Does Liz Cheney stand a chance at reelection?

Jim Bourg/Pool via AP

I mean, pretty clearly not. Especially if she submits herself to a Republican primary instead of running as an independent.

Which is why it’s odd that Trump and his cronies are keen to incentivize Cheney to run as an independent by lobbying to tighten the rules for primary voting in Wyoming.

If she runs as a Republican in a Trump +40 state, she has a one-in-a-thousand chance of winning the party’s nomination. If she runs as an independent in the general election, she has a one-in-a-hundred chance of prevailing via a coalition of Democrats and centrist Republicans.

So maybe MAGA shouldn’t give her a reason not to run in the primary, right?

On Thursday, Trump endorsed Wyoming legislation that would prevent crossover voting in a primary election. Were the law to pass, Democrats, Republicans, or independents would no longer be able to switch party affiliation on the day of the state’s primary to vote for a candidate in another party.

The bill, introduced by Republican state Sen. Bo Biteman, is part of a push by some Republicans in the state to oust Cheney by blocking Democrats from switching parties to support her in her upcoming election against Trump-endorsed congressional candidate, Harriet Hageman…

It’s not the first time Wyoming’s primary voting laws have come under scrutiny. In 2018, some Republicans in the state claimed [Mark] Gordon won the Wyoming GOP gubernatorial primary and defeated more conservative candidates like Foster Friess because Democrats switched party affiliation to boost his bid. Analyses of voter registration numbers from the Secretary of State’s office did not back up that claim, but the law has remained a focus of Republicans in the state.

In 2018, some 10,000 Wyomingites switched their party registration on primary day. Gordon won that race by 9,000 votes. Without a doubt, if the law isn’t changed to forbid party-switching, some Democrats will show up for the GOP primary to support Cheney.

But certainly many more would support her in November in the general election. Some Dems otherwise inclined to support Cheney either won’t make a mental note about voting in the primary or won’t want the hassle of switching to become Republicans in order to cast a ballot in a primary.

For what it’s worth, Cheney told the NYT last month that she won’t encourage party-switching or any other organized Democratic efforts to propel her to victory, which I think is strategic. Obviously she can’t win this race without Democratic support; her calculus is that if she asks for it, whatever backing she still enjoys from centrist Republicans will evaporate. She’ll have played into Trump’s narrative that she’s a de facto Democrat now, a claim Cheney resists both for electoral reasons (being labeled a Democrat in Wyoming is tough to overcome) and principled ones. She votes reliably conservative and disdains the idea that only Democrats can or should object to the “stop the steal” insanity. She’s not a Democrat nor does she want to be seen as such.

But she’s also too smart not to realize that she’s a sitting duck in a primary. Her best shot is to declare herself an “independent Republican voice for Wyoming” and run in the general election. *Maybe* she can hold onto enough centrist righties to prevail with Democratic help. Hundred-to-one odds against her, but at least there’s a hypothetical chance.

There is one advantage to running in a primary, though. As Henry Olsen notes, the anti-Cheney field is still divided among multiple candidates:

Cheney’s hope is that a combination of her financial advantage, a divided field and Wyoming’s election laws allows her to make it through her primary challenge. The winner of the contest need only take a plurality to prevail, which is exactly what happened in Hageman’s statewide defeat. The winner, current Gov. Mark Gordon, won with only 33 percent of the vote. Moreover, he defeated a Trump-backed candidate, the late multimillionaire businessman Foster Friess, who finished second with 26 percent.

Hageman has yet to clear the anti-Cheney field, which includes four other declared candidates, including state Sen. Anthony Bouchard, who has raised more than $630,000. Meanwhile, Cheney is sitting on more than $4.7 million, a tremendous sum to spend in tiny Wyoming.

If MAGA voters split among multiple candidates then Cheney can win a primary. But let’s be real: With Trump, Kevin McCarthy, Elise Stefanik, and other big Republican names endorsing Harriet Hageman, the rest of the MAGA candidates will be footnotes by primary day. It’ll be essentially a straight-up Cheney vs. Hageman race. And based on what the Times is hearing about Cheney’s polling, it’s clear how a two-person race will shake out: “Private polling in January found just 31 percent of Wyoming Republican primary voters had a favorable view of Ms. Cheney, compared to 60 percent who saw her unfavorably. More than half the state’s Republican primary electorate described themselves as strong supporters of Mr. Trump who would not vote for a candidate he opposes.”

If she runs in a primary she’ll get smoked. Her only consolation will be the moral affirmation gained from knowing that she was bitterly opposed by the GOP’s sleaziest authoritarians and their courtiers.

Speaking of which, although he’s almost a mortal lock to prevail, Trump had better do everything in his power not to lose this race. Critics and frenemies alike will be hunting for evidence in the midterm results that he’s lost his hold over the party. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that if Cheney overcomes his bid to oust her — or, as is more likely, if Brian Kemp overcomes Trump’s bid to oust him in Georgia — it becomes meaningfully more likely that someone like DeSantis will challenge him for the presidential nomination in 2024. In fact, the Cheney/Hageman campaign is destined to showcase how many Republicans are unwilling to do what Trump wants by opposing her, from McConnell to Lindsey Graham to Mitt Romney to George W. Bush to maybe others still to come given the sour relations between Trump and the Senate GOP lately. Cheney will be fine if she loses this race. Trump might not be fine if she wins it.