On the campaign trail with her kids, Liz Cheney is visiting many of the same places that she saw 35 years ago, when she joined her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, in a rented RV for the family’s first campaign across Wyoming. Even apart from her famous father, Cheney has qualities that might endear her to a Republican primary electorate. But there’s a snag: The Senate seat she’s running for is occupied by a member of her own party, Michael Enzi, whom many Republicans think doesn’t deserve a challenge in the 2014 primary. Cheney chatted with National Journal about why the Republican establishment likes Enzi and why Dad won’t join her on the campaign trail. Edited excerpts follow.
NJ This week, Mike Enzi stood on the Senate floor in support of Ted Cruz, who was protesting Obamacare. Do you think he would have been up there if you weren’t challenging him?
CHENEY A lot of what Senator Enzi’s doing now is a day late and dollar short. On Facebook and on my Twitter feed, you’ll see people pointing out that he’s suddenly gotten energized on a number of these causes because he’s facing a primary challenge. The senator’s been there for almost 18 years, and the people of Wyoming are asking, “What has he done to defend and protect them in the last four and a half years of the Obama administration? What has he done to protect from massive encroachment of federal government in our lives?”
NJ Who would be your allies, in terms of beliefs, if you were elected to the Senate?
CHENEY There are a number of the younger senators I have been impressed with. Ted [Cruz] is one of them, Mike Lee is another one. There is a shift going on in the Senate today. A new generation coming in. After our party has lost two presidential elections in a row, if there’s some soul-searching going on, that’s a good thing. It’s time for a new generation to step up and some of the old guard needs to step down. We need to deal with challenges across the board—economic and domestic policy as well as foreign. It will take a new generation of leaders.
NJ A lot of Republicans, in Washington and Wyoming, seem to think Enzi is already conservative enough. Why isn’t he? What are the issues on which you differ?
CHENEY Senator Enzi’s hallmark accomplishment, one he doesn’t mention much, is the Internet sales tax. It’s a job-killing tax that imposes an unbelievable new bureaucracy of audits and regulations on new businesses. Secondly, Senator Enzi negotiated for months as part of the Gang of Six for Obamacare in 2009. That was a big mistake. He gave cover to President Obama so he could say, “Look, I got the GOP involved in this effort,” which we all know was rammed through on a partisan vote. The senator should have objected from the very beginning. We differ on Common Core. Senator Enzi has praised it; I think it hasn’t been tested and is going to be harmful to our kids. In general, his 80-20 rule—he says in Washington everyone agrees on 80 percent of issues. We do not agree with President Obama on even 20 percent of issues. Our job ought to be looking for ways to significantly reduce the size of federal government.
NJ Were you surprised at the extent to which the GOP establishment rallied around Enzi?
CHENEY No, he’s the incumbent senator; he’s part of the establishment. It’s something that helps me in Wyoming. For a lot of people in Wyoming, it makes them angry—the idea that people in Washington will tell them how to vote, the idea that the National Republican Senatorial Committee will pick the winner of this primary. There is anger from a lot of folks. This is not a time when we need more establishment.
NJ Alan Simpson is being quite vocal about his disagreement with your family, even though he’s known you and had a relationship with your family for years.
CHENEY Yeah. Al is definitely establishment and quite liberal, and I wasn’t surprised that Mike Enzi would be his candidate.
NJ You were a key adviser for your father. How’s he helping you in this campaign?
CHENEY I am very proud of my dad, obviously, and I love him very much. He was very excited when I told him I was getting in the race. He’s thrilled, but he recognizes that this is my race, and he won’t be out on the trail campaigning for me. It’s very important for me to do this one vote at a time myself. And that’s how I plan to do it.