More than three weeks before Liz Cheney’s shellacking in the Wyoming primary, it was clear across our neighboring state to the north that her campaign was kaput.
As we drove through Saratoga, Rock Springs, Jackson, Alta and beyond in late July, I counted three “Cheney for Wyoming” signs and dozens of “Hageman for Congress” billboards and yard signs. The polls were a more scientific metric for sure, and they were equally unequivocal.
Everybody knew it. Cheney was toast.
Wyoming is deeply in the thrall of the cult of Trumpism. And it’s not the only place that is.
Across 4,100 miles, we traveled through Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Utah and British Columbia — as well as Wyoming — and witnessed a smorgasbord of Americana that ranged from F— Biden and Let’s Go Brandon banners on homes in otherwise respectable neighborhoods in Idaho to tidy public campgrounds complete with toilets and showers for people experiencing homelessness in downtown Seattle.
As Oregon residents eagerly anticipate Jan. 1, 2023, when they will be able to buy magic mushrooms legally, in Utah possession of an ounce of marijuana can still result in a year in jail. (Which, incidentally, hasn’t stopped dispensaries from crowding the highways just across the Colorado border.)
And while a recycle bin is as rare as a Democrat in Wyoming, in Washington and across the border in B.C., the conservation ethic is sacrosanct. Compostable cups, lids, straws, forks and takeout containers are the norm, and electric cars are ubiquitous.
The ideological whiplash can be breathtaking.
The West, alas, is wilder than ever and a tour of the landscape outside our Colorado bubble is both enlightening and alarming.
“Lower your voice,” my husband whispered as I talked about a news story about Alex Jones over breakfast in a Best Western in Evanston, Wyo., where the lobby was creepily decorated with a full complement of stuffed dead bears and other wildlife.
Just days before we had seen crowds of young people rocking to live music at an event to save wild salmon habitat.
Who are we?
Crossing the border provides yet another jolt of political culture shock.
At the Peace Bridge, a Canadian agent asked us if we had a gun in the car and if we owned guns at all. When we said no to both questions, she smiled.
“You live in Colorado, and you don’t own a gun?”
In the blistering summer of 2022, the political crevasse between states, countries and political parties yawns deep and wide.
What will it take to bridge the vast gap?
Liz Cheney is betting it’s her.
Way back in January when she voted to impeach Donald Trump over the Jan. 6 insurrection, it was obvious she had presidential ambitions and was charting her new political path.
She’s laid her bets on a majority of Americans — including some Republicans — coming to their senses and rejecting the corruption, the racism and the lies at the heart of the cult of Trumpism. She’s put her career on the line with her role as vice chair of the committee to investigate the Jan. 6 attack.
She’s drawn relentless fire from her party and yet has seized the political spotlight at a time when the Democratic prospects for 2024 are keeping mum, and the Republicans — Cruz, Pence, DeSantis — are like Larry, Moe and Curly, bumping into each other as they try to figure out how low they must go to prostrate themselves at the feet of Trump.
At least until the indictments come down.
Cheney is patiently waiting for the fault lines to shift (as inevitably they must), leaving her the brave face of the resistance; a proud slayer of dragons, tyrants, Giulianis, Hawleys and Trumps.
Through it all, as Wyoming voters unceremoniously dump her, she is riding a wave of ovations from moderates and progressives who otherwise share few of her conservative views and openly bemoan her voting record.
And women friends, who usually strenuously disagree with her positions on abortion rights, climate, voting rights and a host of other issues, are expressing gushing admiration of Cheney for her principled stance in calling for accountability for Trump and his enablers.
They’d vote for her, they tell me, because she has the guts to stand up to a bully. And without her, they say, Trump might easily win reelection in a field of liars, toadies and generally undistinguished potential candidates.
She might not be that bad, they say. She’s a woman. She might even be good.
It’s a calculation I’m not ready to make.
In a party where leaders can denounce Trump as a liar and a traitor, and then days later stand up to defend him, her steadfast courage is awe-inspiring. She stands firm in the face of death threats and rebukes from her party and her constituents.
For all these reasons, Liz Cheney has earned a place in history.
She’s also earned my respect.
But she hasn’t yet earned my vote.
Diane Carman is a Denver communications consultant.