Dick Cheney isn’t just hitting the big screen these days. If you listen closely, you’ll hear his voice, or at least his neocon ideology, speaking through most House Republicans. Look closely, you’ll see him too.
On Wednesday, the former-Vice President was on Capitol Hill rocking a cowboy hat as he arrived to watch his daughter, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), follow in his footsteps as she was formally propelled by her Republican peers into her party’s coveted leadership ranks.
While the younger Cheney had only just won reelection to her second term in a chamber brimming with power hungry, Type A politicos, she has now landed the same No. 3 position in House Republican leadership that paved the way for her father’s eventual rise into the White House. Many in the Capitol have been stunned by history’s repetition.
“That’s amazing,” Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) told The Daily Beast upon hearing the young Cheney is joining the GOP leadership ranks. “I don’t even know what to say—I’m speechless that somebody that has that kind of belief system is a leader in anybody’s caucus.”
“Drudging up the worst excesses of the Bush-Cheney administration doesn’t seem to me to be a good tactic,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) told The Daily Beast. “But they mystify me.”
Cheney is replacing Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) in her new role as GOP conference chair. One of the formal duties of the position is to feed other Republicans talking points so that the party can present a unified front when its lawmakers fan out of Washington and sell their agenda to voters in disparate regions of the nation.
Rodgers is respected by many in the party, but her quiet and soft spoken nature isn’t what members are looking for now that they lost the House. And, unlike her father, no one’s ever accused Liz Cheney of being soft in tone, let alone content. She made a name for herself in conservative living rooms across the nation as a former Fox News bomb thrower who used the outlet as a platform to smear former President Obama as a pathological liar whose policies aided terrorists and endangered American troops. She’s now fully prepared to use that sharp-elbowed approach inside the Capitol.
"We've got to be in a position where we're making sure that we’re out there every day fighting, and I think we’ve got to be sure we’re winning the news cycle," Cheney told reporters after she won. "We need to make sure we have a more aggressive approach, especially because we're in the minority."
Cheney has a law degree from the University of Chicago. And when her father was VP, she was tapped to work on Middle Eastern policy in the State Department. After the Bush-Cheney administration, she teamed up with her dad to coauthor a book entitled Exceptional: Why The World Needs a Powerful America.
The Cheney family is reported to be a close knit unit. But there have been tension points. When Liz Cheney was contemplating a long-shot Senate bid back in the 2014 cycle, she tossed her lesbian sister under the proverbial cable news bus by denouncing gay marriage. Cheney would later drop her bid, citing family health concerns, though polls showed her likely to get crushed.
One person she’s always gone out of her way to defend is her father, specifically against accusations that he’s a war criminal. That unapologetic support, has made Liz Cheney a lightning rod figure herself. And not just for Democrats.
“What the Cheneys represent, in their advocacy for war being the solution of things, is not really who I would choose to lead the party,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) told me in the Capitol yesterday as he rushed to catch an elevator.
This spring, while not in a rush, Paul had a bit more to say on the Cheneys. During the contentious debate over whether to confirm Gina Haspel as CIA Director, Paul told me their family represents "everything that's been wrong about foreign policy for the last 40 years."
"The Cheneys have a lot of explaining to do for all the thousands of people who died in an unnecessary war," he continued at the time.
The Cheneys have been undeterred by their critics. To this day, they have maintained a steadfast belief that the Iraq War was justified even if the reasons given for the invasion proved false. And Liz Cheney accused Paul of “sympathizing with terrorists” for opposing the nomination of the Haspel who oversaw U.S. torture programs abroad during the Bush-Cheney administration.
She, not Paul, appears to be winning the fight. While the meteoric rise of the Tea Party and then President Donald Trump had many political watchers hailing a new day for Republican foreign policy, the reemergence of the Cheney brand has shown the limits of that evolution.
“I don’t think Dick Cheney was a bad person or Darth Vader either,” conservative Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) told The Daily Beast just before the GOP catapulted Cheney into the party’s leadership.
“Those were different times. We had been attacked and we’d had thousands of Americans murdered on our own soil, and so our country was reacting to unusual times and doing it aggressively,” he continued. “So I wouldn’t be critical of that then, and I’m certainly not critical of her because of anything her father may have done.”
It’s not just sheer will that has vaulted the younger Cheney up leadership ranks. She has proved to be a crafty political tactician as well.
During her first term in the House, she proved her conservative chops through loyalty to outgoing Speaker Paul Ryan and President Trump through her perch on the little known House Rules Committee—the select group of lawmakers who are handpicked by the speaker to run the House floor. Ryan set a record for shutting down debate on even broadly bipartisan amendments, and Cheney was key to executing that mission.
With Democrats having decimated the GOP ranks on Election Day, there are only 13 Republican women left in the House, and Cheney will be the only female Republican in leadership in the chamber. That has even moderates in the party embracing her, even if they’re personally opposed to the image and policies she represents.
“One of the things about being Republican is we all have our independent opinions on different issues,” Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY) told The Daily Beast. “But I think at the end of the day Liz will do a nice job being a face for the party, and let’s be honest, as a woman Republican, she brings something that is much needed to the table.”
As for the vocal, self-righteous Tea Party wing of the GOP that has preached deficit reduction and isolationism, they don’t seem to mind Cheney’s record all that much either. Her election to House leadership was unanimous. Some lawmakers barely even noticed it.
“I didn’t even really pay attention to that race because she was unopposed and there was barbecue in the back,” Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) told The Daily Beast after the vote. “I just think nobody wanted that job of conference chair.”
When repeatedly pressed, Massie played ignorant of knowing anything about the younger Cheney’s actual ideology.
“I actually don’t know how similar her politics are to her dad’s,” Massie said. “I wouldn’t want to impart my views on all four of my children, so who knows.”