We Haven’t Heard the Last of Liz Cheney

Across North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia Monday morning, members of Al Qaeda were popping the (non-alcoholic, of course) champagne corks. Why? Because the news had just broken that Liz Cheney would be dropping out of the Wyoming Senate race. With this bold warrior-patriot no longer standing guard, America moved one tick closer to sharia rule, and Al Qaeda closer to ultimate global victory.

Nonsense, of course, though when one considers the way Cheney announced her candidacy as the urgent and necessary response to a president who “has so effectively diminished our strength abroad that there’s no longer a question about whether this was his intent,” (yes, she suggested that Barack Obama went to the trouble of entering political life, running for Senate, then running for president just to make America weaker) one could be forgiven for wondering if she actually thinks that.

Cheney’s stated reason for her withdrawal from the race was that “serious health issues have recently arisen” in her family. Politico reported late yesterday that Cheney’s closest friends and supporters knew that she was grappling with troubling developments at home: her youngest daughter’s juvenile diabetes and a more acute event involving one of her children at college.” But given the impressive number of problems that her short campaign had experienced, not to mention that recent polls had her trailing incumbent Senator Mike Enzi by more than 50 points, the pullout is not exactly surprising.

Responding yesterday to Cheney’s announcement, Salon’s Joan Walsh wrote that Cheney’s withdrawal is a sign of the ebbing of the Tea Party as a political force. That may be true. I think it may be more accurate to say that Cheney’s flameout is (yet another) sign of the waning dominance of hawkish neoconservatives in GOP foreign policy.

Last summer when Cheney announced her candidacy, I wrote that her effort to unseat another Republican—one strongly supported by the conservative base—represented the latest round in an ongoing foreign-policy fight within the Republican Party. With Cheney’s inability to gain any traction with voters, it’s safe to say that, even if it wasn’t the main issue upon which the vast majority of Wyoming’s residents made their decision to withhold their support, her brand of hawkish “war on terror” militarism lost.

In terms of public opinion, the doctrine has been steadily losing ground for years. Consistently in polls over the past years, Americans report that they’re just not into the sorts of large-scale military-led efforts to remake the world that characterized the neoconservative approach to foreign policy. Americans long ago became disenchanted with the Iraq war, and support for the Afghanistan war – once seen as the “good” alternative to Iraq – has dipped below 20%, making it the most unpopular war in American history. By the end of the 2012 presidential campaign, even Mitt Romney was insisting in a foreign policy debate with President Obama that, “We don’t want another Iraq.” Clearly he had gotten the message.

So, apparently, has Senator Marco Rubio, the one-time Tea Party favorite who had identified early on with the neoconservative wing of the Republican Party. In a foreign policy speech in November at the American Enterprise Institute, Rubio attempted to triangulate away from hawkish militarism. The Washington foreign-policy debate, Rubio said, was too often divided between “’doves,’ who seek to isolate us from the world, participating in global events only when there is a direct physical threat to the safety of our homeland; and ‘hawks,’ who believe we should use our mighty military strength to intervene in response to practically every crisis.” Such labels are “obsolete,” Rubio said. “They come from the world of the past.” Even though the substance of the speech was essentially bog-standard hawkishness, it’s quite telling that Rubio recognized the need to differentiate himself from the label, and a sign of things to come in future GOP foreign-policy debates.

But don’t worry, even with her brand of militarism falling out of favor, Liz Cheney probably won’t go away. The end of her Senate bid probably just begins the countdown for Fox News announcing the new “Liz Cheney Sticks It To America-Hating Libruls Hour.” Indeed, the arc of such a transition, from State Department policy practitioner to Fox News shock jock, would track perfectly with neoconservatism’s decline over the past decade and a half from an intellectual movement with actual ideas to a political racket comprised of little more than letterheads, websites, and warmongering pressure groups.

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