Commentary

A Liz Cheney Senate Run Could Save — Or Kill — Neoconservatism

One of former vice president Dick Cheney’s erstwhile fly-fishing buddies, Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., told the press last week about his recent phone conversation with Cheney’s eldest daughter, Liz.

“She called me and said that she’s looking at it” — that is, running in 2014 for the Senate seat Enzi now holds. (The Beltway-bred former State Department official moved her family from McLean, Va., to Wyoming in 2012.)

Liz Cheney shares her famous father’s neoconservative militancy, but apparently lacks the fly-fisherman’s patience. She didn’t ask Enzi if he was planning to run again (he is). Awkward.

A Liz Cheney candidacy might be a political disaster for a movement that’s increasingly unpopular and bereft of ideas.”

In The National Interest, Jacob Heilbrunn worries that “for the neocons, a Cheney candidacy would be a great cause, a way to revivify the movement politically.” But a Liz Cheney candidacy might just as easily be a political disaster for a movement that’s increasingly unpopular and bereft of ideas.

Cheney “has told associates that, if she runs, she wants to do so in her own right,” the New York Times reported Sunday. I confess that ever since I read her first big oped as a public commentator, I’ve suspected that a famous last name helps.

That piece, “Retreat Isn’t an Option [on Iraq]” (Washington Post, 1/23/07) was a marvel of mangled metaphors and crashing cliches. “We Republicans,” she wrote, “with help from senators such as Chuck Hagel — seem ready to race the Democrats to the bottom. I’d like to ask the politicians in both parties who are heading for the hills to stop …” (A neat trick by Hagel, who’s somehow simultaneously racing to the bottom and heading for the hills. Move over Tom Friedman!)

In fairness, she’s much better on TV. But if “writing is thinking,” Liz Cheney thinks entirely in cliches. “We are at war;” “America faces an existential threat;” “Quitting helps the terrorists;” “Victory is the only option” are just a few in that column.

The 2007 column was also consistent with her more recent, bromide-heavy Wall Street Journal opeds, which are full of stale complaints like “apologizing for America, appeasing our enemies, abandoning our allies” (9/12/12), and staler exhortations such as “It is time to get back in the fight. And I do mean fight,” (3/28/13).

“Get Over the 2012 Loss — and Start Fighting Back,” Cheney tells Republicans, “now is the time to pick ourselves up, brush ourselves off,” presumably to take a deep breath, and … start all over again?

A repeat of Cheney-style interventionism seems to be the last thing Americans want. In 2012, Pew found 83% of Americans agreeing that “we should pay less attention to problems overseas and concentrate on problems here at home,” an increase of 10 points since 2002.

That goes for die-hard Republicans as well. A Christian Science Monitor poll of activists at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference found “only 34 percent said the U.S. should adopt a more muscular role [abroad]; 50 percent said the US should pull back, leaving it more to allies to take care of trouble spots.”

Jennifer Rubin, the Washington Post’s resident neoconservative, writes that “if she runs, Cheney would be part of a growing trend of conservatives,” like former U.N. ambassador and presidential aspirant John Bolton, “concerned with the hollowing out of our military and the isolationist trend in the GOP.”

If the movement’s main standard bearers are the mustachioed uberhawk and the thinking man’s Meghan McCain, it’s hardly poised for an electoral resurgence.

Still, I’d like to see Cheney fight for that Senate seat — and I do mean fight. This race could be the hill (or valley, whatever) that neoconservatism dies on.

Gene Healy is a vice president at the Cato Institute and the author of The Cult of the Presidency.