Liz Cheney Channels a Father in Run for Senate
Liz Cheney is running against a longtime Republican who combines one of Congress’s most rightwing voting records with a civility that engenders good relations with political opposites. Or, as the Almanac of American Politics put it, “his mild-mannered demeanor masks deeply held conservative views.”
No, she’s not running against her father, though that description fit Dick Cheney 1, a major Washington power player in the 1970s and ’80s.
Instead, the 46-year-old daughter of the former vice president initiated a primary challenge last week against the three-term Republican senator from Wyoming, Mike Enzi. He is decidedly a conservative -- compiling one of the 10 most conservative voting records in the Senate -- but one whose style enables him to selectively work with Democrats.
She’s running as a hard-right, take-no-prisoners, movement conservative, or as the heir to Cheney 2, her father’s years as vice president and after. The context here is a tale of the two Cheneys.
Unlike the 69-year-old Enzi, the earlier Dick Cheney was creative and influential. For those who don’t remember or didn’t know, he was a much different politician from the one he later became.
As chief of staff to President Gerald Ford, he worked with Democrats and, during the 1976 campaign, was a key connection to the talented moderate Republican team that staved off the conservative challenger, Ronald Reagan.
He compiled an overwhelmingly conservative voting record as a six-term House member from Wyoming. Yet he was good friends with Democrats such as Tom Foley, later speaker of the House; there may not have been a more respected member on both sides of the aisle back then. (The liberal columnist Mark Shields and I once took him to a college basketball game.)
As George H.W. Bush’s defense secretary, he worked closely and collaboratively with Colin Powell and Brent Scowcroft --both said they barely recognized their old colleague during his years in the George W. Bush administration.
As vice president, he became the darling of the right, chiefly on national security issues -- a leading proponent of the Iraq War and enhanced interrogation of terrorists -- but on most domestic issues, too. (An exception is his support for gay marriage; the Cheneys’ other daughter, Mary, is a lesbian and married.)
For the past four years there have been few harsher critics of Barack Obama than the former vice president. He accused this president of wanting to “reduce U.S. influence in the world” and “take us down a peg.” Obama, he charged, has “failed to be forthright and honest.” He even found grounds for criticism after Osama bin Laden was killed, assailing the president as trying to take “sole credit” for a success that eluded the Bush-Cheney administration for 88 months.
It’s the Cheney 2 mantle that his daughter is grabbing in one of the more brazen political moves in memory.
It’s not novel for politicians to venue-shop. Robert F. Kennedy in 1964 and Hillary Clinton in 2000 both moved to New York to achieve political ambitions. But neither was running against an incumbent of their own party, and both had a much greater record of achievement than Liz Cheney.
In contrast to Enzi -- a Wyoming small businessman, two-term mayor of Gillette, member of the State House and State Senate before winning a U.S. Senate seat -- Liz Cheney was born in Wisconsin, went to high school in Virginia, attended college in Colorado, law school in Illinois and has worked most of her adult life in Washington. Last year, she bought a house in Jackson Hole, in the only Wyoming county that voted for Obama in 2012.
In her video announcement she channeled Cheney 2, also reflecting the longtime hardline posture of her mother, Lynne Cheney. Obama, she said, had declared war on freedom of religion and the Second Amendment to the Constitution. He isn’t truthful. And he wants to “disarm America,” while allowing rogue states such as North Korea and Iran to develop nuclear arms.
She didn’t spare Enzi, though her attack was more subtle. It’s no time “for business as usual,” she said, vowing not to compromise. Enzi was part of a small group that tried to find an accord on health care several years ago; it failed, and he has been a harsh critic of Obama’s Affordable Care Act. He did cut deals with the late liberal lion, Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, on issues such as support for mental health care.
Such stances are anathema to Liz Cheney, who has ranged to the right of even her father’s latter-day views. When Dick Cheney raised questions about the selection of Sarah Palin to be the Republican vice-presidential nominee in 2008, his daughter dissented and posted a Twitter message in which she said the Alaska governor was more qualified than Obama or his running mate, Joe Biden.
Supporters say she would bring conservative vitality and foreign policy expertise to the Senate.
The early take in Wyoming, where the first poll gives the incumbent a huge lead, is that the only way she can win is to turn this into a rough, bitter fight, hoping to drive Enzi out. Kerry Drake, a popular Wyoming blogger, envisioned a Cheney TV ad that showed Enzi talking to Ted Kennedy, shaking hands with Obama, sponsoring legislation that raises taxes on online purchases, and that concludes with a call to send a real conservative to Washington; her approving father would be standing next to her.
Drake theorizes that while, at 46, she could have waited, her 72-year-old father, with a history of serious heart ailments, could not. “If the political baton is to be passed,” he wrote, speculating on the patriarch’s views, “it needs to happen soon.”
(Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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