The Cheney Challenger Lurking on the Sidelines

When former President Donald Trump officially endorsed Harriet Hageman in Wyoming’s GOP congressional race last month, Republican primary challenger Anthony Bouchard knew he’d have to act quickly. He’d spent months establishing himself as a die-hard Trump ally and fashioning his campaign in opposition to the former president’s greatest foe in the House GOP Conference: incumbent GOP Rep. Liz Cheney.

“Wyoming was President Trump’s best state both times he ran,” Bouchard said in a press release on January 20 announcing his run. “That’s because Wyoming voters are strong conservatives who want our leaders to stand up for America, defend our freedoms, fight for our way of life and always put working people first as President Trump did.”

But his hopes of flaunting Donald Trump’s endorsement on the campaign trail were suddenly dashed on September 9, when the former president formally threw his support behind Hageman, who is an admittedly unconventional choice. Hageman served as a delegate for GOP Sen. Ted Cruz in 2016, advised Cheney’s short-lived 2014 Senate bid against Mike Enzi, and donated to Cheney’s congressional campaigns in 2014 and 2016.

Since announcing her candidacy, Hageman has said that she came around on Trump after he won the nomination, and that “Democrats and Liz Cheney’s friends in the media … lied about him before he was elected and continue to lie about him to this day.” She also called him “the greatest president of my lifetime.”

Despite Hageman’s previous history of opposing Trump, a fleet of Wyoming congressional candidates—including Cheyenne attorney and businessman Darin Smith, chairman of the Sheridan County Republican Party Bryan Miller, and Wyoming state Sen. Chuck Gray—dropped out of the race shortly after Trump’s announcement, well aware of the weight of a former president’s endorsement in boosting a candidate’s statewide profile. But Bouchard, Robyn Belinsky, and retired U.S. Army Col. Denton Knapp seem to be in it for the long haul.

In the meantime, Bouchard has begun rationalizing the president’s support for Hageman by insisting he’s the victim of an establishment Republican plot. “The [Wyoming Republican] Party chairman—regardless of who it is—is traditionally against my campaign,” Bouchard said in an interview with The Dispatch. “It’s always the establishment is against me … I’m known as someone who doesn’t go along with the herd, and that tends to ruffle some feathers.”

In any other GOP primary, Bouchard’s anti-establishment rhetoric would seem to reflect the confidence of a GOP candidate who won Donald Trump’s endorsement. But in this case, it’s being wielded as a defense mechanism. Bouchard genuinely believes that Trump was tricked by the Wyoming GOP establishment into undermining his campaign. “I have reports—I mean several reports—that came into our campaign that the [Wyoming GOP] party chairman doesn’t like me,” Bouchard said. “We heard a lot of internal chatter about how the chairman was telling Trump: ‘Anybody but Bouchard.’ ”

“[Trump’s] been getting bad advice on this race from day one,” said April Poley, who volunteers for Bouchard’s campaign as an unpaid volunteer and spokesperson. “We’ve heard that he personally—his personal favorite is Anthony Bouchard. But [Trump] can’t go with Bouchard because the people that surround him tell him he can’t.”

In May, Bouchard came under fire for publicly acknowledging that he impregnated a 14-year-old when he was 18. The couple married one year later and then got divorced, and his ex-wife subsequently died by suicide at age 20. Poley has navigated this scandal by insisting that impregnating a 14-year-old at age 18 constitutes “a senior-freshman relationship that happens every day in American high schools across the country.”

The filing date for Wyoming’s congressional race isn’t until May, but Bouchard’s campaign is utterly convinced that Cheney won’t end up seeking reelection. “I think that Liz Cheney is exceptionally elated to hear that her good friend Harriet Hageman received the endorsement of Donald Trump for her seat, because I do not believe that Lizzie has any intention of actually running for this office,” Poley said.

Poley said she believes Cheney is fundraising for a 2024 presidential bid against Donald Trump and predicts she will drop out by March or April 2022. Asked to confirm his campaign’s position on the issue, Bouchard didn’t give a straight answer. “Eh, we don’t have an official position,” Bouchard said. “Something just doesn’t seem right,” he said. “Obviously, she’s very close to Bill Kristol. I know there’s just something else going on. I just haven’t put my finger on it yet.”

In 2017, Bouchard narrowly won a three-way GOP primary in his bid for state senate and beat his general election challenger, independent candidate Kym Zwonitzer, by a few points. That victory broke his considerable losing streak in Wyoming politics: In 2012, he unsuccessfully sought both a Republican seat in the Wyoming House and a seat in the Wyoming senate two years later. 

Now, he’s hoping that he can split the Wyoming congressional vote by running as far right as possible and portraying high profile candidates Cheney and Hageman as clones of each other.

“In a Republican primary in Wyoming, you can’t win any election by being more thoughtful or more nuanced,” a former Wyoming Republican official told The Dispatch, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “You win by going as far right as you can. And he’s good at that.” 

“Everything about them—April and Anthony—is conspiracy,” the former official said. “That’s what their whole life is built around.”

Asked whether he would have voted to decertify the Electoral College results had he been in Congress in January 2020, Bouchard suggested he would have sided with the majority of House Republicans that day. “Based on what I know about ballot harvesting and Zuckerberg being involved with—at some level—with ballot drop off points and things like that, I would have to say ‘no’ based on some of that information,” Bouchard said.

He also recently suggested that White House medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci ought to be prosecuted and face the death penalty for his handling of the pandemic. “After prosecution, the chair, the gallows or lethal injection?” Bouchard wrote in a since-deleted Facebook post that included a meme of Dr. Anthony Fauci superimposed next to a noose. Facebook took the post down, but Bouchard says he doesn’t regret posting it. “I was in Facebook jail for three days ’cause of that,” he said.

Like many GOP candidates, Bouchard roots his understanding of the January 6 Capitol riot in Trump-aligned historical revisionism. “[Cheney] keeps calling it an insurrection. I mean, insurrections are armed, so that’s—it’s crazy,” Bouchard said. “There were provocateurs and I think there were a bunch of people that weren’t there for that,” Bouchard said. “When things go bad, why are we going to use that against Trump?”

Realistically speaking, Bouchard’s chances of winning the GOP nomination are slim. With little institutional support for his campaign, Bouchard is banking on the hope that Trump’s endorsement of Hageman won’t doom his chances ahead of next year’s August primary. “I think Trump over-accentuates what he thinks he has as far as power to manipulate voters in the state of Wyoming,” Poley said. “People will think for themselves. Endorsements don’t really matter.”