To get a sense of just how committed the voters of Wyoming are to former U.S. president Donald Trump, look no further than the Laramie County Fair.
Inside a large metal barn complex on the outskirts of the state capital of Cheyenne, hundreds of young ranchers have brought their cows, sheep, pigs and chickens to be sold at the fair’s youth livestock auction.
And in a quiet part of the facility, 13-year-old Jayden Ocheskey sits with her parents, waiting for her turn to showcase two of her family’s steers.
One is named Donald, the other is named Trump.
While Ocheskey is too young to vote, her mom, Jennifer, is giddy about Tuesday’s Republican House primary — and the very likely prospect that one of Trump’s loudest critics is poised to lose her job.
“I’m extremely excited, like a kid waiting for Christmas,” said Jennifer Ocheskey, describing Rep. Liz Cheney as “a traitor to the people of Wyoming.”
“All she cares about is Jan. 6.… We want somebody who really cares about Wyoming.”
Ocheskey then walked over to stand next to Trump (the steer) in its holding pen. And as the conversation continued, the animal very noticeably defecated. Chuckling, she turned to look at the pile of fresh feces, saying: “That’s what he thinks of Liz Cheney.”
Despite being the incumbent candidate, a staunch conservative and a member of a political dynasty, Trump supporters are widely expected to deliver a final punishment to Cheney during Tuesday’s Republican primary in Wyoming — a state where nearly 70 per cent of voters cast a ballot for Trump in 2020, his strongest victory in his failed re-election bid.
According to a poll from the University of Wyoming taken 10 days ago, Cheney is trailing her opponent by nearly 30 points.
Cheney’s refusal to back down
Cheney has become the face of Republican defiance — first for voting to impeach the former president in the wake of the deadly Jan. 6 attack, and then for serving as the co-chair of the congressional committee investigating efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
She’s already been stripped of her formal duties in the House by Republican Party leadership and censured by her colleagues at the state level.
The candidate expected to defeat Cheney is Harriet Hageman, a Trump-endorsed lawyer and former Republican National Committee member who has repeated the lie that the 2020 election was stolen.
Initially a critic of Trump, Hageman didn’t support his 2016 campaign to be the Republican presidential nominee, describing him as the “weakest candidate” and “somebody who is racist and xenophobic.”
But she was endorsed by him last September, as Trump sought to rebuke Cheney, the highest-profile House Republican to vote for his impeachment.
Cheney has long argued she has taken on this battle to stand up for the U.S. Constitution, and to stand by her principles.
Yet she must have also known that taking on the former president could result in her defeat, argued Chad Fogg, another Republican voter who attended the Laramie County Fair.
“So much of the population of Wyoming was for Trump,” he said. “To see her do what she did, I don’t think it’s representing her state very well.”
Drawing support from the other side
Cheney’s fight — and what she represents — has drawn long-shot support from both in and outside of Wyoming.
Chad Fogg’s wife, Kate, for example, is a Democrat who has switched parties in order to vote for Cheney in this primary.
“I’m just so proud that she has stood up for her values and her morals — and I just feel like she’s an honest person,” she said.
“If we keep down this road, I feel like we’re headed toward a civil war,” she said about the current political atmosphere.
WATCH | Liz Cheney is fighting to keep her seat in Congress after challenging Trump:
Former Wyoming governor Mike Sullivan, a Democrat who served two terms in the late 1980s and early 1990s, agrees it is a troubling moment in American politics right now. He, too, has switched parties in order to give his support to Cheney.
“It’s not something I expected would happen in my political lifetime,” he said of his decision, talking to CBC News in the backyard of his home in Casper, Wyo.
“What I concluded was that this was a stark contrast, and the importance of being an American citizen, a Wyoming citizen, was more important than political loyalty.”
Sullivan knows the Cheney family well. He and his wife socialized with Liz Cheney’s parents, former vice-president Dick Cheney and his wife Lynne, going as far back as the 1960s. Sullivan’s time as governor also overlapped with Dick Cheney’s time as a congressman.
“She’ll have no regrets for taking the position … she’s on a pathway that I believe is right, and what is in the best interest of our country,” he said of Liz Cheney’s decision to criticize Trump.
While Sullivan expects Cheney is going to lose the Republican nomination, he’s hopeful it won’t be by a wide margin.
It’s an attitude he shares with some of the volunteers knocking on doors for Cheney.
“Even if she loses by just a little, maybe, if she outperforms, it will be a statement that maybe … people aren’t as eager to continue on the current path that people think,” said Heath Mayo, who is founder of Principles First, a grassroots conservative organization aiming to wean the Republican Party off of Trumpism.
Mayo flew from New York City to Denver, then drove two hours north to Cheyenne to spend the last weekend of the campaign canvassing for the Cheney team. Of the 20 people knocking on doors with his group, he said 18 are from out of state.
“For a lot of us, the erosion of what the Republican Party stood for, that originally attracted me to the party, has been clear over the past four years: Rejecting the rule of law, rejecting truth, rejecting the constitution, questioning the fundamental precepts of democracy,” said Mayo.
“I think all of that is at stake with Liz Cheney,” he said, lauding her for refusing to remain silent.
“It’s important to stand for what you believe, even when … maybe a base of people, maybe it’s not what they want to hear, but it’s something they need to hear.”
If all goes as is widely expected, Mayo predicts his team will “lick our wounds and keep going” the morning after Tuesday’s vote.
“The good thing about what we’re fighting for, it’s not about just Liz Cheney,” said Mayo.
“It’s about a set of principles and ideas that she represents that will carry on past her, to other candidates hopefully. Really, a movement to maybe take back the party. Who knows.”