A Life & Death Race. Not Exaggerating.
BY STEVE PEOPLES AND MEAD GRUVER — July 24, 2022
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Three weeks before the most significant election of her political career, Liz Cheney was nowhere to be seen as thousands of voters gathered for a massive midsummer rodeo and cowboy festival in Wyoming’s largest city.
Instead, the three-term Republican congresswoman was 1,600 miles away in Washington presiding over a U.S. House committee comprised largely of Democrats intent on exposing former President Donald Trump’s attack on democracy during the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection. As the cowboy fest roared back home, Cheney railed against Trump’s failures.
COMMENTS: Frontier Days in Cheyenne is like a huge county fair, but with a rodeo at the center. And one abiding feature of big rodeos, is injury: most rodeo events pit riders against various big animals, and typically many of both get hurt, and numerous animals, horses and cattle, are killed. Comes with the territory. (Google “Cheyenne Frontier Days Injuries” for lots of gruesome photos.)
I attended a few Frontier Days events in 1960, after my senior year in high school in Cheyenne. They were exciting. I don’t think I’d enjoy them now; the background of violence is too close and vivid, especially this year.
From this angle, it’s hard to concentrate on the endless pundit speculation, as Liz Cheney marches toward a Republican primary in Wyoming next month, about what she might do if she’s no longer in Congress next January. Run for president? Etc.
We’ll skip all that here. Way too soon, and it’s far from the most gut-punchy news in this report from Wyoming, which for me was this:
AP: Facing consistent and credible death threats, [Cheney] has been forced to abandon traditional retail campaigning, trading public rallies and town halls for private events where her presence is often revealed to the public only after their conclusion, if at all.
[COMMENT: Let’s repeat some keywords here: “consistent and credible death threats.”
I once had a dose of dealing with that threat level. 1965, Selma, Alabama; I was a greenhorn rookie civil rights worker, in the voting rights campaign spearheaded by Dr. King.
In those days Dr. King got death threats, sometimes by phone, mostly by mail, scribbled postcards and such, all the time. I figured maybe 1 in a hundred was serious. That was about 4 “credible” threats per year.
But that was just a guess. If it was three out of a hundred, that totaled one serious assassination plot per month. King did get stabbed at a book signing in New York in September of 1958: a seven-inch letter opener was plunged into his chest by a black woman who was judged insane, and spent the rest of her life in institutions. Hours of surgery were required to get the letter opener out and save King’s life.
So there we were in Selma. My assignment, with three others, was to march close around Dr. King when we went downtown to protest for opening up voter registration for Black citizens. We were unarmed (and kevlar vests were still ten years away), so we were simply human shields, blocking the aim of potential snipers on the roofs of nearby buildings.
I made those treks several times. Compared to professional security today, we were a laughably amateurish gaggle. But King was still alive in early 1966, when the Selma campaign had crested and the escalating Vietnam War pulled me away from the South.
Some years after that, researching my book about the Selma campaign, I found a report that the cops actually thought a wannabe shooter was nearby on one of the marches. Luckily, it was raining and misty that day, with lots of umbrellas open, shielding him, and me, from view.
Reading that report was a hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck-stands-up, chills-crawl-down-the-spine, not to be forgotten moment. And it comes back to mind reading about Liz Cheney today:
To campaign for re-election in Wyoming in 2022, Liz Cheney is being smuggled from one closed-door, publicly unannounced, very high security (I’m thinking metal detectors and airport-style patdowns, but those aren’t explicitly mentioned) closed-door “campaign” event to the next.
Trump, after all, won the state in 2020 by 43 points. She’s more like Volodymyr Zelensky slipping through Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory for huddles with his field commanders, journeys where one misstep could mean instant death, and Russian artillery and spies are always within range.
Never mind what kind of stump speech she gives there (I hear it’s mostly about the Constitution). What kind of guts does it take, just to be riding in the armored SUVs on those lonely stretches of Wyoming roads, through scenery that can be magnificent in daytime, but provides cover for a dozen ambushes per mile after dark?
Read from this angle, this AP report takes on a distinctly different, ominous cast.]
AP: [Cheney] has essentially been excommunicated by the Wyoming Republican Party, which voted last year to censure Cheney before deciding to stop recognizing her as a Republican altogether. Local GOP offices offer yard signs for [her primary opponent, attorney Harriet] Hageman and many other Republicans on the ballot but not Cheney. [Emphasis added.]
Left with few options, she has turned to Democrats for help. Her campaign website now features a link to a form allowing voters to change their party affiliation to Republican to participate in the Republican primary.
[Rep. Adam Kinzinger, the other Republican on the Jan. 6 Committee, has his political staff] helping to accelerate her crossover push.
“We need more principled leaders like Liz to ensure that those who want our democracy to fail don’t succeed,” Kinzinger told AP. “There has never been more urgency for pro-democracy voters to participate in primary elections.”
. . . Cheney has refused to soften her message, instead leaning into Trump at the biggest moments of her campaign. . . .
Meanwhile, Trump has made Cheney’s defeat a chief priority.
He called her a “despicable human being” on his social media site this month. And in May, Trump traveled to Wyoming’s second-largest city, Casper, to rally support for his preferred Cheney successor, conservative attorney Harriet Hageman.
As Cheney focuses her energy on the Jan. 6 commission, Hageman has barnstormed the state courting small, rural crowds in the traditional mold of Wyoming politicking. The approach is more like the one Cheney herself used to top a crowded Republican primary field to win Wyoming’s lone House seat in 2016.
Friends and foes alike have noticed [Cheney’s] absence this year.
“I do know that Liz absolutely wants to be out across the state meeting with all our residents,” said Paul Ulrich, a former chairman of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming and a Cheney supporter. “It’s painful for her to have these security concerns. It’s disgusting that it’s come to this.”
The Capitol Police assigned Cheney a personal security detail last August, a step taken only when members of Congress are facing credible security threats.
Dean “Doc” Schroeder, a registered Democrat now planning to change his registration to vote for Cheney in the GOP primary, has been impressed by Cheney’s leadership on the Jan. 6 commission. He said it may not matter whether the congresswoman spends more time in the state given Wyoming’s overwhelming Republican majority.
“A very large proportion of that wouldn’t care if she came flying into the election on angel’s wings. They’re not going to vote for her,” said Schroeder, a retired psychologist and Frontier Days Rodeo volunteer. “So I don’t know that it has hurt her anything. And I’m a perfect example of how her behavior in Washington has helped her.”
“The single most important thing is protecting the nation from Donald Trump,” Cheney said in interview with ABC News that aired Friday, July 22. She said she would make a decision about a potential White House bid “down the road.”
[COMMENTS: Congress takes August off, so Cheney will be away from Washington, likely campaigning a lot at least til primary day, August 16. There’s a lot of road to be covered on the way. The D.C. pundits worry about whether she can make up enough ground to catch and squeak by Hageman; or what she’ll do when the Jan. 6 committee reconvenes for its promised September round of hearings; and so forth.
That’s what they get paid to do. What I do is remember the mayhem of Frontier Days, and worry about whether, win or lose, she’ll get out of August alive.]