Razed and Confused: Liz Cheney’s Senate Strategy

(Image source: Liz Cheney Facebook)

It took less than 48 hours for the Republican primary in Wyoming to become the nastiest in the nation, which is quite a feat in light of the fight for Virginia’s governor. Then again, if hadn’t gotten nasty, how would you have known a Cheney was running?

After all, this is Elizabeth Cheney, daughter of Dick, who once told an interviewer his greatest moment in public life was to tell a Democratic Senator to “go fuck himself.”

Defenders of the former Veep often chide reporters, saying that Cheney meant that comment as a joke, but when these same defenders speak to the faithful, they repeat the story as proof of Cheney’s uncompromising and combative principles.

Like dad, like daughter: In her video announcement, “uncompromising” is what Cheney promises Wyoming voters by rehashing her cable news script. Instead of “cutting deals with the president’s liberal allies, we should be opposing them every step of the way.”

Liz Cheney, daughter of Dick, is challenging incumbent Sen. Mike Enzi. Her platform might sound like pure anger, but Enzi, who supported an internet sales tax, is vulnerable to right-wing attack.

She has her doubters. Incumbent Colorado Sen. Mike Enzi is so reliable a conservative that the Senate’s leading Tea Partier, Sen. Rand Paul, has endorsed him while mocking Cheney. Others question whether Cheney can win a primary on a platform of filibustering everything until Obamacare is repealed, Obama is impeached and John Boehner is president. Seriously?

The DNA of most Republicans and Tea Partiers contain Barry Goldwater’s 1964 Republican platform declaration that “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” And Liz Cheney is hardly the only Republican pushing a platform of pure anger. Sarah Palin declared that Republicans had to do more to shut down Obama or “real Americans” should back a third-party candidate in 2016.

Still, there are pundits who believe the “anger caucus” in Republican primaries has run its course, with the proof being Cheney’s dismal showings in early polls. But her backers say she spent time studying this race so she must have seen a path to victory.

Cheney has the ammo to bring down an incumbent: Grover Norquist has given her a big one, the internet sales tax, which could be a killer. Enzi started his career as an anti-tax crusader. From his first campaign in 1974 onward, Enzi’s stump speech usually has a story on how taxes kill jobs. But now Enzi is a leading proponent of a sales tax plan on internet purchases to put his family’s shoes stores on an “equal footing” with giants like Amazon.

Speaking out against taxes while proposing a tax increase?

That’s the very definition of a RINO!

She hasn’t tipped her hand yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Cheney blasted Enzi over the so-called “Obama Rubber Stamp Bill.” The bill, S. 679, included Mitch McConnell as a co-sponsor and was a government reform effort that removed several hundred low-level civilian and military appointments from Senate confirmation, a process authorized by the Constitution. It was first proposed in the twilight of the Bush administration but the Senate never got around to passing it, so in the spring of 2011, a vote was scheduled.

Too bad for Enzi that talk radio got involved. A news service favored by conservative talkers declared the bill the first step to Obama’s dictatorship, which was real, raw, red meat for the radioheads. Then the Heritage Foundation, absent the hysterical claims, circulated a memo to get Tea Partiers to mount an 11th hour drive to kill the bill. Soon talk radio and the Tea Party listed Enzi as one of 27 turncoats to give Obama unchecked power (oh, the horror!).

In a state where Obama’s disapproval rating is above 90 percent among staunch conservatives, any perceived show of support for the president could undercut Enzi. In fact, those same polls that show him with a double-digit lead over Cheney also show about a third of conservative voters do not like Enzi—roughly the same number supporting Liz Cheney. With more than a year to the primary, that’s not a bad base of support.

She could still blow it. A novice campaigner, Cheney’s odd attack that the 69-year-old senator was confused hit a real sour note (after all, her father said he was confused when he shot Harry Whittington in the face.) Still don’t count Liz out: if all else fails, she can pull a Michael Corleone and ask daddy to invite Enzi out on one last fishing trip.


Peter Lindstrom is a political consultant and researcher. He lives in Washington, D.C.


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