After Dismal Midterms for GOP, Wyoming Leaders Explore Politics Post-Trump

Wyoming’s U.S. senators have signaled they may be ready to move beyond the former president, but Wyoming voters aren’t so sure

  • Published In: Politics
  • Last Updated: Nov 23, 2022

Wyoming's Republican Sens. Cynthia Lummis and John Barrasso have begun to explore a future without former President Trump as the leader of the GOP. (Photo credit: Sipa USA via AP)

By Jacob Gardenswartz

Special to the Wyoming Truth

WASHINGTON — In the 2020 election, Wyoming voters broke for former President Donald Trump by a greater margin than did Americans anywhere else in the country, 70-27.

Now, after a worse-than-expected showing by Republicans in the midterm elections and with Trump further embroiled in legal controversy, some state leaders are signaling that they may be ready to eschew his grasp on the GOP.

Last week, Wyoming’s junior Sen. Cynthia Lummis made waves with a comment to Politico following Trump’s Nov. 15 announcement that he will seek the presidency in 2024. Asked whether she planned on endorsing Trump for president, as she did during his last campaign, Lummis demurred: “I don’t think that’s the right question.” 

“I think the question is who is the current leader of the Republican Party. Oh, I know who it is: Ron DeSantis,” Lummis added. DeSantis, who currently serves as the Republican governor of Florida, was reelected by a wide margin earlier this month and is seen as a likely challenger to Trump in the 2024 GOP primary.

Congresswoman-elect Harriet Hageman was recently voted freshman policy chair for the incoming class of House Republicans. Reps.-elect Russel Fry (R-S.C.) and Erin Houchin (R-Ind.) also will serve in leadership roles for GOP freshmen. (Photo via Facebook / Russel Fry)

A spokesperson for Lummis declined to elaborate on her comments or her future support of Trump, telling the Wyoming Truth only that her remarks “stand on their own.”

Sen. John Barrasso, the dean of Wyoming’s congressional delegation and the third-highest ranking Republican in the Senate, was similarly coy about his thoughts on Trump’s 2024 prospects. Asked whether he’d support Trump or another candidate in the GOP primary, a spokesperson for his office told the Wyoming Truth that Barrasso “plans to support the Republican nominee for president.”

But not everyone representing Wyoming in Washington is ready to put the former president in the rearview mirror. Harriet Hageman, the Congresswoman-elect who ousted incumbent Rep. Liz Cheney with Trump’s backing, remains squarely in his corner.

“President Trump was the best president for Wyoming in my lifetime,” Hageman told the Wyoming Truth. “I am thrilled that he is running again.”

Differing attitudes towards Trump bleed into GOP leadership battles

The disparate reaction to Trump’s campaign announcement among Wyoming’s elected officials epitomizes a broader conversation within the GOP about how to respond to Trump moving forward.

On one side are the hardcore Trump loyalists, such as Hageman, who remain closely tied to him and who appear likely to promote policies in line with his agenda. Though such individuals represent a minority of the broader Republican caucus, they’ll maintain significant influence in the new U.S. House, where Republicans will wield majority power by the slimmest of margins.

Then come those in the middle, such as Lummis and Barrasso: officials who’ve previously backed Trump and enjoyed his support, but who are now distancing themselves given the poor performance of the candidates he endorsed in 2022. Despite GOP wins in Wyoming earlier this month, Trump-backed candidates who promoted his unproven election fraud claims lost key races in Pennsylvania, Nevada, Arizona, New Hampshire, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and New Mexico. Political analysts have highlighted Trump’s rhetoric around the 2020 election as key to Republicans’ struggle with independent voters this cycle.

And in another category entirely are the Trump opponents — those who say they’ll do everything in their power to ensure the former president never again sets foot in the Oval Office. Chief among them is Rep. Liz Cheney:

“There’s no question that [Trump’s] unfit for office and I feel confident that he will never be president again,” Cheney told The Washington Post’s Global Women’s Summit shortly after his campaign announcement.

Such internal debates came to a head during the Republican House and Senate leadership votes after the midterm election. Some Senators — including Lummis, her office confirmed to the Wyoming Truth — had suggested delaying the election for Senate Minority Leader until after the Dec. 6 runoff election in Georgia, when it would be more clear the size of Democrats’ slim majority.

“Senator Lummis advocated for delaying the leadership elections, but ultimately that motion failed during a Senate Republican Conference meeting,” a spokesperson said.

In an interview with Fox News on election day, Trump renewed his criticism of Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). “If I run and if I win, I will say, ‘Don’t send me any legislation if [McConnell’s] the leader,’ and he’ll be out in two minutes,” Trump said.

A few days later, Trump again invoked McConnell as he sought to shift the blame from his hand-picked candidates who mostly lost, writing on his social media platform that the poor midterm results were “McConnell’s fault.”

Still, McConnell prevailed in a leadership election 37-10-1 over challenger Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.). When the new Congress takes office in January, he’ll earn the title as the longest-serving Senate leader in U.S. history.

On the House side, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) won a preliminary election for House Speaker over Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) 188-31, enough to advance him to a vote before the full House conference but not enough to win the 218 “ayes” required to guarantee him the speakership. Trump had endorsed McCarthy’s leadership bid before the midterm election, but has since avoided commenting on the race.

With McCarthy still short the votes to clinch the Speaker’s gavel, some had floated a grand bipartisan compromise that would result in a Speaker Cheney. Though the Speaker of the House has always been a member of that Congressional body, they are not required to be.

But politicians on both sides of the aisle swiftly threw cold water on that idea, noting that Cheney currently seems poorly-aligned with the policy platforms of both major parties.

“On the GOP side, there will be zero stomach for [Cheney],” Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) told NBC News. “I actually like Liz … but it wouldn’t happen.”

“No, Liz ‘I voted against the John Lewis Voting Rights Act’ Cheney should not be speaker. Ever,” echoed Nina Turner, former Democrat congressional candidate and co-chair of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign on Twitter.

Hageman prepares for Washington as Trump faces growing legal exposure

As infighting over Trump’s future role in the GOP continues, Hageman has emerged as a rising star within the GOP. During the orientation of incoming congressional freshmen in Washington last week, Hageman’s new peers elected her “freshman policy chair,” a largely ceremonial position that nonetheless elevates her voice on policy matters.

While many of Trump’s most fervent congressional backers supported Biggs in the leadership race, Hageman stuck with McCarthy, a strategic move that serves to further her relationship with the likely eventual speaker.

In Washington, Hageman has begun to staff up her Congressional office. Campaign Manager Carly Miller is now serving as a “transition aide,” while no fewer than 14 positions in her office were posted on the House new member resume bank, an online platform that helps incoming representatives hire staff.

As the Wyoming Truth has previously reported, Hageman is eyeing placements on the Natural Resources and Oversight Committees, the latter of which would enable her to press for the investigation of Trump’s political enemies. Asked about her public sympathy for jailed Jan. 6 rioters, a spokesperson confirmed that Hageman “believe[s] that people are being denied due process rights and their right to a speedy trial.”

Such comments demonstrate that while some in the party are poised to move on from Trump, others remain fervently committed to his causes — no doubt in part due to the beliefs of their constituents.

In an August poll conducted by the University of Wyoming, nearly four-in-10 Wyomingites expressed support for Trump’s false claim that President Joe Biden was not legitimately elected, while a plurality said they believed there was “solid evidence” of voter fraud in 2020.

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