Liz Cheney’s exit means nothing for the 2014 landscape

When Republican Liz Cheney abruptly ended her bid for a U.S. Senate seat Monday, she closed the book on a short-lived but heavily scrutinized campaign, raised numerous questions about her political future, and virtually assured Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) a fourth term. But there's one thing Cheney's decision didn't do: Alter the 2014 landscape in any way or say anything about the broader themes of this election cycle.

Liz Cheney abruptly ended her bid for the Senate Monday, but don't assume her campaign taught us anything about the state of the Republican Party. (The Washington Post)

While Cheney's bid to unseat Enzi by running to his right (or something) ostensibly put her into the same class as a cluster of other Republicans trying to dislodge GOP senators -- six of the 12 Republican incumbents up for reelection this year face capable or potentially tough primary challengers -- she didn't fit the mold of her counterparts, who are mainly pitching themselves as tea party candidates.

Cheney is not the darling of the Club for Growth and Senate Conservatives Fund like Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel. Nor is she a far-right antagonist a la Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Tex.). And her background as the daughter of a former vice president distinguished her from the considerably lower-profile underdogs challenging Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.).

In Enzi, Cheney also faced an opponent who was distinct from his colleagues. While tea party activists have long been aching to take on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), for example, Enzi was not at the top of many target lists at the beginning of the cycle. And why would he be? He was the eighth most conservative senator, according to National Journal's 2012 vote ratings.

Cheney's departure -- which she attributed to family health issues -- does not upset the balance of ongoing tea-party-versus-establishment battle. Her campaign was never really part of that calculus in the first place. As The Fix boss wrote earlier, Cheney's campaign never really found an identity. It certainly wasn't one fashioned after Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) or Rand Paul (R-Ky.). (Side note: Paul notably backed Enzi.)

Nor does it mean the battle for the majority has been altered. Wyoming has long been near-certain to remain in GOP hands no matter who is nominated for the Senate race in August. That reality is no different than it was yesterday. Democrats don't even have a major candidate yet. And even if they did, the state's strong conservative tilt would give that person little chance of competing.

The media -- this blog was no exception -- covered Liz Cheney's campaign with close scrutiny. Part of the reason was that someone named Cheney was back on the political scene. Some of it was simply because there was really no race to which it could be compared. And a large part was due to the fact that the race had become part of the broader GOP debate over gay marriage in a remarkably public way.

But none of it was because it stood to make one iota of difference in the bigger 2014 picture. The same holds true for Cheney's departure.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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