Liz did meet one like-minded person at school: her future husband, Philip Perry, an English major from the Bay Area who was headed to Cornell Law School. Liz herself was on her way to Eastern Europe, hired by Armitage to help develop private enterprise in Eastern Bloc countries after the fall of the Berlin Wall for the State Department. Cheney, then the secretary of Defense under President George H.W. Bush, asked Armitage to keep an eye on her. “The father called up and said, ‘You know, she’s got a will of her own, [but] she does have my name, so I’d appreciate it if you’d vet where she’s going,’ ” recounts Armitage.
For security purposes, Liz used her mother’s maiden name, traveling as Liz Vincent, and a friend says she was sometimes disappointed when security decided that she couldn’t travel to certain locations. “She wanted to be judged on her professional contributions, but she was mindful of who she was,” says Heather Conley, a former State Department colleague.
After Bill Clinton was elected in 1992, Liz left government and married Perry in Wyoming, where the wedding party went snowmobiling in Yellowstone. Soon thereafter, the couple moved to Illinois, where Liz entered law school at the University of Chicago. (Barack Obama was a professor of constitutional law there at the time, but the two never met.) Midway through, she gave birth to Dick’s first grandchild. Around the same time, Dick Cheney was testing the waters for a presidential run in 1996. While Lynne and Mary were ambivalent, concerned for Mary’s privacy and the impact of her sexual orientation on Dick’s prospects among Republicans, Liz was “gung ho,” Dick told Stephen Hayes. “She was out in the backyard painting yard signs.”
But Dick Cheney opted out. Instead, he joined the energy company Halliburton as the CEO and by the end of the decade left the company with a reported $20 million package. The Cheneys were now wealthy. Dick and Lynne bought a large plot of land in McLean—not far from his granddaughters’ preschool—on which to build the family estate, the nerve center for the next phase in Cheney history.
Liz Cheney has been unapologetic in her defense of waterboarding: “If Al Qaeda captures an American, they cut his head off.”
The Cheney family story, rooted in a romanticized Wyoming culture of plainspoken simplicity and rock-ribbed independence, has long been that it is a matriarchy. Lynne is the family anchor and social navigator, keeping tabs on her husband’s errant staffers, line-editing his speeches, and going on TV when Mary’s sexuality becomes grist for a political movement. Referred to simply as “Mrs.” by former campaign aides (and “Boss” by Dick Cheney, who is cast for comic effect as the family cook), she embodies the family’s prairie-style feminism, the brassy, defensive exterior and stand-by-your-man fortitude, which she passed on to both her daughters.
While Liz was graced with the social composure of her mother, she has always been her father’s intellectual heiress, ambitious and eager. “She idolizes her father,” says an acquaintance. “She is in thrall to him.” As Cheney prepared to reenter politics in 2000 after an absence of eight years, Liz became an increasingly important figure in his life. When Bush chose Cheney to be his running mate, Cheney hired Kathleen Shanahan, a friend of the Bush family, to run his side of the campaign. When they met, the first thing he told her was, “My daughters are going to be involved, and we’re going to be a unit.”
Liz became his aide in debate prep against Al Gore’s running mate, Joe Lieberman, working with Paul Wolfowitz and Republican adman Stuart Stevens. By the time it was over, the story goes, Liz had supplanted the more powerful men in the debate sessions, casually directing them by their first names and training her father to distill his answers into more accessible language. “Liz was very good at taking his immediately instinctive answers and making them real,” recalls Shanahan, describing how Liz would ask her father to imagine explaining his foreign-policy prescriptions to his country cousin back in Wyoming. (Another former Bush-administration official close to the Cheneys says this is just part of the pass-the-torch mythology: “She was not a senior adviser to him on this.”)
After the election, the Perry began to disappear from her name in the press, and she became known exclusively as Liz Cheney. She embraced a new role as the point person to sell the GOP as advocates for women, telling a reporter she found it “offensive when people in either party talk about ‘women’s issues,’ ” a phrase that she said “denigrates women” by assuming they’re less interested in guns and taxes.
The events of 9/11 transformed the Cheneys. Larry Lindsey, the former director of Bush’s National Economic Council, was in the White House bunker that day with the vice-president. “That experience really changes your view of the world,” he says. “You understand the concept of what it is to be a secure nation. I don’t agree with him on everything, but I understand where he’s coming from.”