Politics

In Wyoming, Likely End of Cheney Dynasty Will Close a Political Era

If Representative Liz Cheney loses her primary on Tuesday, as is widely expected, the Cowboy State’s conservative tilt will take on a harder edge.

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By Jonathan Martin

CODY, Wyo. — At an event last month honoring the 14,000 Japanese Americans who were once held at the Heart Mountain internment camp near here, Representative Liz Cheney was overcome with emotions, and a prolonged standing ovation wasn’t the only reason.

Her appearance — with her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, as well as former Senator Alan Simpson and the children of Norman Mineta, a Democratic congressman turned transportation secretary who was sent to the camp when he was 10 — was part of a groundbreaking for the new Mineta-Simpson Institute. Ms. Cheney was moved, she said, by the presence of the survivors and by their enduring commitment to the country that imprisoned them during World War II.

There was something else, though, that got to the congresswoman during the bipartisan ceremony with party elders she was raised to revere. “It was just a whole combination of emotion,” she recalled in a recent interview.

As Ms. Cheney faces a near-certain defeat on Tuesday in her House primary, it is the likely end of the Cheneys’ two-generation dynasty as well as the passing of a less tribal and more clubby and substance-oriented brand of politics.

“We were a very powerful delegation, and we worked with the other side, that was key, because you couldn’t function if you didn’t,” recalled Mr. Simpson, now 90, fresh off being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and as tart-tongued as ever about his ancestral party. “My dad was senator and a governor, and if I ran again today as a Republican I’d get my ass beat — it’s not about heritage.”

He was elected to the Senate in 1978, the same year that Mr. Cheney won Wyoming’s at-large House seat, and they worked closely together, two Republicans battling on behalf of the country’s least populated state in an era when Democrats always controlled at least one chamber of Congress.

It’s not mere clout, however, that traditional Wyoming Republicans are pining for as they consider their gilded past and ponder the state’s less certain political and economic future. Before Tuesday’s election, which is likely to propel Harriet Hageman, who is backed by former President Donald J. Trump, to the House, the nostalgia in the state is running deeper than the Buffalo Bill Reservoir.

Mr. Cheney and Mr. Simpson were not only in the leadership of their respective chambers in the 1980s; they, along with Senator Malcolm Wallop, a Yale-educated cold warrior whose grandfather served in both the British House of Lords and the Wyoming Legislature, got along well and often appeared together as a delegation in a sort of road show across the sprawling state (“A small town with long streets,” as the Wyoming saying goes).

Even headier was the administration of President George Bush. Mr. Cheney became defense secretary, and his wife, Lynne, served as chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, while Mr. Simpson was both the second-ranking Senate Republican and one of the president’s closest friends. On top of that, the secretary of state at the time, James A. Baker III, spent summers on his Wyoming ranch, meaning two of the country’s top national security officials could be found doing unofficial promotional work for the state’s tourism industry.

“You’d have Army choppers snatching Cheney and Baker from fishing holes,” recalled Rob Wallace, who was Mr. Wallop’s chief of staff.

As conservative as the state was on the national level — Lyndon B. Johnson is the only Democrat to carry Wyoming in the past 70 years — the Wyoming Republican delegation worked effectively with two well-regarded Democratic governors in that same period, Ed Herschler and Mike Sullivan.

Now, Ms. Cheney hardly even speaks to the two other Wyomingites in Congress — Senators John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis, both Republicans — and has little contact with Gov. Mark Gordon. Ms. Lummis has endorsed Ms. Hageman. But Mr. Barrasso and Mr. Gordon, who are mainline Republicans in the Cheney tradition, have sought to maintain neutrality in hopes of avoiding Mr. Trump’s wrath.

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“They’ve got to make their own choices and live with the choices that they make,” Ms. Cheney said about the two men, before adding: “There are too many people who think that somebody else will fix the problem, that we can stay on the sidelines and Trump will fade.”

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