Angling for the Senate: Keep America Safe From Liz Cheney

The former vice president's daughter has discredited herself on numerous occasions.
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Cliff Owen/Associated Press

The GOP is abuzz about Liz Cheney's decision to mount a 2014 primary challenge against incumbent Republican Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming. In an item titled "Old Boy Net United Against Liz Cheney," Jonathan Tobin describes the daughter of old boy Dick Cheney as "widely acknowledged to be among the party's brightest stars," a dubious characterization. He goes on:

Why are so many leading Republicans lining up against Cheney? They are saying that they are opposing her bid because they don't like divisive Republican primaries that weaken the party and the eventual winner against the Democrats. But this is bunk. Wyoming is so deep red it's almost impossible to imagine the scenario in which a GOP primary, no matter how nasty, would lead to a Democratic win. Rather, what they really seem to be mad about is a breach of manners. If Enzi were to disappear from the Senate, few in Washington would even notice, let alone miss him, while Cheney would be a strong asset for a party that needs talented members able to stand up to President Obama and the Democrats as well as strengthening the party's appeal to women. But many in the establishment are so offended by her not waiting her turn until Enzi left on his own steam that they are prepared to stand by him.

Even more interestingly, Senator Rand Paul, who is usually to be found among those least likely to join the go-along-to-get-along crowd, is also backing Enzi, which may have more to do with his disagreement with Cheney's sensible views on foreign policy than any affection for the incumbent.

One aspect of that analysis is accurate: Liz Cheney's foreign-policy views, which would only be considered "sensible" at a magazine that still regards the Iraq War as a prudent undertaking, explain a great deal of the opposition to her. Most Americans understand that investing trillions of dollars and thousands of American lives in Iraq was a historic blunder. Tea Party types don't want to defend the conflict, but neither are they comfortable fully confronting the truth about Team Bush's folly or the toll it has taken on the GOP's reputation for competence in foreign policy.

Enzi supported the Iraq War too, and it may be irrational that his challenger is more tied, in the public mind, to the invasion. But being the offspring of a vice president has consequences. On one hand, you enjoy a base of donors and a degree of name recognition far beyond what individual merit would've brought. On the other hand, you're tied to the family brand. Republicans aren't thrilled about this primary challenge in part because of the nature of the Cheney brand: It is understandably associated in the minds of many Americans with misleading the nation into a disastrous war, an official program of illegal torture, a proclivity for Machiavellian power grabs, and a relationship with Halliburton that seemed like cronyism. There is, as well, the public's distaste for political dynasties, due to the reasonable suspicion that the younger members wouldn't be where they are without inside-the-Beltway nepotism, and the carpetbagger vibe of her brief residence in the state prior to declaring her run.

It is fair to judge Liz Cheney based on the family brand? Personally, I try not to hold the illegal, immoral acts of a father against his son or daughter unless he or she implicates herself in the objectionable positions.

Liz Cheney hasn't just embraced the objectionable actions and positions of neoconservative Republicans. She has also earned an independent reputation as someone who participates in weak, laughable, and even scurrilous attacks on ideological opponents that can only cast doubt on her judgment and moral character. The weak, laughable attacks are often aimed at Obama, of whom I am often critical. But even people who hold Obama in low esteem can't help but feel embarrassed on behalf of commentators who discredit themselves by making absurd claims like, "He's unwilling to go after the terrorists that are threatening the nation." To deny Obama's willingness to go after terrorists is to be deeply ignorant, ideologically blinkered, or a liar. None of those qualities is desirable in an aspiring U.S. senator.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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