AMAC Exclusive – By Daniel Berman
It was an ominous sign for soon-to-be former U.S. Congresswoman Liz Cheney that the national press corps which traveled to Wyoming to cover her primary night chose to set up shop not in the state’s largest city, Laramie, or the capital Cheyenne, but rather in Jackson Hole. A world-famous golf and ski resort which, along with surrounding Teton County is Wyoming’s only Democratic stronghold, the press’s choice of location conveyed more of an interest in an August getaway than in what Wyoming as a whole thought of Liz Cheney. While Cheney carried Teton County by a margin of 80.9% to 18.4%, she lost the statewide vote by a margin of 66.3% to 28.9%.
The reasons for Liz Cheney’s defeat are quite simple really. Cheney aligned herself with Democrats and against her own party on a high-profile issue, and then proceeded to continue making herself the face of it, even as the January 6th process morphed into a primary Democratic line of attack against the GOP in the 2022 midterms (if it had ever been anything else).
The final numbers in the race look remarkably like the 2020 election in the state, which makes sense as the vast majority of Wyoming’s few Democrats seem to have crossed over to vote for Cheney in the GOP contest. Only a little over 7,000 votes were cast in the Democratic primary for Wyoming’s at-large House seat, whereas nearly 170,000 votes were cast in the GOP contest, an astronomical 96% of all votes cast.
The ultimate margin also reflected the 2020 result. That year, Donald Trump defeated Joe Biden by 69.94% to 26.55%, remarkably close to the 66.3% to 28.9% margin by which Cheney lost to Trump-endorsed Harriet Hageman. Nor can turnout be blamed. At 178,000, primary turnout was well over 80% of that of the 2018 general election. Cheney got her Democrats, or at least a decent portion of them. She just lost Republicans. In Wyoming, that means losing 68-27 or so.
The simplicity of the story will not stop Liz Cheney, or her allies in the media, from trying to build a greater narrative, apparently as preparation for a potential presidential campaign. They will portray Cheney as a martyr, crushed by overwhelming forces, ignoring that she massively outraised her rival and had the support of big donors and K Street. Her supporters include a “who’s who” of big finance, including Blackstone, Coinbase, Forbes, CVS, and even the National Mining Association.
Nor was Cheney crushed because she revolted on one vote. Lisa Murkowski – who voted in the Senate to convict Trump last year – also faced challengers this week, and currently leads her strongest by a margin of 44% to 41%. With a Democrat taking 6%, Murkowski will likely be a narrow favorite in November given Alaska’s complex top-four voting system. But Murkowski, after supporting impeachment, did not double and triple down by becoming a mouthpiece for Democrats in their effort to demonize every Trump voter and turn January 6th into the new 9/11.
Cheney is also not the only one who chose this path. So too did Democrats by embracing her. Consider once again her donors: Coinbase, Forbes, Blackstone, the National Mining Association. Consider even her last name, Cheney, and ask yourself why genuinely liberal voters, not “woke” ideologues, but voters who distrust the power of corporations, worry about pollution, not abstractions, and care about the elderly being scammed out of their savings would look at this list and say, “This is who our party should be identifying with?”
There are many causes for the collapse in support for the Biden administration and the Democratic party. They include policy failures across the board, the clear unfitness of the President for office, and a worsening economic and social situation the party seems indifferent to at best. At a deeper level, the Cheney drama shows that Democrats have made a strategic choice not to move to the left or right per se, but to define the breadth of their coalition by how many different elites they bring together. Democrats in D.C. and the media genuinely cannot understand why they are charged with being “far left” when they have come to embrace Dick Cheney, Bill Kristol, and other neoconservative luminaries. Does that not show how large their tent is?
The problem is that politics is not merely about how broad your invite list for parties is. If it was, then Democrats might have some claim to being inclusive of everyone willing to respect neopronouns, a major shift from the Bush-era of the mid-2000s. But as Democrats have become more inclusive of elites by simple virtue of being elites, they have become less representative of everyone else.
The major story of the 2020 election and every special election since has been Democrats losing support among previously core voter groups. Having lost working-class white voters between 2012 and 2016, they are now losing Hispanics, Asian Americans, and increasingly African American men. The unifying reason is that Democrats are making it clear they care more about Liz Cheney and her father showing up to their cocktail parties than about the thousands of Americans who died in Iraq, the tens of thousands crippled, or the trillions spent in the Middle East. Provided someone is willing to denounce Donald Trump, they are happy to embrace anyone.
It is hard to imagine one voter who was not already a Democrat who will be swung over to support the party by the endorsement of the Cheneys or their attack on Donald Trump. On the other side, it is possible to imagine countless left-leaning individuals who remember the Bush-Cheney years. Democrats may well have taken the black vote for granted when they recalled Kanye West saying, “George Bush does not care about black people,” but now those individuals who supposedly “did not care” are being feted as heroes by Democrats as black communities burn, and as their schools remain crippled post-COVID.
Liz Cheney did not bring over any new voters for Democrats from 2020 this week. But she and her father seem primed to cost them quite a few elsewhere going forward. Republicans can only hope that this is the start, not the end, of her national political career.
Daniel Berman is a frequent commentator and lecturer on foreign policy and political affairs, both nationally and internationally. He holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the London School of Economics. He also writes as Daniel Roman.
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