Liz Cheney Goes to Wyoming and George Zimmerman Goes Free
Earlier today, Bloomberg View columnists Margaret Carlson and Ramesh Ponnuru met online to chat about Liz Cheney's run for the U.S. Senate in Wyoming and the George Zimmerman trial. Below is a lightly edited transcript.
Margaret: "I thought we were friends." That's not me talking to you, Ramesh, but Republican Senator Mike Enzi addressing Liz Cheney, the daughter of Darth Vader, who decided to get into the Senate race in Wyoming minutes after Enzi announced he would be running for a fourth term. Former Senator Alan Simpson is predicting a catastrophe for the party. I love democracy, Ramesh, especially when a woman gets to participate, but I suspect that in Wyoming, her candidacy isn't going to fly -- or fly-fish. In an earlier interview, Enzi said that he'd known Liz since he was a sheriff in Gillette, where he used to catch trout with her dad.
Ramesh: It's definitely not going to fly if people think of her as an outsider who's just trying to establish a dynasty. She has to avoid any hint of that. But I do think she has at hand a critique of Enzi that might work with Wyoming Republicans. When he was running for the Senate, Ted Cruz said that he would consider himself a disappointment if all he did with his time in office was to compile a conservative voting record. He presented himself as someone who would be more of an activist than that. Enzi has a conservative voting record, but some Republicans in Wyoming might want someone who has done more to move the debate than he has. Cheney, if she wants to run that way, could find that Republicans agree. But there's one more wrinkle: She (presumably) favors same-sex marriage, while Enzi doesn't -- which would make this an interesting test of how important that issue is to Republicans.
Margaret: On same-sex marriage, Cheney could pull a Rob Portman. That wouldn't offend the state's conservatives: My Sister, Myself. It is the one-by-one exception Republicans cut out for themselves when a family member turns out to be gay. I don't see Wyoming wanting a flame-throwing, man-in-a-hurry, in-your-face senator cut from the new Ted Cruz school of candidates. It's real cowboy country, not all-hat-no-cattle country. To the extent that she looks like the establishment, she thinks the seat is her due just because she is young and she wants it. Cheney is getting some blowback from the state's political establishment. Wyoming's one congresswoman suggested the "shiny new pony" should go back to the suburbs of Washington. Simpson is urging her to hold off, and others are citing the "bad form" of her not even calling Enzi to tell him what she was doing. Enzi is not quite Robert Bennett being blindsided by the conservative caucus. He has time to get his ducks in a row.
Ramesh: Whether or not that's a fair characterization of Cruz (who's an old friend of mine), there's got to be a way to have more of an impact than Enzi has without being a shouter. I think what those comments you mention suggest is that it could turn out to be a contest of entitlements. Cheney's critics are suggesting that an incumbent has to be doing a really bad job to deserve a primary, which is another way of saying there's a presumption that incumbents should keep their seats. I don't see why there should be.
Margaret: I'm with you. Brother versus brother (or sister) is good for business. Primaries and anything that brings the former vice president back on stage are a good thing. Let the race begin.
Political fighting is one thing; actual fighting is another. We have to talk about the Zimmerman trial, which ended this week. I realize that according to the law and the instructions from the judge, the verdict in the Zimmerman trial was within bounds. But I can't help wondering if in Florida and other crazy states with "stand your ground" laws (yes, I know it was decided on self-defense, but anyway ... ) you now have license to pick a fight with someone and shoot them if it turns out your victim fights back and is winning. Reverse the parties in the trial: Martin is following Zimmerman. Zimmerman reacts and knocks Martin to the ground. Martin fears for his life and shoots Zimmerman. Does Martin get off? Not on your life. Two things we've learned: Florida and the 17 or so other states with similar laws should repeal them. There is a long and settled tradition of pleading self-defense that doesn't need to be expanded to ridiculous proportions. In one case, someone was running away from a fight, but his assailant shot him anyway. He claimed he was afraid he would come back and hurt him. He got off. The second thing we should do is get neighborhood watch groups under control. Disarm them, or they will have a license to kill. The self-selection that goes on means some of those who join are people who wish they were police officers. That might be OK until, like police officers (without training), they have guns. Yikes.
Ramesh: I keep hearing people blame Florida law for the outcome of the Zimmerman trial -- usually referring vaguely to the stand-your-ground law that, as you point out, was not invoked by the defense. Other than getting rid of the presumption of innocence, though, I'm not sure how different Florida laws would have changed anything. There has been so much confusion and misinformation about this case: I keep reading, as well, that the police ordered Zimmerman to stay in his car, which isn't true. I don't know if I'd conclude anything about stand-your-ground laws from this, given how mixed up the coverage has been. But that Zimmerman exercised lousy judgment, which contributed to a terrible tragedy, can't be doubted.