The Republican primary for the U.S. Senate race in Wyoming could erupt into a proxy war in the battle between the libertarian and conservative wings of the party over national security, with Sen. Rand Paul supporting Sen. Michael B. Enzi in his re-election bid against the eldest daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Liz Cheney is a political novice but served in the State Department under President George W. Bush. She is a steadfast supporter of her father, who has been a lightning rod for debates over military adventurism and civil liberties since the onset of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Republicans skeptical of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars say the costs and resulting federal budget deficits helped fuel the tea party movement that powered Mr. Paul to victory in the 2010 U.S. Senate race in Kentucky. Indeed, Mr. Paul had to overcome opposition from Mr. Cheney, who called primary opponent Trey Grayson the “real conservative” in the race.
“If that is the case that Rand Paul is supporting Enzi, it seems to me to be a proxy war between the neocons and the realist-slash-libertarians when it comes to foreign policy,” said Niger Innis, head of TheTeaParty.net.
“There is no question that neoconservative foreign policy — understandably after 9/11 — had a tremendous amount of influence over Republican foreign policy, but the pendulum has swung hard toward a more libertarian point of view, toward more realist foreign policy,” he said.
Ms. Cheney announced her candidacy in an online video last week, saying the GOP needs a new generation of leaders. She said Republicans must stop “destructive” policies of the Obama administration that she thinks have diminished the U.S. on the world stage.
“We can elect leaders who are worthy of commanding our men and women in uniform,” Ms. Cheney said. “This is our state and our country, and we don’t have to accept what Washington, D.C., has been doing to us.”
Mr. Paul quickly endorsed Mr. Enzi.
“I think that there is a faction of our party that I think is too aggressive in their approach to feeling like we have to be involved in every war around the world. I think that war is a terrible thing and should be approached reluctantly,” Mr. Paul said. “It’s not that we don’t go to war and shouldn’t defend our country, but I think we should be reluctant. I think there’s some people within the party who may show an overeagerness or a rashness to war, and I think Sen. Enzi has showed a much more reasoned approach.”
Matt Welch, editor-in-chief of Reason magazine and co-author of “The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What’s Wrong With America,” said this is the first Obama-era Republican primary challenge he can recall that was launched by someone from the party establishment.
In 2010 and 2012, the tea party challenged and went on to defeat a number of veteran Republican lawmakers who were dubbed “RINOs” — Republican in name only — and accused of selling out the limited-government philosophy that the grass-roots movement espoused.
Mr. Enzi has scored well with conservative groups.
In 2012, the National Journal ranked his voting record as the eighth most conservative in the Senate, and he also received high marks from the American Conservative Union — put right alongside the likes of former Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.
Heritage Action, the political arm of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, placed Mr. Enzi in the middle of the pack. Mr. Enzi was knocked in part for supporting a bill this year that gave states more power to collect billions of dollars in sales taxes on out-of-state Internet and catalog sales.
Mr. Welch said he finds it hard to believe that Ms. Cheney drew a line in the sand on the Internet sales tax.
“It seems much more plausible and is consistent with the whispering around town that [the neocons] need some fresh voices,” he said. “I think it is possible that this is a shot across the bow of Rand Paul and the most skeptical interventionist who are now ascendant in the Republican Party. They are a minority, but a growing one.”
Mr. Paul welcomed Ms. Cheney to the race by saying his first response to the news was to wonder whether she was “going to run in her home state of Virginia.”
Ms. Cheney, 46, spent most of her adult life inside Beltway before she moved with her husband and children into a home in Jackson Hole, Wyo., that she bought last year.
Some Republicans say Ms. Cheney chose to run in Wyoming because Virginia is a much bigger state where a campaign would be much more costly. It also is a tough swing state with a popular incumbent in Sen. Mark Warner, a Democrat.
“She is clearly part of the Washington political elite that hatched a plan in Northern Virginia to either run in Virginia or Wyoming, and they picked the state that they thought would be easier or less expensive,” said Liz Brimmer, a veteran Republican Party consultant in Wyoming and Enzi supporter.