"Racist and xenophobic": Trump's handpicked challenger to Liz Cheney tried to oust him as GOP nominee in 2016

(Blaine McCartney/The Wyoming Tribune Eagle via AP)

This only enhances her appeal to him, no? There’s nothing he seems to relish more than watching a former critic become a lackey. Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, Mike Lee, Marco Rubio, and many other bitter antagonists from 2016 were happily endorsed for reelection by Trump once they knelt before Zod.

This is a guy who considered naming Mitt Romney his secretary of state less than a year after Romney gave a speech calling him a “phony” and a “fraud.”

Which is why he hates Cheney so much, of course. Nine other Republicans in the House and seven in the Senate voted to impeach or remove him from office this past winter but Cheney gets a disproportionate amount of his attention because she won’t let up on him. The rest are on his primary hit list but none are as relentlessly defiant day to day as Cheney is. Trump’s behavior is ruthlessly rational in that sense: If you persist in being “disloyal” he’ll scramble to punish you but if you admit error and pledge to be a loyal servant he might even back you for office.

Aask Harriet Hageman, Cheney’s challenger in next year’s Wyoming House primary, who was so militant a Never Trumper in 2016 that she participated in the effort to unbind Republican delegates won by Trump so that they could make Ted Cruz the GOP nominee instead. It must tickle Trump to imagine Cheney, the most outspoken anti-Trump Republican in the country, being replaced in the House by someone who used to share her views (and probably does still share them privately, as so many GOP pols do) but has since completely renounced them, broken by her own ambition and cowardice.

Calling Mr. Trump “the weakest candidate” [in 2016], Ms. Hageman attributed his rise to Democrats who she claimed had voted in Republican primaries.

She condemned Mr. Trump as a bigoted candidate who would repel voters Republicans needed to win a national election, warning that the G.O.P. would be saddled with “somebody who is racist and xenophobic.”…

Leading up to the convention, Ms. Hageman joined a small group of Republicans who organized a last-ditch effort to “unbind” delegates. They hoped to insert a conscience provision freeing delegates to vote for whomever they wanted regardless of the results of state primaries and caucuses, a move concocted by supporters of Mr. Cruz to instigate a convention floor fight.

That summer, Ms. Hageman was a regular participant in conference calls plotting the last-gasp opposition to Mr. Trump, long after he had won enough delegates to clinch the nomination. She and other delegates, many of them social conservatives from the West loyal to Mr. Cruz, argued that Mr. Trump was a cancer on the party, chosen by liberal voters in Democratic states to undermine Republicans nationwide.

Here’s her John Hancock on the petition for the rule change that could have led to delegates being unbound:

Hageman was such a diehard anti-Trumper at the time that she ended up being one of just 12 among 99 members of the convention’s Rules Committee to vote in favor of unbinding delegates. Another was Mike Lee, who’s become so deeply assimilated into Trumpism that he spent the final days of last year’s campaign comparing Trump to heroic figures from the Book of Mormon. Hageman now calls Trump “the greatest president of my lifetime” and blames her 2016 opposition to him on having “heard and believed the lies the Democrats and Liz Cheney’s friends in the media were telling at the time, but that is ancient history as I quickly realized that their allegations against President Trump were untrue.”

Trump knows about Hageman’s past, of course, and was willing to look beyond it in the name of defeating Cheney. Presumably MAGA fans in Wyoming will look beyond it too, partly because of Trump’s endorsement and partly because there’s no way to make the case that Hageman is/was more anti-Trump than her opponent is. An interesting question for next year’s primaries, though, is whether Republicans who criticized Trump years ago but have since tried to make amends will be similarly forgiven or whether that’ll be a meaningful strike against them when facing ardently pro-Trump opponents. I’m thinking of J.D. Vance in Ohio, who voiced his antipathy to Trump in 2016 many times but spends most of his time nowadays trying to prove to Trumpers that he’s seen the light. His opponent, Josh Mandel, has hammered him for his prior disloyalty at every opportunity:

Trump hasn’t endorsed anyone in the Ohio race yet. Presume that Mandel’s relentless ass-kissing convinces him to stay out of that election instead of endorsing Vance, who’s backed by Peter Thiel and is being promoted by Fox. Does Vance’s Never Trump pedigree sink him? Or does the fact that people like Tucker Carlson like him provide enough “permission” for Ohio Republicans to support him over Mandel, even without Trump’s endorsement?

Hageman’s journey proves that opposing Trump five years ago isn’t disqualifying for a Republican candidate. What may be disqualifying is getting on the wrong side of Trump about the outcome of the 2020 election. Every Republican pol in the United States will eventually have to navigate that litmus test. At the moment it’s Glenn Youngkin’s turn in the spotlight:

“I brought together Forever-Trumpers and Never-Trumpers, sitting in the same audience, excited about what we’re doing,” Youngkin told Axios.

“President Trump knows exactly where I stand,” he said. “He knows that I stand completely for Virginia.”…

Youngkin believes Biden beat Trump in the 2020 election legitimately. But while speaking with Axios, he wouldn’t say whether he would have voted to certify the election on Jan. 6 if he were a member of Congress. He did say there’s “no room for violence in America.”

It’s one thing for a Republican to oppose certifying the election because they believe, however baselessly, that Biden cheated to win. It’s another to believe that Biden won fair and square while still not ruling out objecting to certification. What possible logic could justify that position?

There’s no logic behind it. All Youngkin’s trying to do is find some awkward way to appease MAGA fans and the sort of right-leaning suburban voters in Virginia who loathe Trump. For the latter, he’s happy to admit that Biden is the duly elected president. For the former, he holds open the possibility that he might have tried to block the duly elected president from taking power. He’s pro-democracy but also anti-democracy — a little something for the Never Trumpers and a little for the Forever Trumpers, just like he said.

Is that good enough to pass the 2020 litmus test? Or will nothing short of “Biden cheated” suffice?

Here’s Cheney on “60 Minutes” last night, still not kneeling before Zod.