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Lying for Power: A Wyoming Parable in Two Parts 

Harriet Hageman tried desperately to stop Donald Trump—until she needed to worship him to gain power for herself
September 27, 2021
Lying for Power: A Wyoming Parable in Two Parts 
The Wyoming State Capitol Building and Rep. Liz Cheney taking questions from the media (Photos: GettyImages)

A pair of fascinating features in the New York Times and on 60 Minutes reveal that Harriet Hageman and Liz Cheney—foes in what could be the most important House election in the country—have some things in common.

  1. Both have seen Donald Trump for the rancid, dangerous demagogue that he is and were willing to say it.
  2. In a crucial moment, both sided with bigots over their better judgement in exchange for political power.
  3. One regrets throwing in with the bigots. The other regrets not selling her soul more completely.

It is the third point that represents the entire difference between two candidates in a race that has essentially nothing to do with their views—because with the exception protecting democracy, the two candidates’ policy preferences are virtually indistinguishable.

No, the race in Wyoming is about one thing and one thing only: loyalty to the Order of the Orange Solar Temple.

And soon we will learn whether Wyoming Republicans want a candidate who is unabashedly lying in service to ambition or someone who did that once and has decided they don’t want to do it again.

Harriet Hageman knows that Donald Trump is a racist and a bigot. We know that she knows this because, like many MAGAs before her, she said so herself, calling him “racist and xenophobic.”

Not only did Hageman recognize Trump’s personal flaws in 2016, but she understood that they presented such a threat to the party and the republic that extraordinary measures were needed to stop him from becoming the GOP presidential nominee.

I’m well aware of this because back in 2016 Hageman and I were colleagues of sorts. I was providing pro bono consulting to a group called “Free the Delegates,” among which she was a member. With Trump on the cusp of garnering the necessary delegates to win, this group was created to promote a radical change to the national convention rules that would allow delegates to “vote their conscience” and pick another candidate, even if their state or district had gone for Trump.

Most of the supporters of this effort wanted to redirect support to Ted Cruz, hence his reiterating of their tag line during his . . . controversial speech at the convention. (Remember, this was back when he was still Lyin’ Ted.)

Hageman was a particularly important part of this last ditch effort because she was on the RNC’s Rules Committee, which was where the first critical delegate fight would take place. In the end she was one of only twelve RINO cucks to support the convention coup in committee. And good on her.

These were not the actions of someone who was luke-warm on Trump. Hageman was a certified TDS-afflicted NeverTrumper. Over time she softened on the president. But as the NYT profile points out, even in her failed 2018 gubernatorial campaign she didn’t exactly run on an avowed MAGA platform.

Now in 2022 she’s back running for office and, like Beautiful Ted, has realized that the path to Republican power requires selling out as early and hard as possible. Which is how she managed to hoodwink Trump into endorsing her and helping clear the field for her mana-a-mana fight with Cheney.

Sure, racism, bigotry, and xenophobia are bad; but not getting the political job you want is the worst.

Liz Cheney knows a thing or two about Hageman’s calculations. In an interview with 60 Minutes Sunday night she was asked about the time that she sided with the bigots in service to ambition, even though she knew better.

Back in 2013 Cheney was set to primary Republican Senator Mike Enzi. During the halcyon pre-MAGA days, Republicans won primaries by out conservatisming each other and one way she demonstrated her HardAss TruCon street cred was to oppose gay marriage despite the fact that her sister was gay and in a long-term relationship.

Cheney calculated that this vice signal would appeal to the masculine GOP regulars in the cowboy state. (“She’s so conservative she’s even pwning her gay sister and Darth Father!”)

It turned out she was wrong. Cheney wasn’t able to shed her establishment stink with some light appeals to the Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson crowd. So she dropped out of the race and gave the House a crack four years later.

When asked about this last night here’s what she said:

Cheney: I was wrong. I was wrong. I love my sister very much. I love her family very much. I was wrong. It’s a very personal issue and very personal for my family. I believe that my dad was right and my sister and I have had that conversation.

Stahl: Wow. I was not expecting that.

Cheney: This is an issue that we have to recognize as human beings, that we need to work against discrimination of all kinds in our country, in our state. We were at an event a few nights ago, and there was a young woman who said she doesn’t feel safe sometimes because she’s transgender and nobody should feel unsafe. Freedom means freedom for everybody.

To me that seemed not like the answer of woman who has changed her heart on the issue, but who has had a change of heart on whether it’s worth hurting people for the sake of your career.

Liz Cheney has walked in Harriet Hageman’s shoes.

She threw in with the forces of hate and discrimination because she thought that’s what she needed to do to win. She has decided that she doesn’t want to do that any more, neither in service to those who tried to overturn our elections or those who are happy to make that young trans woman feel unsafe.

And despite what one thinks about her past, that it is an admirable act. Humans are stubborn beings, examples of personal growth in public life are in short supply.

The question now is whether Wyoming voters will reward that growth. Or whether they crave the warm shawl of a comforting lie that appeals to all their biases, told by a woman that they can be certain is lying to them.

I’m not sure we are going to like the answer.

Tim Miller

Tim Miller is The Bulwark’s writer-at-large and the author of the best-selling book Why We Did It: A Travelogue from the Republican Road to Hell. He was previously political director for Republican Voters Against Trump and communications director for Jeb Bush 2016.