Liz Cheney, Ted Cruz, and the Animal House Republicans

The ethos of their faction: "This situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture."
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John Belushi's character delivers one of the best remembered lines in Animal House. "I think," says Bluto, "that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody's part." I thought of that line after reading Senate candidate Liz Cheney's thoughts on the GOP's futile opposition to Obamacare, when Senator Ted Cruz and friends shut down the federal government. 

Here is Jason Zengerle's write-up of the race between Cheney, the challenger in the race, and her opponent, incumbent Republican Senator Mike Enzi. See if you think the Animal House line fits (emphasis added):

Despite Enzi’s newfound taste for blood on the campaign trail, Cheney is determined to prove that her opponent just isn’t enough of a warrior to keep representing Wyoming in a Congress that has become more bare-knuckles partisan than ever. “Senator Enzi is a nice man, but he’s not fighting,” she says. Asked for an example, she points to Obamacare. Enzi, like every other Republican senator, voted against it. He also gave a Senate floor speech in 2010 that warned Obama was not telling the truth when he promised Americans that “if you like your health care, you can keep it”—a speech that recently led Fox News’s Megyn Kelly to hail Enzi as the “Paul Revere” of the issue. But, according to Cheney, Enzi could have done more. “If you had been effective enough, eloquent enough, enough of a leader, skillful enough, whatever, you could have moved the needle, and you certainly had an obligation to do much more than you did,” she argues. “To be here three years later saying, ‘I told ya’—that to me is what happens when a senator has been there too long, and they think that sayin’ it is the same as doin’ somethin’ about it.” 

If Cheney gets to the Senate, she promises to be less like Enzi and more like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the Tea Party favorite who relentlessly campaigned for the recent government shutdown as an Obamacare protest. “You can question sort of what issue he chose to fight on,” Cheney says. “But people are really glad that Ted Cruz and [Utah Sen.] Mike Lee, that they fought. And there’s a sense of sort of nobody else standin’ up there.”


See what I mean? Enzi voted and spoke out against Obamacare ... but he failed to stop it. Whereas Cruz voted against Obamacare, spoke out against it, and also failed to stop it, accomplishing nothing more than Enzi—save satisfying the desire among the GOP's Animal House faction that a stupid, futile gesture be carried out. 
 
Never mind that the shutdown hurt Republicans politically while accomplishing nothing. If Cheney goes to the Senate, she promises to be more like Cruz than Enzi. The parody campaign ad almost writes itself: "As vice president, my father wouldn't stop pushing for a stupid, futile war in Iraq, and if elected to the Senate, I'll bring that same 'fight-even-in-ways-that-hurt-more-than-help' mentality to Obamacare."
 
The Republican Party has to get to a place where what the grassroots finds emotionally satisfying isn't substantively counterproductive. In Wyoming, they're evidently a long way off, or so another passage in the story suggests:
On a recent Friday night, she was in the finished basement of a supporter’s home in Casper—the eastern Wyoming city where her parents grew up and where her aunt and uncle still live—for a casual question-and-answer session with some local residents. It was a pretty hard right group, and even the famously conservative Cheney's answers seemed to leave some of them a bit unsatisfied.

“What about the Bilderberg Group?” one woman asked. “How do we stop that?”

“I don’t know very much about the Bilderberg Group,” Cheney conceded, before pivoting to a neocon critique of the United Nations as an institution that hurts the American position in the world by “conveying the idea that no nation’s exceptional… and that the United States is actually evil.” Next, the event’s hostess—the wife of a local excavation contractor—wanted to know if Cheney was bothered “at all that most of Barack Obama’s cabinet is Muslims?”

“I think actually if you looked at the Cabinet, you would probably find that’s not the case, that they aren’t,” Cheney said gently. “What worries me more is he seems to be unconcerned about the Muslim Brotherhood.”

It must be awful to run for office. On the other hand, Cheney managed to surround herself with people who made neocon boilerplate sound sensible, if only by comparison. 
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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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