What should the Republican party do to a Senator rated the 8th most conservative in 2012, according to National Journal? To a Senator more conservative than Tom Coburn, Jeff Sessions, Marco Rubio, and James Inhofe? To one who has no whiff of scandal or electoral weakness? Well, primary him, of course.
Which brings us to the spectacle playing out in Wyoming, about as Republican a state as Massachusetts is Democratic. The last Democrat to win a Senate seat from Wyoming was Gale McGee in 1970. The last Democratic member of the House (Wyoming only has one) was Teno Roncalio in the late 1970s.
Mitt Romney won nearly 69% of the vote in Wyoming in 2012. This is a rock solid Republican state. Senator Mike Enzi, he who is now going to be primaried, won his last reelection with 73% a vote against his Democratic challenger. He is in no danger of losing in 2014.
Liz Cheney wants Enzi’s seat though her main qualification seems to be that she’s emerged as one of our nation’s most vociferous voices full of hyperbolic quotes. That’s no small achievement considering Newt Gingrich is still much sought after.
Why target Enzi? Perhaps, just perhaps, Enzi is not loud enough.
The old joke that the most dangerous place in DC is between a television camera and [insert name of Senator, usually Schumer], does not apply to Enzi. He’s got no presidential aspirations which are de rigueur in a Senator, does not steal the spotlight from his colleagues, does his job, and that’s that.
He’s also well regarded. Enzi has a relatively low turnover rate for staff year to year, with an average of 19%. The most noxious members have a rate more than double that.
And in 2006, Washingtonian Magazine polled congressional staffers about their bosses. Enzi was tied for third place in the Senate for being “just plain nice.”
Maybe that’s the issue. In an era where civilized public discourse is a quaint notion, being just plain nice is tantamount to political suicide. Liz Cheney’s demagoguery over the past few years is a much better reflection of our current state of affairs.
Will she succeed? She’ll get a lot of attention, for sure. Win or lose, she’ll keep her name in the headlines. It’s Gingrich Incorporated 101.
How will the party respond? Enzi’s colleague from Wyoming has already endorsed him. One wonders what Liz Cheney’s former boss, the 43rd President, might do.
A Bush intervention would have a historic connection to another primary challenge.
In 1982, Connecticut Republican Senator Lowell Weicker remained a thorn in the side of his GOP collegeauges in the Senate and to the Reagan White House. The older brother of the Vice President, Prescott Bush, entered into a primary challenge against Weicker.
Bush was far more conservative than Weicker and would very likely have been a more reliable vote for his party during the early days of the Reagan revolution. But the White House made it clear that the challenge to Weicker was unwelcome. It fell to the Vice President to apply the needed pressure and Bush would withdrawal a couple of months before the primary.
Connecticut in 1982 could have easily gone Democratic and Republican leaders were in no mood to risk losing the seat no matter how much they detested Weicker.
Wyoming in 2014 will remain Republican no matter who wins the nomination.
The only thing the Republican party risks is replacing a hard working conservative with a conservative demagogue.