Liz Cheney, the daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney, announced Monday that she has decided to end her bid for U.S. Senate in Wyoming, citing “serious health issues” in her family.
Cheney’s decision brings an abrupt end to a high-profile campaign that shook the Wyoming political landscape and unfolded against the backdrop of a deeply personal and very public rift in her family.
“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,” Cheney said in a statement.
Her decision to prioritize her family is admirable, as even her Republican critics will admit. This was certainly not the ending or the campaign she and her supporters hoped for.
The mainstream media will recite the trials and tribulations in her campaign, from her open fight with her sister, Mary, and Mary’s wife, Heather Poe, to her fishing license to the spat with other Wyoming Republicans, including Alan Simpson.
But looked at in the larger context, Cheney’s campaign should be a blinking red light to conservative challengers around the country. The short version: Running for Senate is harder than it looks.
Challenging a sitting senator who has no whiff of scandal or egregious misstep is extraordinarily difficult. Your family and friends have to be entirely committed and unflappable. You have to anticipate (Scott Brown, listen up) accusations of carpetbagging. But most of all, you need to have an overarching rationale for running, more than (pay attention, tea partyers in Kentucky, South Carolina and Texas) “the other guy isn’t conservative enough” just to make the case he should be booted, let alone convince voters you would be better and more capable.
In some races the challenger lacks a viable case that the incumbent isn’t solidly conservative. Sorry, but Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) is no squishy RINO. (He’s the second most conservative senator, according to one ranking.) In other cases, contenders seem oblivious (yeah, you, Matt Bevin in Kentucky) to the fact the incumbent was actually as stalwart as possible without backing ridiculous and self-defeating stunts like the shutdown. And still others fail to specify their quarrels, implicitly recognizing that the incumbents’ supposed foibles are minimal compared to their records as a whole. (Should South Carolina Republicans really dump pro-gun, pro-defense, pro-life, pro- Obamacare-repeal, pro-tax-and-entitlement-reform Sen. Lindsey Graham because he votes to confirm judicial nominees and favors immigration with tough border-control measures and arduous requirements for citizenship?)
All of that comes before voters consider whether the challenger would be preferable. Rat-a-tat-tat over fiery barbs and empty catchphrases coupled with the lack of a viable agenda and any demonstrated ability to successfully legislate knock out virtually all of the right-wing opponents.
The GOP far right doesn’t want to hear all that, so they will learn nothing from Cheney’s experience. (Among the GOP challengers for 2014, she was by far the best known, financed and serious policy-wise.) Voters, however, should pay heed to incumbents’ total record and the relative abilities of the challengers. If they don’t, the GOP will bungle yet another opportunity to grab the Senate majority.
In the meantime, we can only hope the Cheney family’s medical issues are quickly and easily addressed. Cheney has much to contribute to the country, especially on foreign policy. This was just not the race and the time to do so.