It must have been an awkward Christmas dinner. After embarking on an ambitious, high-profile Republican primary Senate seat race that — even for this family — demonstrated enormous chutzpah and caused much political and personal anxiety, Liz Cheney is walking away.
News that Dick Cheney’s daughter (pictured) had abandoned the race she so boldly entered in Wyoming last year raised eyebrows around the country today as Americans headed to work following the Christmas holiday break. The story was broken in the early hours of the morning by CNN. According to Politico, a “troubling incident” involving one of her children at university, as well as her youngest daughter’s battle with juvenile diabetes, encouraged Cheney, 47, to reassess the merits of standing in the race.
Although it was well-financed with the resources you would expect for a campaign bearing the Cheney name, this was a disaster almost from the beginning.
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Some 18 months ago, Liz Cheney decided to move from the Washington DC area to Wyoming. Locals grew instantly suspicious. Last summer she confirmed she was taking on Senator Mike Enzi in a Republican primary race.
Enzi is a 69-year-old three-term Senator who enjoys huge popularity in his very red district. He was also a firm family friend of Dick Cheney, who also represented the state in Congress from 1979 to 1989, before eventually becoming VP. “She said that if I ran, she wasn’t going to run,” Enzi told ABC News last year after the announcement. “I thought we were friends.”
Things quickly headed south. There were claims of light voter fraud after Cheney’s husband was found to be a registered voter in two states. Having battled the impression she was an opportunistic outsider from Washington looking for a cushy Republican seat, there was the bizarre scandal in which she posted $220 bond in Wyoming for “making a false statement to procure a fishing license”.
There was also a brewing civil war within Republican ranks as Enzi, who most conservatives agreed holds identical values to Cheney, was viewed by many in the party as an undeserving scapegoat for her ambitions. Not coincidentally, her dad also faced similar charges of carpetbagging when he moved back to Wyoming from Washington in 1977 after working for President Gerald Ford.
But most personally damaging was the public disintegration of her relationship with her sister Mary, who is gay. For all his faults, Dick Cheney was an early supporter of same-sex marriage 13 years ago, a bold stand for any American conservative back then. For her part, Mary Cheney is now married to her long-time partner, Heather Poe.
Liz made headlines around the world when she told Fox News back in November that even though her sister is married to a woman, she believed “in the traditional definition of marriage”. A distraught Mary Cheney immediately fired back publicly:
“Liz’s position is to treat my family as second-class citizens. This isn’t like a disagreement over grazing fees or what to do about Iran.”
Mary told The New York Times she and Liz had not spoken for months. Poe added on Facebook:
“Liz has been a guest in our home, has spent time and shared holidays with our children, and when Mary and I got married in 2012 — she didn’t hesitate to tell us how happy she was for us. To have her say she doesn’t support our right to marry is offensive to say the least.”
As vice-president, Dick Cheney was known for keeping a man-size safe in his office, operating as a boldly arch-conservative influence over president George W. Bush. Yet even for a man this darkly enigmatic, the fallout was significant. He was forced to take sides in November, saying Liz had “always believed in the traditional definition of marriage”. As columnist Frank Bruni noted, the Cheneys’ surprising but welcome support for gay marriage had suddenly been buried by a bitter family feud.
A statement released this morning by the Cheney family stated Liz (and for that matter, Dick) would not comment publicly today on the announcement:
“Serious health issues have recently arisen in our family, and under the circumstances, I have decided to discontinue my campaign. My children and their futures were the motivation for our campaign, and their health and well-being will always be my overriding priority.”
Soon-to-be-unemployed campaign staff denied she was motivated to quit because she was in significant trouble in the polls against Enzi. For now, those staff will begin refunding to donors the $2 million or so raised by the campaign. The statement continued:
“As a mother and a patriot, my commitment to keep fighting with you and your families for the fundamental values that have made this nation and Wyoming great will never stop.”
The forecast high today in Jackson Hole, Wyoming is an icy -11 celsius; politically speaking, though, Wyoming is thawing out. Still, there is much fence mending to do. Although there is no public sign of a reconciliation of sisters Liz and Mary, the Cheney family has already been in contact with Wyoming Republicans to try and repair the damage done. In a statement this afternoon, the Wyoming Republican Party made its view plain:
“Liz is a rising star in Wyoming and national politics, and we look forward to her return when the time is right for her and for her family.”
Few are predicting this will be the last we see of Liz Cheney.