You know Rep. Liz Cheney is front and center in the cultural zeitgeist when she makes it on Saturday Night Live. The Wyoming congresswoman was imitated in last Saturday’s show by Kate McKinnon.
Like every good SNL skit, there’s a little bit of truth in every joke. Cheney’s ouster from the leadership of her own party happened seemingly in a flash. Her voting record matched Donald Trump’s more than 90% of the time throughout his presidency, according to FiveThirtyEight. That’s more than many of her colleagues, including Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, who has now replaced her as the third-ranking member of the House GOP conference.
Cheney was seen as a champion of constitutionalism, and a representative of the old Republican guard from the days of Bush and Reagan. Yet here she was, speaking to Congress almost desperately on May 11.
“Remaining silent and ignoring the lie emboldens the liar. I will not participate in that,” Cheney said, referring to Trump’s repeated false claims that the results of the 2020 U.S. presidential election were fraudulent. “I will not sit back and watch in silence while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former president’s crusade to undermine our democracy.”
Cheney was voted out of her leadership position the next morning, during a meeting that lasted just 16 minutes. Polls show that 61% of Republicans nationwide view Cheney unfavorably now, including some party members from Teton County, which the former county chair used to describe as “a different shade of red” than the rest of the state.
“She’s not representing the people in Wyoming. If she was, she’d be standing with President Trump,” said Rebecca Bextel, a small business owner who is originally from Alabama. “I’m tired of hearing about the January 6 insurrection out of Liz Cheney’s mouth.”
“I just don’t really trust what she’s doing right now. It seems like she’s flip-flopping depending on who’s in power versus who she’s representing,” said Kat Reuckert, another GOP member who is originally from outside Portland, Oregon.
Bextel has lived in Teton County for more than 15 years, and she cares about a lot of the same things as Cheney: Second Amendment rights, immigration and taking down “woke” culture. But she said she’s never really been a fan of hers.
“I don’t care for anyone who’s not in touch with their voters,” she said. “She doesn’t live in Wyoming. She moved to Wyoming to go to Virginia. I don’t understand that. Just be in Virginia.”
Bextel canvassed for President Trump and she believes he won the election despite the evidence that that’s not true. Cheney’s repeated statements about Trump since the 2020 election have been the final straw for Bextel. Now she said Cheney’s gone full RINO, Republican in Name Only, despite her conservative voting record.
“Quit lying to us, Liz Cheney. Quit lying to us, Mitt Romney,” she said. “I expect that from Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. I don’t expect that from my only congressional leadership in the State of Wyoming.”
To Reuckert, politics has “always been a hobby.” She’s in her 20s and went to school in California, which she said makes her unique to the GOP in Teton County. She also attended a meeting last week with other Wyoming Republicans in Cody and said she thinks Cheney could be in real trouble.
“I think the majority of the representatives at this particular state meeting were not for Liz Cheney in the upcoming election,” Reuckert said. “And they did think that Teton County definitely had more supporters [for Cheney] than it did non-supporters. But they were interested to see that at least I was not a supporter of Liz Cheney and will not be in 2022.”
At least eight potential candidates have already lined up to primary Cheney next year, and both Reuckert and Bextel told KHOL what they’re looking for in a replacement.
“You’ve got to be able to trust them. They’ve got to talk like they’re talking to you genuinely,” Reuckert said. “The only way I can make that decision is by talking to these candidates, going, ‘Alright, do they sound genuine? Or do they sound like they’ve got the cajones to get stuff done for Wyoming in Washington?’”
“I’m going to wait for President Donald J. Trump’s endorsement for sure,” Bextel said.
Yet, unseating Cheney isn’t going to be easy. For starters, she’s out-fundraising every other candidate by a long shot. Many establishment members of the Teton County GOP, such as the former mayor of Jackson Mark Barron and former head of the party Alex Muromcew, have also spoken out recently in her defense.
But the current head of the local GOP doesn’t support Cheney, and moderate conservatives who may have been sympathetic to her, like Zach Padilla, may start leaving the party completely.
“[The Democrats and Republicans] have way too many other things that are going on between the infighting. The censuring. It’s a lot,” Padilla said. “I might have been a good person to represent a more moderate Republican. But at the same time, it wasn’t me. It wasn’t where I belonged. I couldn’t speak freely.”
Padilla is a local sommelier and business owner, as well as a former candidate for the Jackson Town Council. He’s caucused with Teton County Republicans before but recently left the GOP and became chair of the local Libertarian Party.
“I don’t see any reason why we can’t support the LGBTQ, support the Second Amendment [and] support human freedoms and human rights,” Padilla said. “But there’s arguments about that within the Democrat Party and the Republican Party. And I was like, ‘You know what? I belong with the Libertarians because they agree with me that everybody deserves the same freedoms'”
Padilla said the two party system doesn’t represent all voters and that the Jan. 6 insurrection, along with Cheney’s ousting, demonstrate that. Padilla also said he sees this moment as an opportunity for a third party. Local Libertarian Party registration has grown by about 35% in just the last year, according to data from the Wyoming Department of State.
“If there’s a solid Libertarian candidate, even a solid Democrat, there’s a chance that Liz could lose,” he said. “But I really don’t wish her ill will. I don’t necessarily need her to be in office again or not. I really just want to see us focus on every level of leadership. Not just Liz. Not just the presidency.”
For now, all eyes seem likely to stay focused on Cheney as she keeps speaking out against former President Trump. She said she’ll do “whatever it takes” to keep him out of office in 2024, and she also hasn’t ruled out a White House run of her own.