Liz Cheney can win in Wyoming, but she has hurdles in her wayMarch 26, 2013
Today’s column is based on the assumption that anyone who travels to tiny Hulett (population 383) in winter during an off-election year to address a partisan political dinner isn’t doing it because they want to sample the local cuisine, but because he or she is a sure-fire candidate for office.
I think it’s a pretty good assumption, as assumptions go, and by that measure, Liz Cheney – the subject of much speculation for years about her plans, especially since she bought a home in Jackson last year – will be a candidate in Wyoming in 2014. She was the featured speaker at the Crook County Republican Lincoln Day Dinner in Hulett on March 16, adding to a lengthy list of state GOP events she has attended in the past year. Republicans who shelled out $30 for a ticket received a two-fer: They heard not only keynote speaker Liz Cheney, but her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney.
The big question – and the reason for a lot of the political speculation about Liz Cheney in both Wyoming and in Washington, D.C. – is what office will be open that’s worth both her time and effort, not to mention pouring potentially millions of dollars from the Cheney family’s political war chest into a race.
But much of Liz Cheney’s political future depends upon what Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) decides to do with his own. Enzi isn’t talking about whether he will run for re-election in 2014, and sitting U.S. senators often wait until spring of the election year to decide. That’s apparently too long for Cheney to sit idle on the sidelines.
Could some Wyomingites think it’s rude to start a de facto campaign for the office of a man who hasn’t said he’s leaving?
There are many reasons Enzi might decide to seek a fourth term. He would win easily, as he has in his previous races, since Democrats have been woefully unable to mount a serious challenge against the former Gillette mayor. Nothing is likely to change that situation next year.
Enzi also has plenty of money to spend, and let’s not forget that there are many perks a senator receives that could be difficult to willingly give up. It’s entirely possible that he still has things he wants to accomplish in Washington.
Many of my friends disagree with me, but my hunch is that Enzi, who has never sought the spotlight in the Beltway, will decide he’s been frustrated being in the Senate minority and so will retire to spend more time with his family. Once he lost the opportunity to chair the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, when Republicans failed to take over the Senate in 2012, one of the best incentives for him to run again disappeared.
But that still doesn’t automatically clear the way for Liz Cheney, since Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) may decide she wants to move to the upper chamber. That would create a quandary for Cheney and her family. If she wants to be a U.S. senator, 2014 is the logical race to enter, because Wyoming’s second Senate seat is occupied by Sen. John Barrasso, who is high in the GOP leadership and isn’t going anywhere else for years.
Would Cheney challenge Lummis in a Republican Senate primary? Cheney could well receive some backlash from Wyoming voters. There’s a stark contrast between Cheney, who has long lived in other states, and rancher, lawyer and former legislator and then State Treasurer Lummis, a native who has unquestionably paid her state political dues. Many people here have suggested that Cheney moved to a state she hasn’t lived in as an adult simply because she saw Wyoming as the only state someone with the Cheney name and legacy could win.
A possible Lummis-Cheney primary race raises several interesting questions. Would the party – especially Cheney loyalists, of which there are many in Wyoming – exert any pressure on Lummis to stay in the House? Would Enzi endorse a candidate in the race? How much would Dick Cheney’s appearance with his daughter on the campaign trail (if he’s healthy enough) influence the election?
It would be a fascinating campaign to watch, but I give a Lummis-Cheney race nearly a zero percent chance of happening. Why? Because the GOP would be foolish to pit two strong women candidates against each other in a primary, knocking one out of an office when both would likely win separate races.
Second, there’s the question whether Lummis really wants to be a senator. Some say her real passion is an eventual run for governor. I think she’ll be happy with her safe House seat until that opportunity arrives.
However, if Lummis is eyeing the Senate and Cheney should decide not to take on Lummis in a Senate primary, I don’t think she’d be content to be in the House, where her father served for six terms as Wyoming’s lone representative before being selected by President H.W. Bush as defense secretary. Being in the House wouldn’t remotely give her the same opportunity to be a major player in Washington, and Cheney appears to have the same political drive that her father had. Further, she has more things to prove.
Since Dick Cheney left office in January 2009 with an abysmal national approval rating of only 13 percent, Liz Cheney has worked tirelessly on two things: To refurbish her father’s tarnished political image, and to challenge every single thing President Barack Obama does.
She’s used her position as a news analyst for Fox News to promote both themes. But in that role she is mostly preaching to that 13 percent – the conservative base that considers Dick Cheney the best vice president ever and sees Obama as a socialist who wants to destroy a country he probably wasn’t even born in. Oh yes, in case you haven’t heard, she says he’s coming to take your guns.
But on a national level, Liz Cheney’s efforts to rewrite her father’s history haven’t moved the needle on the public’s negative opinion of his vice presidency. Take a look at all this from the point of view of the national welfare – not Liz Cheney’s political future. Liz Cheney’s inability to make her father a popular favorite is good.
The more Liz Cheney puts the high beams on the Bush administration’s horrible choice to abandon the search for Osama bin Laden and instead invade Iraq, the more American people will better understand just how devastating the war policies of the Bush-Cheney years impacted our economy, affected our troops and ultimately put our national security more at risk.
On Fox and as the co-founder of the right-wing Keep America Safe, Liz Cheney has never mounted a serious defense of her father’s positions on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the absence of the notorious weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussein’s arsenal, and his gleeful support of torturing detainees. That’s because there is no defense for those horrendous mistakes.
Her efforts on behalf of her father’s reputation should do little good for her own. Liz Cheney’s attempt in 2010 to cast Obama as a terrorist supporter for allowing Justice Department attorneys to defend prisoners at Guantanamo would be laughable, if they were not such a serious breach of the basic American legal principle that all of the accused deserve the right to be represented by counsel. Perhaps she skipped that lesson at the University of Chicago Law School.
In the end, the hardest charge for Liz Cheney to refute should be the inevitable tag of “carpetbagger” that will be stuck on her by whomever she opposes. If she’s in a primary contest, her fellow Republican opponents will pounce on that one the moment she announces.
In my column last week, I criticized a state legislator for telling a new Wyoming resident who was considering leaving the state to go ahead and leave if she doesn’t like it here. Several readers wrote that they wholeheartedly agreed with the lawmaker’s response.
“Enjoy what we have here, if you don’t like the way we live and have done so for a long time by all means please go home … We all know one another in the great state of Wyoming, there aren’t that many of us so that happens more here than in anywhere else in the country,” one reader wrote.
Another wrote that the new resident “might as well say: ‘You ignorant frontier hicks need college educated immigrants who can make babies to help smarten up your gene pool, but if you keep voting like idiots, I’m going to take my superior DNA and leave.”
Clearly, some in Wyoming don’t welcome newcomers. How can anyone view Liz Cheney as anything but a newcomer?
“Look, I have been honored to have been asked to help support the Republican Party in Wyoming,” Cheney said when she was pressed on Fox News in May 2012 about a possible candidacy in Wyoming. “As I said, it’s my home. It’s a very special place, but I’m really focused on defeating Barack Obama. We don’t have the luxury, frankly, of looking beyond this election because this election is so important.”
Well, that election was lost, and Cheney’s only recourse is to look ahead to 2014 and beyond. The problem is that Wyoming has never really been her home, and you can’t return to some place you were never from.
It is a special place, though. I don’t know if it’s special enough to defy the conventional political wisdom that a candidate will cruise to victory if he or she is able to a) raise the huge amounts of money the Cheney family is capable of amassing, and b) preach the conservative philosophy that has made this one of the reddest states in the nation.
She also, of course, has c) the Cheney name. It might be a major problem in any other state, but it’s still an asset in Wyoming, and both Liz and Dick are counting on it to carry the day in any race she enters. I wouldn’t bet against them.
— Kerry Drake is the editor of the Casper Citizen, a new nonprofit online newspaper that will launch on April 1.
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