A lot of Republicans have their noses out of joint this afternoon. Though the party is on an extensive talent search to find candidates for Senate races in 2014, most in the GOP establishment are not happy about the decision of Liz Cheney to challenge incumbent Wyoming Senator Mike Enzi. Enzi is a lackluster 69-year-old who has been occupying the seat for three terms without exactly covering himself in glory while Cheney, the daughter of the former vice president, is widely acknowledged to be among the party’s brightest stars. But for all the talk about the GOP being run these days by Tea Party activists who care about nothing but policy, it appears the old boy network in the Republican Senate caucus is not only closing ranks around Enzi but that outliers like Rand Paul are joining them.
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.
Republicans tend to like orderly transitions and generally think ill of insurgents who trod on the toes of veterans like Enzi. But if there were ever a seat where there is no danger of a divisive primary hurting the party’s chances of holding the seat, it is this Wyoming contest. Enzi may have offended no one in his time in Washington, but the idea that the party’s grass roots will rally to him in the name of preserving the sanctity of seniority seems far-fetched. Cheney can hold the seat as easily as Enzi. The difference here is just one between a talented newcomer with the sort of policy experience that any prospective senator would envy and a grizzled veteran that few noticed until the New York Times ran an article earlier this month that tried to portray the prospective Cheney challenge as a heretical development that would destroy the GOP in the state.
It’s true that Cheney isn’t a Tea Party favorite, the usual species of GOP primary challenger for Senate incumbents. But Enzi is no grass roots hero either. And Cheney brings a reputation as an advocate of a strong foreign policy as well as of the alliance with Israel that would immediately elevate her to the ranks of the GOP’s leading figures on defense issues. That probably explains why Paul, whose isolationism is antithetical to Cheney’s worldview, is ready to back Enzi.
It’s been a while since a Cheney ran for office in Wyoming, so there’s no telling how this will turn out. But whatever happens, the faux outrage about her decision rings false. There’s nothing sacred about keeping a dull three-time incumbent in place when a better alternative is available. The GOP’s old boy network in the Senate as well as its libertarian wing may prefer Enzi, but there’s no reason for Cheney to refrain from trying her luck with the voters.