Who’s Afraid of Liz Cheney?

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I find your lack of faith disturbing.Photo: Cliff Owen/AP Images

Liz Cheney’s announcement that she will challenge incumbent Senator Mike Enzi in Wyoming is sending currents of fear and resentment through the Republican Establishment. The stated reasons for their anger at Cheney are mostly silly. Enzi’s colleagues complain it’s “bad form” for her to challenge an incumbent, as if the principle of seniority ought to overrule the voters’ right to choose whomever they want to represent them. Wyoming Republican turned Beltway deficit scold Alan Simpson recently predicted a Cheney run would have disastrous consequences, bringing about “the destruction of the Republican Party of Wyoming if she decides to run and he runs, too.”

Apparently Alan Simpson’s political prognostications are every bit as hysterical as his fiscal prognostications. Wyoming is a tiny state consisting entirely of Republicans. There is no way a Liz Cheney race will cause the party to lose the Senate seat, or any Senate seat. So this is just Old Man Simpson yelling at a cloud.

There is, however, a real reason for Republicans to worry that they don’t mention. Some members of the party want to move it to the center. Liz Cheney is very bad news for them. Cheney is nuts — a spokesman of the deranged wing of the GOP that believes Obama is not merely the worst and most radical president in American history, but actually wants to weaken America. As she wrote earlier this year:

The president has so effectively diminished American strength abroad that there is no longer a question of whether this was his intent. [Italics mine]

So No. 1 problem here is that Cheney, if she wins, will become a high-profile spokesperson, and will join the Limbaughs, Palins, and Glenn Becks as defining the GOP as the party of crazy. No. 2 problem is that she will make it hard for other Republicans to nudge their party to the center, or even to prevent it from moving even farther right. One of the problems faced by the pragmatic wing of the party is that its elected officials can’t say even mildly heterodox things without incurring the wrath of the true-believing faithful, and Cheney could become one more loud true believer flaying any colleagues who gesture in the direction of sanity.

Liz Cheney won’t cost the Republicans a seat in Wyoming. The real fear is that she’ll cost it seats elsewhere.