harriet Hageman said at an event in the civic center in this small city at the foot of the Bighorns.
The daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney and a staunch conservative, Cheney is fighting Donald Trump in the hearing room and Trumpism at home. But her effort to excise both from the party might just get her purged first. Her unyielding stance against the former president’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election has thrust her into political peril at home, where she is battling Republicans who have no problem telling voters exactly what they want to hear about Trump, whether or not it’s true.
Cheney, who called Trump a “domestic threat” during a talk Wednesday night and pressed her case further at a primary debate on Thursday, has been censured and practically excommunicated by the state GOP, kicked out of her House leadership role, abandoned by some family friends and donors, and appears to be trailing the Trump-endorsed Hageman in the polls, although they are few and of dubious reliability.
But Cheney is waging a far bigger battle than one for reelection, according to those who know her, determined to do anything she can to stop Trump from returning to the presidency whether or not she holds her seat.
“She throws herself on this altar, and she knows exactly what the odds are,” said Alan Simpson, the former Republican senator from Wyoming who has known Cheney since her childhood. “She’s doing it because she thinks this is the most dangerous person that ever came across the screen of democracy.”
As the vice chairwoman and lead Republican of the Jan. 6 committee, Cheney has been an empathetic and focused questioner of a parade of conservative witnesses who testified under oath about Trump’s relentless attempts to stay in power after he lost.
“The easy course is to hide from the spotlight, to refuse to come forward, to attempt to downplay or deny what happened,” Cheney said Tuesday, near the end of a hearing in which she guided former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson through her shocking testimony. In another resounding moment, Cheney was seen on video in her office with a poster of Winston Churchill peeking over her shoulder, asking former Trump National Security Advisor and retired Army lieutenant general Mike Flynn via videoconference if he believed in a peaceful transfer of power. “The fifth,” Flynn said, refusing to answer.
At first glance, Cheney’s fight doesn’t seem to have made an impact back home, where many constituents dismiss the hearings out of hand or hold them up as proof she cares more about damaging Trump than about them.
“I’d rather watch the Three Stooges,” said Jon Williams, 71, a retired coal miner who attended Hageman’s event in Buffalo, where the saloon on Main Street still boasts bullet holes from the days of the Old West. “I think she’s making most of it up. I don’t think there’s any credibility to the whole thing.”
“I refuse to listen to her,” added Marilyn Vercimak, a Buffalo resident who voted for Cheney and now feels betrayed. “The state voted for Trump, and she is doing her best to do away with him.”
Across Wyoming, Cheney’s bald contention that Republicans who helped Trump contest the election are “defending the indefensible” and cloaked in “dishonor” have made some feel defensive, or to view her as just a Democrat.
“It’s just perplexing, what she thinks she’s going to accomplish,” said Mary Martin, chairwoman of the Teton County GOP, which contains the city of Jackson where Cheney owns a home. “That was about as bad as Hillary’s ‘deplorables.’”
Yet even here, in a community with few avowed Cheney supporters, there were signs Cheney’s labors are breaking through, even among voters who no longer support her — an indication that she may leave an imprint even if she loses her election.
Barbara Madsen, who owns a historic ranch on the site of a late 19th-century cattle war, believes Cheney is pursuing a “personal grudge” against Trump and vowed to vote against her in the Aug. 16 primary. Madsen considers the committee to be little more than a “kangaroo court.”
Yet one of its central findings appears to have stuck with her.
“It was wrong to try to pressure states like Arizona,” Madsen said, referring to testimony from Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers about Trump’s request to find fraud. “I don’t believe in politicians putting pressure.”
At the Busy Bee Cafe in downtown Buffalo, Tooney Layton described the committee as a “Democratic plot to destroy Trump,” but did not dispute what its members have found.
“I think he was trying to overturn the election,” Layton said. “I think he had a little moment of insanity.”
Layton won’t vote for Cheney again. But she isn’t sure she’d vote for Trump again either, if he were to run in 2024, saying it depends on who else runs.
It’s this fear of the panel’s work seeping into the consciousness of even Republicans who oppose it that appears to have angered Trump, who recently complained that House minority leader Kevin McCarthy should have put friendlier Republicans on the committee. One recent poll found most Americans think the hearings are fair and impartial, and another found a majority of voters are following the news that comes out of them.
These findings have fueled hopes among the minority of Republicans who, like Cheney, believe Trump is dangerous and, should he run again in 2024, want voters to pick a rival such as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
“I think people are starting to see that things did happen on January 6th,” said Tom Lubnau, the former Republican House speaker in Wyoming, who is supporting a childhood friend of his, retired Army Colonel Denton Knapp, in the primary over Cheney, Hageman, and another deeply pro-Trump candidate, state Senator Anthony Bouchard.
If Cheney is fighting to save the Republican Party from itself, that battle might already be lost at home, for now at least. Wyoming GOP party Chairman Frank Eathorne was on restricted grounds at the US Capitol on Jan. 6, according to NBC News, and was listed in leaked documents as a member of the far-right Oath Keepers group that was involved in the attack.
Yet Eathorne has faced few consequences at home while Cheney was censured last year by the state party, which later voted to no longer recognize her as a Republican. Cheney, who turned down a request to be interviewed for this story, has shown little interest in attending events where Republicans are openly hostile to her. At one Republican forum earlier this week, she was booed in absentia.
“The party organization in the state is certainly very pro-Trump, anti-Cheney now. But the organization is not the electorate,” said James King, a professor of political science at the University of Wyoming. “That’s where I think still there’s this potential for Cheney to win the nomination.”
Cheney has touted her remaining allies across Wyoming and in the state Legislature, where an effort to prevent voters from changing party affiliation on Election Day, one backed by Eathorne, was narrowly defeated earlier this year. She also has a much bigger war chest than her rivals.
She is hoping there is a reservoir of Republicans who still back her, even if quietly. And given the Trumpification of the state party, she likely needs independents and even Democrats to vote for her to have a chance. Her campaign has sent mailers to Democrats explaining how to vote in the Republican primary.
In Casper, the oil town where Dick Cheney grew up, none of the televisions at the Wooden Derrick Cafe were airing the committee hearing last Thursday, and two women lingering over their check dropped their voices low when asked about Cheney.
“She sits up there on the dais, she’s so well spoken, it’s so thought out,” said one, an independent voter, who was afraid to give her name while speaking well of Cheney. “She’s been a lifelong Republican in the state of Wyoming, as was her father, and she has been branded a traitor,” she said, shaking her head.
The other woman, a Democrat, had received the Cheney mailer and was planning to change her registration, overcoming her distaste for voting for an antiabortion Republican whose father is widely viewed as the architect of the Iraq War.
But Cheney’s detractors doubt there are enough Democrats and independents in a state that backed Trump over Biden 70 percent to 27 percent to carry her to victory in the crowded primary. The state has just 280,000 registered voters, of which 70 percent are Republicans and 16 percent are Democrats, with 13 percent unaffiliated.
At her event in Buffalo, Hageman was campaigning as if the party exorcism of Cheney was complete. As she expounded on issues such as climate change, which she doubts, Hageman did not once name her rival — an unusual strategy against a member of a Republican dynasty that made it seem like Cheney had simply ceased to exist.
“Most of my family is still in the state of Wyoming,” said Hageman, seemingly a reference to Cheney spending much of her time living in Virginia. “I don’t think our elected leaders are as accountable to us as they should be.”
Some voters would prefer not to be reminded of Cheney, whom they consider an embarrassment.
“She’s over there with the Democrats the whole time on TV,” said Holli Jones, who owns mountain lodges in the area. “She’s sitting at a the table with Adam Schiff.”
Cheney could have blunted this rage had she taken the route of other Republicans who denounced Trump’s election lies but later tempered their criticism, such as Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger of Georgia, who handily won their primaries in June.
Cheney, however, doesn’t see that as an option, given her concern Trump could win if he runs again, and further undermine the stability of American democracy.
“I think those of us who are elected officials have a duty to the Constitution and a duty to put the Constitution above party and above politics,” Cheney told the Globe in an interview last year. “It’s a battle that I intend to fight and to win.”