Last July, Wyoming Republican Harriet Hageman drove seven hours from her home in Cheyenne to Jackson to meet with a major donor who wanted her to wage a primary campaign against Donald Trump’s top nemesis, GOP Rep. Liz Cheney.
When Hageman arrived for the breakfast meeting the following morning, she was greeted by a surprise guest: former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. Hageman had heard from an array of Wyoming Republicans urging her to take on Cheney. But Meadows was dialing up the pitch, making the case for Hageman to jump in and putting her on the phone with Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, another staunch Trump ally who reinforced the point. After leaving the breakfast, Meadows called Trump and encouraged him to meet with the soon-to-be candidate, according to a person familiar with the discussion.
The episode illustrates Trump’s all-encompassing role in the effort to oust Cheney, which culminated Tuesday in a lopsided primary defeat for the congresswoman. Hageman ran with Trump’s support, was advised by Trump’s lieutenants, and was funded by his donors. Trump aides vetted and interviewed Cheney’s prospective challengers with a degree of care the operation didn’t display in other big midterm races. Once they settled on their pick, they cleared the field of Hageman’s primary rivals. Then, the team formed an outside group that was heavily funded by Trump’s PAC, which ran TV ads starring the former president’s son, Donald Trump Jr.
It was an unusually disciplined effort by Trump’s political orbit — a far-flung, often chaotic constellation of operatives whose disorganization, fueled by Trump’s impulsiveness, has often impeded their attempts to influence campaigns. This time, the well-organized Trump forces swamped Cheney, who by the end appeared less focused on surviving her reelection fight than embracing a high-profile national role as a Trump critic.
“Trump-world organized and mobilized like I’ve never seen before to ensure Cheney’s defeat. Everyone correctly understood that, symbolically speaking, no midterm race was more important for the future of the America First movement than this one,” said Andy Surabian, the chief strategist for the pro-Hageman outside group, Wyoming Values PAC.
Jeremy Adler, a Cheney spokesperson, castigated the Trump-run campaign to unseat her and said she could have won — but she felt she had to take a stand against Trump’s lies that the 2020 election was stolen.
“Liz won the 2020 Wyoming GOP primary with 73 percent of the vote and could’ve won this race easily if she did what [House Minority Leader] Kevin McCarthy and so many others have done and embraced Donald Trump’s insidious lies,” Adler said in a statement. “While those men take pride in the fact that they supported an election denier who preys on the patriotism of ordinary Americans, Liz is going to be leading a broad coalition that defends freedom, upholds the Constitution, and fights back against efforts to destroy our republic.”