Senate Challenge

Lean In, Liz Cheney, but Please Don’t Win That Senate Seat

Michelle Cottle is all for women being aggressive—just so long as Cheney doesn’t win that Senate seat.

For the record, I warned everyone this day would come: that Liz Cheney would move to assume her father’s mantle as bloodthirsty overlord of the political scene.

Now, admittedly, I thought Liz might start with something more modest, like a House seat. Or wait until one of Wyoming’s sitting Republican senators decided to retire. Or maybe run in a state where she has lived for more than 15 minutes. (Don’t give me that fourth-generation Wyoming drivel. Both sides of my family hail from Alabama for as far back as anyone can recall. That doesn’t make me a local.) Then again, the Senate has a fine history of carpetbaggery; far too many members of both houses of Congress cling to office until they can’t chew their own food; and, really, there’s only so long the human body can contain the combustible mix of ambition, neocon zeal, and how-dare-you-talk-smack-about-my-dad fury visibly fueling Dick’s elder daughter.

So it is that Wyoming Sen. Mike Enzi awoke Tuesday to discover a big, fat bull’s-eye on his chest. In a YouTube video clocking in at slightly under six minutes, Citizen Liz, all decked out in her chambray shirt, stands with an out-of-focus pasture as her backdrop (the split-rail fence is a particularly nice touch), explaining why “as a mother and as a patriot” she feels compelled to run. Though she spends the bulk of her time detailing the depravity of President Obama, she takes a break now and then to take thinly veiled swipes at Enzi for his age (69 to Liz’s 46) and insufficient obstructionism. “I am running because I believe it is necessary for a new generation of leaders to step up to the plate,” she declares. “We can no longer afford simply to go along to get along” or to “continue business as usual in Washington.” Cheney assures voters, “I will never compromise when our freedom is at stake.”

And just like that, the entire Republican establishment grabbed for the Advil and the Johnnie Walker Black.

“This is not the right race at the right time,” says Bush White House press secretary Ari Fleischer. “What has Senator Enzi done wrong? He’s a solid, strong, good conservative who takes care of his home state.”

Stressing that he has known Cheney for many years and “would love for her to become a senator,” Fleischer nonetheless contends, “when you take on an incumbent who is a solid conservative, you leave the party picking personalities as opposed to voting on the basis of issues, and that’s always uncomfortable.”

Indeed, for all Cheney’s innuendo, Enzi is no RINO squish. He’s anti-abortion rights, pro-gun, anti-gay marriage, pro-Patriot Act, anti-Obamacare, and in favor of drilling the crap out of ANWR and at least partially privatizing Social Security. A few years back, National Journal ranked him the sixth-most conservative member of the Senate.

Did he support a tax on Internet sales? Yes, he did. (Albeit as a favor to brick-and-mortar retailers, rather than out of any enthusiasm for taxation.) Has he now and again tried to achieve bipartisan compromise? Yes, he has. That doesn’t make him unprincipled. That makes him someone who understands what it takes to govern, which is what senators are expected to do—as opposed to, say, all those rodeo clowns in the House who’d rather posture for the wingers back home than get anything done.

Enzi’s colleagues rushed to express their support. Wyoming’s junior senator, John Barrasso, praised his “friend” and “mentor” in a Wednesday interview on MSNBC, describing Cheney’s run—as Fleischer did—as “the wrong race at the wrong time.” The state’s lone House member, Republican Cynthia Lummis, was still more direct, calling the run “bad form” and telling Capitol Hill reporters Tuesday, “I don’t know that anybody can out-conservative Mike Enzi.” Tea Party darling Sen. Rand Paul offered a similar stamp of approval: “I consider him a good conservative.”

But former Wyoming senator Alan Simpson beat everyone to the punch. Last week, even before Cheney’s announcement, he fretted that her rumored run would be “the destruction of the Republican Party of Wyoming.” He told The New York Times, “It’s a disaster—a divisive, ugly situation—and all it does is open the door for the Democrats for 20 years.”

Considering the deep redness of Wyoming, Simpson’s prediction is more than a tad overwrought. “It’s hard to imagine” a Democrat winning the state, says Fleischer. But he adds that “it was also hard to imagine Republicans losing Indiana” as they did in November.

Even assuming Wyoming is safe, however, Republicans are right to fret. Just think of all the fun the political media will have with another Republican-on-Republican brawl, groans Fleischer. “At a time when we should be concentrating energy on President Obama and defeating his agenda, this risks being a significant sideshow and a distraction,” he says.

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More specific to Liz: as political headaches go, the return of the Cheney brand to the national stage promises to be a doozy. However rocky the Obama years have been, not many folks are waxing nostalgic about the good ol’ days when Dick was deep-tissue massaging the Iraq intel and orchestrating the GWOT from his undisclosed location. Except for Liz. She remains 100 percent convinced that her dad was 100 percent right 100 percent of the time. Iraq, torture, the moral weakness and borderline treachery of Obama—everything. Nor is Liz shy about expressing herself, at times so toxically and irresponsibly that even members of her own party have denounced her. (The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf is quite eloquent on this subject.)

So much for the GOP’s we-swear-we’re-not-a-bunch-of-bomb-throwing-extremists rebranding effort.

Now, some Cheney fans have suggested that the grumbling about her run is just a case of the old boys’ network lining up against a rising young star. Please. This is not a case of some scrappy up-and-comer squaring off against a big, bad insider. The only reason anyone has ever heard of Liz Cheney is because her daddy is who he is. And the only reason she has a shot at ousting Enzi is because her daddy has been tapping his network of rich friends in enclaves far removed from Cheyenne. (And every dollar Dick brings in will go a mighty long way in America’s least populous state.) We’re talking here about a bona fide party princess with a rich sense of entitlement. Cheney didn’t even bother giving Enzi a heads up that she was planning to run, which, yeah, does seem a little obnoxious, seeing as how she and her dad have known the senator for three decades. “I thought we were friends,” Enzi told Capitol Hill reporters plaintively.

None of which is to suggest that Cheney shouldn’t have thrown down. I am all for women being just as aggressive, self-promoting, and entitled as the guys—if not more so. Lean way the hell in, ladies.

But, good Lord, please don’t let her win.