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July 17, 2013 10:54 AM The Symbolism of Liz Cheney’s Senate Run

By Ed Kilgore

You can already see it happening: Liz Cheney’s primary challenge to Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) is being cast by the chattering classes into the classic Tea Party Versus Establishment mode, despite a lot of evidence that her race is primarily a vanity project and Wyoming just happens to be the most convenient venue for the former DC-based Fox News pundit and daughter of the saturnine former vice president.

Enzi is hardly a RINO. He has a 93% lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union. He was conspicuously missing from the ranks of GOP senators voting for cloture or for the confirmation of Richard Cordray yesterday. Just the other day he delivered the GOP’s weekly radio address, devoted to a demand that Obamacare be repealed entirely. About the only heresy he can be accused of was his leading role in internet sales tax legislation, which represented loyalty to brick-and-mortar retailers and to federalism rather than any incipient liberalism.

So beyond the ranks of Dick Cheney loyalists and neocons, why would a primary challenge to Enzi become a national conservative cause? It’s simple: Wyoming is a very red state. Challenges to incumbent Republicans in very red states aren’t vulnerable to the argument that they risk a Democratic victory. And the operative, if often unstated, premise among conservative activists is that the only possible reason on earth to have anything other than the most conservative elected officials possible is the risk of helping Democrats win.

Thus, by this logic, any Republican incumbent in a deep red state should be considered a presumptive target of a primary challenge. All it takes is an occasional act of independence from the conservative zeitgeist and a viable challenger willing to slavishly support the Movement Line, and a challenge will materialize. This is implicit in Erick Erickson’s post immediately endorsing Cheney:

Mike Enzi is a fine Republican, but he is not putting points on the board for conservatives. We need more like Ted Cruz and less like … well … Mike Enzi. We need less rudderless Republicans who shuffle around at the direction of their leadership and lobbyist friends.

It’s possible the Wyoming race could develop in an unexpected direction. Rand Paul’s shot at Cheney as a carpetbagger might be a sign that neocon/paleocon tensions within the conservative movement could come into play. But for now, it looks like it will be another Kabuki Republican primary where both candidates endlessly swear their fealty to conservative ideology and thus contribute to the overall drift to the Right of their party.

A previous version of this post described Liz Cheney as a current Fox News contributor, when she was in fact terminated yesterday. The text has been corrected.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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