CHEYENNE, Wyo. — On a prairie hill on the rolling highway into Wyoming’s capital city looms a billboard with the beaming face of the state’s lone congressional representative, Liz Cheney. In huge letters it declares: “Thank you Rep. Cheney for defending the Constitution.”
Some local Republicans see Ms. Cheney’s lonesome stand against former President Donald J. Trump’s lies about a stolen election, and her refusal to back down, as an example of true Wyoming grit and independence.
But many others are quick to point out that the billboard was put up by an out-of-state dark money group, a sign of outsiders meddling. And among people in this state that voted in a landslide for Mr. Trump, a number said they were not thankful for much of anything Ms. Cheney has done lately, and have vowed to vote her out of office.
“She broke our trust, I won’t vote for her again,” said James Crestwell as he sat on the front steps of his small Craftsman house in the central part of town on Wednesday. He wore a frayed Army hat marking the time he served on a tank crew in Iraq. An American flag flapped in the spring sunshine.
Wyoming is rich in coal and other fossil fuels, and mining and drilling are major sources of jobs and tax revenue. President Trump championed those industries and loosened mineral leasing regulations. Under President Biden, who temporarily paused oil and mineral leases on federal land and has vowed to move the nation away from fossil fuels, the industry faces a more uncertain future. It is hard for many to stomach criticism of a president who they say stood up for their values.
Mr. Crestwell, 50, who works at the local veterans’ hospital, voted for both Mr. Trump and Ms. Cheney, and said it was a mistake for her to criticize the former president. “Trump’s been good for us in Wyoming. Supported coal and oil,” he said. “She seems like she’s more for Washington than Wyoming — like she’s trying to impress her powerful friends there.”
When asked about the president’s false claims that the election had been rigged, Mr. Crestwell said: “Show me the proof. We don’t have the black and white of what really happened yet.”
On the high plains of Wyoming, a state with fewer than 600,000 residents, conservative politics are as reliable as the stiff western winds. Registered Republicans outnumber Democrats four to one and control every part of state government.
But Mr. Trump’s polarizing actions after the election, which have caused a rift in the national Republican Party, are felt even more deeply here. Ms. Cheney’s forceful stand against Mr. Trump has forced local Republicans to choose between the popular hometown girl and the president who won nearly 70 percent of the vote in the state. So far, the most visible party members are roaring for Trump.
The state Republican Party overwhelmingly voted to censure Ms. Cheney in February after she voted to impeach the former president. Six residents have announced they will run against her in 2022. Statements of support from Republican office holders in Wyoming have been notably scant.
Ms. Cheney was once considered something close to political royalty in Wyoming, and a tough candidate to beat. Her family has been in the state for three generations on her mother’s side. Her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, who graduated from high school and college here, represented the state in Congress for 10 years.
But in Cheyenne, during the same week that Ms. Cheney was stripped of her leadership position in Congress, local politicians privately predicted that her days in office were numbered. Several leveled one of the more serious insults in these parts — that Ms. Cheney, who owns a house in the ski town of Jackson but has spent much of her life in Washington, was not really from Wyoming.
Other longtime residents said they were proud to see their congresswoman take a stand.
“Trump lied, and she had the guts to call it out. I respect her for sticking to her guns,” said Gene Wolden, who was leaning against a corner of the bar at a saloon in downtown Cheyenne, sipping a Bud Light long neck, in a bushy gray mustache and a snap-button shirt.
Next to him at the bar, Brian Brockman, who had done construction around coal mines in the state for decades, interrupted. “I don’t get it,” he said. “She’s telling the truth, and she gets castigated for it. I mean, if you can’t be honest, what kind of politicians are we going to end up with?”
Johnny Gipson, who works at an oil refinery on the edge of town that is converting to biofuel and shrinking its work force, jumped in. “She messed up. She went against the whole team. Of course everyone’s mad at her.”
House Republicans voted on May 12 to oust Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming from their leadership ranks for her refusal to stay quiet about President Donald J. Trump’s election lies.
- Backlash to Impeachment Vote: In January, Ms. Cheney issued a stinging statement announcing that she would vote to impeach Mr. Trump. In the statement, which drove a fissure through her party, she said that there had “never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States” than Mr. Trump’s incitement of a mob that attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6. She was among 10 Republicans who voted to impeach him. A group of Mr. Trump’s most strident allies in the House called on her to resign from her leadership post.
- Leadership Challenge: In February, Ms. Cheney fended off a challenge to strip her of her leadership position in a secret ballot vote. Even as a majority of House Republicans opposed impeaching Mr. Trump, most were not prepared to punish one of their top leaders for doing so — at least not under a blanket of anonymity.
- Censure: Ms. Cheney also faced opposition from the Wyoming Republican Party, which censured her and demanded she resign. Ms. Cheney rejected those calls and urged Republicans to be “the party of truth.”
- New Challenge: Ms. Cheney continued her blunt condemnation of Mr. Trump and her party’s role in spreading the false election claims that inspired the Jan. 6 attack, prompting a new push to oust her from her leadership role. This time, the effort was backed by Representative Kevin McCarthy, the minority leader.
- Removal: Ms. Cheney framed her expulsion as a turning point for her party and declared in an extraordinary speech that she would not sit by quietly as Republicans abandoned the rule of law. She embraced her downfall and offered herself as a cautionary tale in what she is portraying as a battle for the soul of the Republican Party. The removal came by voice vote during a brief but raucous closed-door meeting in an auditorium on Capitol Hill.
- Impact and Analysis: What began as a battle over the party’s future after the violent end to the Trump presidency has collapsed into a one-sided pile-on by Team Trump against critics like Ms. Cheney, a scion of a storied Republican family. The episode, a remarkable takedown that reflected the party’s intolerance for dissent and unswerving fealty to the former president, has called attention to internal party divisions between more mainstream and conservative factions about how to win back the House in 2022.
- Successor: Republican leaders have united behind Representative Elise Stefanik of New York, a onetime moderate whose loyalty to Mr. Trump and backing for his false claims of election fraud have earned her broad support from the party’s rank and file. In recent days, however, some hard-right Republicans have attacked Ms. Stefanik as insufficiently conservative and suggested the party should consider someone else.
“Yeah, but she told the truth!” Mr. Wolden said.
“Hey, I’m in oil,” Mr. Gipson said, putting up his hands. “I’m always going to be for Trump. I’ll just say this, the only people happy with what she did are Democrats.”
The local split over Ms. Cheney is an offshoot of the larger philosophical split in the Republican Party over the legacy of Mr. Trump, and whether political success lies with breaking with him or boosting him, said Prof. James King, who teaches political science at the University of Wyoming.
“This is the struggle we are seeing all over the country between Republicans who are more supportive of the party’s traditional values,” he said, “and Republicans who are more supportive of Trump.”
He noted that before Mr. Trump’s second impeachment, Ms. Cheney voted with the president on nearly every issue and was one of the most conservative members of Congress. That may insulate her from political damage.
“I think this will all shake out, because she has supported mining and agriculture, and the values of her voting are still very much the values of the state,” he said.
Ms. Cheney’s current political troubles in Washington may not translate to an election loss next year, Professor King said, because in Wyoming, where the Republican primary almost always decides the election, residents of any political affiliation can register as Republicans on Primary Day, which means Ms. Cheney could draw significant numbers of independents and Democrats.
The large number of challengers may also work in her favor, he said, because Wyoming has no runoff elections, so the challengers could split the vote, and Ms. Cheney could win with even a slim plurality.
“She might just survive,” he said. “Right now, everyone is keeping their heads down because they don’t want to end up in the same position. But I think she has more support out there than people think.”