In the summer of 2008, as the presidential campaigns got under way, Liz was the one to signal displeasure in the Cheney universe, arguing at a conference that the Bush administration’s approach to the Middle East was “misguided” and that “this administration has gotten it right when we have been bold, when we have been decisive, when we have been focused, when we have used our military force when necessary,” leaving open to interpretation who “we” was.
Cheney told colleagues that he was going to retire quietly. “He used to tell people, ‘After this is over, you’re not going to see Dick Cheney,’ ” recounts the former Bush official. “ ‘I’m going to be off fishing somewhere.’ ”
Cheney’s supporters have always pointed to his lack of interest in pursuing higher office—saying he’d never run for president after Bush—as proof of his purity and absence of ego. But Cheney is not exactly without further political ambition. In a dual appearance with his daughter on Fox News last summer, sitting by a crackling fire at the National Press Club and chatting with Greta Van Susteren, Dick Cheney officially established his daughter as a potential candidate. “Well, I’m of course a proud father, but I’d love to see her run for office someday,” he said. “I think she’s got a lot to offer, and it’s been a great career for me, and if she has the interest, and I think she does, then I would like to see her embark upon a career in politics.”
As early as the 2000 election, Liz was being told by Bush and Cheney advisers like Stuart Stevens that she could be president one day. She laughed it off, but starting last summer, she seemed to draft an informal outline of her future. On an appearance on Fox News in late May, she recalled the coalition that Ronald Reagan built in the late seventies, roping together the Republicans, independents, and centrist Democrats, the “three prongs of the stool he was able to put together as a majority.” With Obama in office, she declared, “it will become possible for us again to build that kind of coalition,” implicitly marking Obama as another Carter.
While Keep America Safe is primarily focused on Gitmo, it is also transparently a testing ground for Liz Cheney’s political career. When she created the pac with Bill Kristol, he advised her to hire two former aides to John McCain’s presidential campaign, including Michael Goldfarb, a 29-year-old political consultant who has become her adviser. Goldfarb, who claims that he was the one to recommend Sarah Palin to Kristol as a national candidate, says they are running Keep America Safe “very much like a campaign.”
“I was excited about Palin; I’m more excited about Liz,” he says. “The same sort of excitement you get when you hear her father, except she’s this petite blonde with five kids … There’s just something about her. You see that response across the activist portion of the party. It’s the response you saw to Palin … She gets people worked up. She connects to people. She is in harmony with where the base seems to be. She’s right on the issues.
“You have a little crush on her,” he gushes. “It’s hard not to.”
Liz will be a speaker at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans this April, along with Sarah Palin. Her advocates say she trumps Palin on substance. “If you put Sarah Palin and Liz Cheney in a circle of 100 journalists, asking anything they wish, I’ll tell you, pal, you don’t need a compass to figure that one out,” says Alan Simpson.
Larry Lindsey, who worked with Liz on Fred Thompson’s failed presidential campaign, suggests Liz trumps her father as well. “I think she’s a better politician than her dad,” he says. “She’s really outgoing, connects with people, very quick with a response, which the vice-president often wasn’t.”
Cheney has already mastered media messaging. Her ambition is most transparent in how carefully she avoids alienating any faction of the conservative movement, including the tea-party wing. On TV, she has danced around fringe issues like Obama’s place of birth, careful not to deny the claim outright, even if it’s clear she doesn’t really believe it. She praised Palin’s book, Going Rogue, even though she didn’t finish it and once called the prospect of a McCain nomination “a sad day for the Republican Party.”
The most-talked-about political possibility for Cheney is the Senate seat in Virginia currently held by Democrat Jim Webb. Assuming the political pendulum is swinging toward Republicans in 2012, Cheney might hope to ride national momentum in the state where she’s been a resident since 1996. She could feasibly gain traction among the state’s large population of active and retired military personnel, not to mention security moms.