CASPER — Former President Donald Trump told a rapturous crowd of supporters on Saturday to “fire” Rep. Liz Cheney and back his choice to replace her, land attorney Harriet Hageman.
Trump did not visit Wyoming as president. But after Cheney voted to impeach him and branded him a threat to democracy, Trump focused on finding a candidate to defeat her in August’s Republican primary.
He embraced his candidate, Hageman, on stage, and told the crowd the House race had implications that extended well beyond the state’s borders.
“Wyoming, all of America is counting on you,” he said. “So important. We all know how great of a state you are, how beautiful you are. But you’ve become, politically speaking, you’re at the top of the list. We have a lot of elections coming up … I think this is the most important election that we have, right here.”
During a 90-minute speech at the Ford Wyoming Center, Trump ripped into Cheney, branding her a “Republican In Name Only” who provides Democrats with their talking points.
“There is no RINO in America that has thrown in her lot with the radical left more than Liz Cheney,” he said. “She has gone crazy.”
Trump announced his plans to hold a rally in Casper earlier this month, although they’ve been discussed for months. The rally, compounded by the holiday weekend, an antique car show and end-of-the-year events like graduation, brought thousands of visitors to Casper.
In the weeks before the event, Trump merchandise vendors popped up on local streets. Hotels filled. A caravan heading to the Trump rally rolled in from Billings.
People arrived early on the morning of the rally. The atmosphere outside in the parking lot, around the food and merchandise vendors, among the people waiting in line, was relatively calm. People walked around shopping for Trump shirts, hats and flags. There were many families with young kids.
Around 10:30 a.m. as journalists started lining up near the building’s entrance to get press passes, Trump supporter and CEO of MyPillow Mike Lindell appeared and walked past people standing in line. They cheered. He smiled and waved.
Lindell was banned from Twitter twice; the first time for spreading claims that the 2020 election had been stolen from Trump, and the second time earlier this month for trying to get back on the platform with a new user account.
Trump railed against Twitter in his speech. Twitter permanently banned him from the platform in 2021 following the Jan. 6 attack on the capitol.
Since then, he’s launched a new social media platform, Truth Social. He encouraged the crowd to jump from Twitter to Truth Social during his speech.
The cavernous Ford Wyoming Center was quiet before it opened to the public at 11 a.m.
Teema McIntosh and Cheryl Tuck-Smith, two older women who came in the previous night from Cheyenne, sat in the calm at a plastic folding table covered in “Hageman for Congress” bumper stickers.
Hageman suddenly appeared, surrounded by an entourage of a dozen or so people, then disappeared just as quickly.
The auditorium filled slowly. It was less than half full an hour before speakers were scheduled to start. (The auditorium was pretty full closer to when Trump was scheduled to talk).
Five minutes after 1 p.m., the first speakers took the stage.
Wyoming GOP Chairman Frank Eathorne went first. He wore a white cowboy hat, jeans and a button-up shirt.
“I would run through barbed wire for that guy, how ‘bout you?” he said about Trump. The crowd cheered its answer.
Eathorne played a big role in Cheney’s censure by the state GOP central committee in 2021 after she voted to impeach Trump. That caught Trump’s attention; since then, Trump and Eathorne have been on a “first-name basis,” the Star-Tribune and Wyofile reported earlier this month. Eathorne said that Trump called him personally with the news that he would be coming to Casper for a rally.
A few other Wyoming politicians made an appearance too: Rep. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle, Rep. John Bear, R-Gillette and Rep. Chip Neiman, R-Hulett.
The crowd didn’t seem as enthusiastic when the state lawmakers took the podium — many of the people in the crowd were from out of state, and those who spoke with the Star-Tribune said they didn’t know very much about instate Wyoming politics. They were drawn to the rally for the big political celebrities.
“We’re just here to support Trump,” Adam Radogna, a 7-11 store owner from Ohio, said earlier.
He came to Casper with several others who are part of a group founded in 2016 called the Front Row Joes. Radogna joined the group in 2018. He said he hasn’t missed a single Trump rally this year.
Besides Trump, some other speakers also drew waves of deafening cheers from the crowd.
Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado came on stage with a red MAGA hat, glasses and blue jeans.
“How y’all doing in Wyoming?” Boebert asked to cheers.
Boebert is serving her first term as a U.S. representative for Colorado. Trump endorsed her for reelection in December. During her speech, she labeled Cheney a RINO — an acronym for “Republican In Name Only.” It’s become a call-out for far-right conservatives against more traditional conservatives.
Speakers, including Trump, repeatedly railed Cheney with the label.
“I am, Wyoming, a professional RINO hunter,” Boebert said.
Boebert also used her speech to suggest Trump was not like other politicians. That point was brought up repeatedly by people in the crowd.
“He’s straight up, he don’t hold nothing back,” said Patrick Howard, a merchandise vendor from Greensboro, North Carolina. He was folding pink and black “Women for Trump, Save America” t-shirts on a plastic folding table earlier in the morning, before the crowds arrived.
“I love that — he speaks his mind,” Howard said.
All of the speakers talked about the contest between Cheney and Hageman.
There was considerable vitriol against Cheney, who has been an outspoken critic of Trump. That criticism has turned off some former Cheney supporters, like Casper resident Eric Graham and his family, who were among some of the first people to get into the Ford Wyoming Center after the doors opened to the public. (Graham said he had met some of Trump’s “event people” at the Casper sub-sandwich store Blimpie and they gave him tickets.)
Graham said he used to support Cheney until she voted to impeach Trump following the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
“Cheney has had a good track record, but since Trump, she’s just gone a different way,” he said. Now, his family is planning to vote for Cheney’s competitor Hageman.
There was a break in the speaking lineup. People got up to get food and go to the bathroom.
Sarah Bao stood in the long bathroom line. She’s from northern Vietnam, but lives in Colorado now. She drove up from Colorado on her own.
Bao said she has been to many other Trump rallies in the past and is a member of several Trump-centered groups. She said that “Trump is the only one who can save the world.” From what? “From communism,” she answered. Bao said she had “lived under communists for so long.”
During the break, Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida spoke via a pre-recorded video on the big screens back in the auditorium.
Gaetz visited Wyoming’s capitol for a rally weeks after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. A crowd of about 750 to 1,000 people had gathered to protest Cheney’s vote to impeach Trump following the riot.
At the time, state Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, was the most serious contender against Cheney in the race for Wyoming’s lone House seat, and Hageman had not entered the race.
Gaetz has been a strong supporter of Trump throughout his presidency and defended him following the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California also appeared over video to speak briefly. Some from the crowd booed.
Earlier this year, the New York Times released audio of McCarthy weighing whether or not to ask Trump to resign after the Jan. 6 insurrection. That has resulted in backlash against him from some Trump supporters.
There was another break after the speakers over video. Lindell walked past the press pit a couple times and posed for pictures with fans.
Trump was scheduled to start his speech at 4 p.m. But at 4:25 p.m., Hageman took the stage.
She drew round after round of loud cheers from the crowd as she went through a long list of grievances that she and the crowd were “fed up” with: mask mandates, vaccine mandates, social media platforms “blocking conservative speech,” critical race theory, Anthony Faucci, Liz Cheney, “the radical Biden agenda.”
People in the crowd stood when Trump was finally announced, many of them lifting their phones to take photos and videos. He walked to the podium, magnified on the two giant screens framing the back wall. The crowd cheered “USA!” Then Trump launched into a freewheeling speech about voter integrity, the Trump-Russia investigation, George H.W. Bush and Dick Cheney’s decision to go to war in the Middle East, the coronavirus (he called it “the China virus”), illegal immigration, Space Force, NAFTA and the withdrawal from Afghanistan.
He criticized Cheney, calling her a “RINO” several times, and mentioned her role as vice chair of the select committee that’s investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Mention of the committee drew loud boos from the crowd.
“It’s why she was censured by the GOP,” he said of Cheney’s participation on the committee and her vote to impeach him. He added that he is “very proud” of Frank Eathorne for his role in Cheney’s censure by the state GOP central committee. He turned to topics that have touched Wyoming politics recently.
“We will defend parents’ rights,” he said, adding that teachers shouldn’t be allowed to “teach transgender.”
He spoke against transgender women competing on female sports teams and in opposition to the teaching of critical race theory in schools.
These debates are familiar in Wyoming — lawmakers chewed over them in this year’s legislative session.
And recently, students at the University of Wyoming booed Wyoming U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis when she said at their commencement ceremony that “even fundamental scientific truths, such as the existence of two sexes, male and female, are subject to challenge these days.” (She later apologized for the comment in a statement).
In the middle of his speech, Trump asked the crowd: “Does anybody want me to run again?”
The crowd exploded into cheers.
“This is the year that we’re going to take back the House, we’re going to take back the Senate, and we’re going to take back America,” he said. “And in 2024, we’re going to take back our great and beautiful White House.”