The Enzi/Cheney Primary, Rand Paul, And The Wider Fight In The GOP

Some interesting taking of sides is already taking place in the GOP Senate race in Wyoming.

Elephants Fighting

It’s been less than a week since Liz Cheney announced her entry into the 2014 Senate race in Wyoming against Senator Mike Enzi, and sides are already being chosen. Both Enzi’s fellow Senator from The Equality State, or as some know it The Cowboy State, John Barrasso and the state’s lone Congressional Representative Cynthia Lummis have put their support firmly behind Enzi’s re-election while the state party chairman has said that the party organization itself will stay neutral in the Enzi-Cheney fight. Additionally, while most Senators from other states have remained quiet about the race so far, there’s been one notable exception in the person of Rand Paul:

Rand Paul is formally endorsing Sen. Mike Enzi as he faces Liz Cheney in a Wyoming GOP primary next year, Paul told POLITICO in an interview Wednesday.

“I’ve told him I’ll do anything I can to help him,” the Kentucky GOP senator said. “In fact, somebody asked me today if they could use my name, and I said I’d be happy to sign on and do a fundraiser for him.”

Paul said he isn’t sure why Cheney decided to challenge Enzi, but said she might end up picking up some grudges for doing so.

“I don’t think it probably will be helpful in the long run. I’m pretty sure Senator Enzi will be able to hold off against any primary challenge,” Paul said. “In doing so there will be some people that won’t be so happy with the primary challenge, that might bear grudges.”

Cheney, 46, is the daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney and launched her campaign Tuesday with a video calling for a “new generation of leaders to step up to the plate.”

Although she has deep pockets, her lack of deep roots in the state might hurt her. Cheney spent time in Wyoming as a child, but hasn’t spent much time there since. She moved her family from Virginia to Jackson Hole last year. Paul said it will be difficult for “someone new” to the state to create the same type of deep personal relationship Enzi has.

“Mike Enzi has probably been to every town in Wyoming. He’s the kind of guy who spends the time to get to know people in a town of 600 people, he’s been there,” Paul said. “And I think that’s going to be difficult for someone who’s new to the state to get to meet the same people with the same degree of personal relationship that he’s been able develop with the people in Wyoming.”

Among his colleagues in the Senate, Paul said he’s heard “nothing but support” for the 69-year-old senator.

“I would say that I have heard nothing but support for Senator Enzi. I haven’t heard anyone say they’re considering not supporting him,” Paul said.

On the surface it might seem odd that Paul, whose been the very epitome of an anti-establishment Republican since taking office, would be backing someone seeking his fourth term in office. Yes, it’s true that he’s made his political peace with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell but that’s as much a marriage of political convenience for both of them as anything else. Enzi is a conservative, but he’s not exactly a Rand Paul conservative and the differences between him and Cheney on policy are likely to be more stylistic than substantive as the campaign goes on so there doesn’t seem to be any policy reason for Paul to jump into the race this early and enthusiastically. So, what gives?

David Weigel explains it:

Near the end of March 2010, as Republicans outside Kentucky realized that Rand Paul might actually become a senator, Paul’s opponent received an unexpected and important-looking endorsement.

“I’m a lifelong conservative, and I can tell the real thing when I see it,” announced Dick Cheney. “I have looked at the records of both candidates in the race, and it is clear to me that Trey Grayson is right on the issues that matter—both on fiscal responsibility and on national security.”

Paul’s campaign was half-unsurprised, half-amused. They’d seen this coming a week before, when former Cheney policy adviser Cesar Conda emailed some fellow neoconservatives and asked them to “help us get the word out about Rand Paul’s troubling and dangerous views on foreign policy.”* Fun on its own, but by weighing in personally, Cheney had confirmed a white-knuckle panic among their least favorite Republicans. The Louisville Courier-Journal ran a cartoon about the news, in which two Kentuckians learned that Cheney (represented by Darth Vader) had endorsed Paul’s opponent. “On purpose?” asked one of the cartoon characters.

That joke rocketed around the inboxes of Paul campaigners. They kept on laughing, as Paul rose from a 15-point lead before the Cheney announcement to a 23-point “Randslide” on primary night. Their hard-won confidence explains why Sen. Paul came out so early against Liz Cheney’s candidacy in Wyoming, nearly a week before she actually announced it. “I don’t know much about her or her politics, really,” he said—a totally unbelievable statement that could only be read as dismissive. That reading was rewarded yesterday, as Paul claimed that whenhe “heard Liz Cheney was running for Senate I wondered if she was running in her home state of Virginia.”

Reporters looking for a feud between the Cheneys and her new foe Sen. Mike Enzi have come up a little short. Enzi’s not enjoying the challenge, but he’s known the Cheneys for decades and he’s gone fly-fishing with the paterfamilias. The real “feud” is between the ascendant America-first Republicans represented by Paul, and the conservative hawks who’ve lost their leading role in the party.

Cheney, of course, has long been associated with the neo-con/interventionist wing of her party and has been touted as a potential future political candidate or Cabinet member by the likes of Bill Kristol and others for quite some time now. No doubt, The Weekly Standard and other publications will be pushing her candidacy hard over the next year leading up to the Wyoming Primary. As for Paul and Enzi, it turns out that they have more in common than you might think:

Wyoming wasn’t one of Ron Paul’s strongest states in the Republican primaries, but Paul did pull one-fifth of the vote and six delegates out of the March 2012 caucus. The Pauls personify a kind of libertarian “America first” foreign policy, but it thrives in the mountain West even when they’re not around. Rand Paul’s filibuster against the theoretical drone-killing of Americans at cafes was a hit with Republicanseverywhere. As Reason’s Mike Riggs first noticed, one of the Republicans who praised Paul the loudest was Sen. Mike Enzi.

“It’s an issue that I and many of my constituents in the State of Wyoming find very troubling,” said Enzi. “In fact, as I traveled around Wyoming several weeks ago, it became abundantly clear that people are very concerned over this administration’s disregard for constitutionally guaranteed individual rights.”

As Weigel notes, Paul didn’t open up his attack on Liz Cheney with any mention of foreign policy, instead choosing to make fun of the fact that she had only recently moved back to a state she hadn’t been a resident of for decades in order to run for office. Furthermore, it’s unclear how much such issues will play a role in the coming Cheney-Enzi primary battle, instead Cheney is likely to focus her attacks on Enzi’s long period of incumbency and his recent support for the Marketplace Fairness Act, a bill that would permit states to collect sales taxes on online sales regardless of whether or not a merchant has a presence inside the state.

However, even if Paul’s motivation for supporting Enzi doesn’t end up becoming an issue in the race, his endorsement could end up being important. As Allahpundit points out, it is likely to help neutralize whatever Tea Party support that Cheney is able to muster in the state. If that happens, Cheney may have no choice but to bring foreign policy into the campaign. Additionally, the fact that her father is likely to be a stronger campaigner for her during the race is going to make the Bush record on foreign policy an issue even if only on an implied level. In either case, the Enzi/Cheney fight is likely to be, at least in part, a Paul/Cheney fight, and that’s just going to make it that much more fun to watch. In some sense, then, the Wyoming primary race, which may end up being the only truly contested Republican Senate primary in 2014, is likely to serve as a microcosm of the debates taking place inside the GOP right now, a debate that is likely to stretch all the way into the 2016 Presidential primaries.

Update: It occurred to me that we may see one more truly significant primary fight for a Senate seat in the GOP in 2014. Conservatives have been talking about mounting a challenge against Lindsey Graham, who is widely assumed to be running for re-election in 2014. So far, nobody has entered the race though.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. stonetools says:

    Man, I’m trying to give a damn, but it just looks to me like the race of the @sshats. Who cares who wins?

  2. gVOR08 says:

    Rand Paul v/ Liz Cheney – as someone said, nothing to do but root for injuries.

    Where do Republicans find these people? and why?

  3. Caj says:

    They’re all elephants. Who cares which one of them wins. Liz Cheney has delusions of grandeur just like her old man Darth Vadar!

  4. Moosebreath says:


    “Who cares who wins?”

    My money’s on the popcorn makers.

  5. C. Clavin says:

    So this is today’s Republican party? Liz Cheney and Rand Paul?
    They are both clinically insane. Nothing that either of them says has any basis in reality. It’s like Jenos was suddenly given a forum on the national level.
    I’ve long had a fantasy that some responsible Republican was going to stand up and say; “ENOUGH!!” and we could get back to a strong two-party political system.
    Clearly that is about as likely as my Kate Upton fantasy(s).

  6. Mr. Prosser says:

    I think it matters who wins based on items of regional concern; water and energy. Beyond that it’s an MMA entertainment.

  7. NickTamere says:

    This is a state that literally has only two escalators; no one there gives a damn about “foreign policy” outside of communist/terrorist bogeymen.

  8. JohnMcC says:

    One gets the impression that Sen Enzi is pretty much devoted to issues of interest to the heartland voters of Wyoming, as opposed to a more ‘movement’ type conservative. But his committee assignments do not reflect that (Budget, Finance, Homeland Security, Health-Education-Labor and Small Business). His voting record (via the wonderful ‘votesmart’ website) seems like a pretty down-the-line rightwinger. If there is a Cheney family issue, it’s energy/oil (made his fortune in Haliburton) but none of Enzi’s votes would seem troublesome to someone from that segment.

    So I guess the impression given in the Original Post is correct. This as meaningful as an election to High School Student Council. Makes me wonder if there are going to be a series of ‘mysterious’ leaks and findings about Mr Jack Hunter or ‘isolationism’. The Cheney tradition is to take no prisoners.

  9. MM says:

    I think that this election is designed for something more. Fundamentally, the only difference with Liz Cheney is she may vote for a slightly more aggressive foreign policy than Enzi and will probably be slightly less knowledgeable and accessible on issues that matter to people in WY. really this election won’t make a difference. What it does is allow the Kristol/Cheney/Bolton wing to see what it takes to get more of their allies into office, especially in small media markets.

  10. Tillman says:

    I get the idea they’re just fighting over name/brand recognition at this point.

    Symbolism is a big deal in politics (see the Roosevelt family, Clinton and Bush “dynasties”) and having a senator named Cheney along with a *cough* “influential” vice president means both family prestige and brand prestige on a certain set of ideas rising.

    I mean, both brands are essentially the same, but who markets them/benefits from them is different. The fight exists for that reason alone.

  11. Steve Parkhurst says:

    Good post Doug. I’m seriously torn on this race, fortunately I don’t live in Wyoming, so I won’t be able to vote. Cheney is female which would be beneficial for the GOP in the Senate. But she is the epitome of new blood not necessarily being good blood. She is “new” but she’s been in DC for a very long time. Enzi is running for what would end up being his 24th year in the Senate, not sure that’s a good thing either.

  12. Woody says:

    Well written post, Mr. Mataconis.

    Ms Cheney will have to attack Sen. Enzi from the Right, of course – yes, Sen. Enzi’s record is overwhelmingly comservative, but the real energy (and a good chunk of the money) in the Republican Party has emanated from the ever-increasingly pro-purity . . . well, Birchers.

    The march rightward continues, against most political observer’s predictions and beliefs. Will politicos recognize this fact? – and will they realize the inherent danger?

  13. Liz Chaney is a Neocon to the core. Rand Paul is not. There is no reason for Paul to endorse her unless he owed some kind of political favor to the Cheney’s, or saw a bandwagon begging to be jumped on. Endorsement by a libertarian leaning senator can only help in the Rocky Mountain states. I doubt that Wyoming will hold against Chaney her time back east, but I also don’t think they will find any reason to change horses.