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Why Liz Cheney Couldn't Sell Neoconservatism To The Tea Party

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LIZ CHENEY
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Liz Cheney entered the Wyoming Senate race on the assumption that Republican primary voters there found incumbent Sen. Mike Enzi too accommodating of the Obama administration and would respond to a more conservative alternative. The recent implosion of her campaign shows how dramatically she misunderstood the energy driving GOP primary voters.

The part of the GOP base driven by tea party activists is in the process of rejecting the very neoconservative values her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, made triumphant. And while Cheney himself remains popular with the GOP base, the ideas he championed, divorced from the man, have proven less attractive to the primary electorate. The conservative base has taken a sharp turn against foreign interventions in the years since Cheney left the White House, and has long been distrustful of providing foreign assistance.

Liz Cheney has fought hard on behalf of both. A conversation she had in 2012 with Sean Hannity about the Arab Spring highlighted her difficulty. "We saw all of this unfolding," Hannity told her in early 2012 on his Fox News program, referring to chaos in Egypt and the rise of extremism, "and we're being told by the president, every Democrat, 'This is democracy.' We got rid of the dictator, Mubarak, who kept the peace with Israel for 30 years. How did they not know, [with] public opinion in Egypt, that the Muslim Brotherhood would likely take over?"

The Republican Party has shifted so dramatically on foreign policy that Hannity could have assumed he was talking to someone who fully agreed it had been a mistake to try to bring democracy to Egypt. But not only has Cheney been a supporter of such a strategy, she was one of its chief advocates as a top State Department official during the Bush administration, where she won an internal bureaucratic battle to steer millions of dollars to Egypt to aide the effort.

With Hannity, she quickly changed the subject to Syria. "Look, I think that they have had absolutely no strategy. I mean, I think that in some ways, what is going across the Arab world, in terms of these revolutions, would be happening no matter who is in the Oval Office. I think that our response to it has been completely inadequate," she said. "When you look at the difference between what happened in Cairo -- where Barack Obama went in front of the cameras and said, 'Hosni Mubarak must go' -- and what's happening today in Syria, where you've got, you know -- 7,000 people have been slaughtered, according to some accounts. And this administration does not have enough prestige to even put together a bare minimum coalition to condemn what is going on."

Dick Cheney was also skeptical of his daughter's efforts to promote more democratic forms of government in the Middle East in the wake of 9/11. But she worked hard to introduce him to reformers from Middle Eastern countries when they visited Washington. One State Department colleague of Liz Cheney's told HuffPost, "She had a real influence on him and his thinking over time by repeatedly making this argument, but also by introducing him to people who kind of understood the rationale."

Liz Cheney also spearheaded an early effort to disempower the moderate but autocratic Palestinian Authority; the territories, following a U.S.-backed democratic election, are now run by Hamas, which the U.S. lists as a terrorist group. Cheney emphasized the need for local knowledge in working abroad, according to Karen Volker, who worked with Cheney during both her State Department stints. In 2002, Cheney attended a signing ceremony for a $200 million loan from USAID to Egypt. She appeared at a press conference that same year to announce a $7 million grant to Egyptian NGOs working on democracy and the rule of law, seed money for the eventual revolution.

Still, Cheney had to overcome significant resistance from within State as she pushed hard for funding for the U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative. "It was a real battle getting the bureau to really embrace and appreciate what MEPI brought to the table," Volker said. "Some people still don't."

The battle for funding took Cheney in 2005 to Capitol Hill, where she argued before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in favor of sending millions of dollars to the Middle East because "rigid and closed political systems do not give citizens in many countries a voice in shaping their destiny or choosing their leaders." Her project would ultimately spend nearly $400 million on democracy promotion in Egypt and the Middle East during her tenure, with The New York Times noting in 2003 that "its goals are an unusual amalgam of ideas usually associated with liberals."

It was little surprise, then, when Cheney came out strongly in support of U.S. military intervention in Libya and Syria, signing a letter calling for strikes and "all necessary actions" to unseat Libya's Muammar Gaddafi. "Innocent people are dying by the hour in Syria, and I think that John McCain had it right this week when he said that we ought to look into arming the opposition. I think, frankly, we ought to recognize the opposition government," Cheney told ABC's George Stephanopoulos in 2012. Later that year, as reports of chemical weapons attacks increased, she told Hannity it might be time to hit Syria. "If in fact the Syrian government is preparing to use chemical weapons on its own people, the United States government needs to be prepared to take action to do what they can to stop it," she said. "I saw one report that quoted a U.S. official that said there's not much the outside world can do. That's simply not true. We need to be considering military action."

Cheney seemed to be aware that her hawkish, neocon foreign policy would hurt her prospects with today's grassroot conservatives. In launching her bid for Senate, she said that she would have voted against authorizing strikes against Syria.

She also reconsidered her position on the National Security Agency's electronic surveillance programs. "I'm a supporter of the NSA program. And I believe Admiral Hayden, for example, has said that if it had been in place before 9/11, we may well have prevented that attack," Cheney told Hannity in June 2013.

After launching her campaign, she told the Casper Star-Tribune that NSA snooping is an area where she has split with her father. "There are legitimate questions and concerns that have to be answered about what the NSA has been doing," she said, adding that her father could only vouch for the program's operation during his administration.

While her father's name made her an immediate contender, it also hampered her. Cronyism has become a central critique of the tea party. Cheney, of course, was born a Washington insider, and has only dug in deeper throughout her career. She has been more often floated as a Senate candidate from Virginia than Wyoming, and according to federal records, most of her political contributions have been to candidates from Virginia, where she graduated from high school and has lived most of her life.

She met her husband, Phil Perry, at a Colorado College alumni gathering in Washington, and they married in the early 1990s. Perry joined the corporate lobbying and law firm of Latham and Watkins, and later went to work as a GOP staffer in the late '90s, investigating Clinton and Gore. He was a member of the inner circle during the first Bush election and served as "policy coordinator" during the transition. In the Bush-Cheney administration, while Liz Cheney won a coveted position at the State Department, her husband was named to the number three spot at the Department of Justice, a remarkable achievement for a man so young.

Perry moved from the DOJ to become chief counsel for the Office of Management and Budget, serving under Mitch Daniels. At OMB, Perry helped shape the legislation that set up the Department of Homeland Security. At one meeting in March 2003, as a dozen bill drafters sat hashing out one of the final pieces -- security at chemical plants -- Perry arrived unexpectedly and informed the group that its plan to give the Environmental Protection Agency authority and to require significant safety improvements had to go. "He was obnoxious," meeting attendee Bob Bostock, homeland security adviser to the EPA, recalled to the Washington Monthly in a 2007 profile.

Whatever his demeanor, Perry cashed in on his government experience to become a partner at Latham. There he put his government service to work, according to lobbying disclosure forms on file with the Senate. He lobbied for the Corrections Corporation of America, the leading private prison firm that saw homeland security as a business opportunity; HCA, the hospital and health care chain that had pleaded guilty to dozens of fraud charges and agreed to pay a record $1.7 billion to Perry's former employer, the DOJ; and defense contractor Lockheed Martin. A Latham colleague, Michael Chertoff, would later run DHS.

After joining Liz in helping the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign, Perry went back to public service, this time as general counsel at DHS, the agency he had both helped to set up and previously lobbied. There he was accused by Comptroller General David Walker of slow-walking efforts to root out waste, fraud and abuse.

"Two of the government's top investigators told lawmakers today the Homeland Security Department has delayed and complicated their investigations, specifically because of problems they have had with the department's office of chief counsel, which is run by Vice President Cheney's son-in-law," Congress Daily reported in 2007. "'[Homeland Security] has been one of our persistent access challenges,' GAO Comptroller General David Walker told the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee. Walker said the problem is 'systemic' and not the fault of any single individual. But he complained that GAO has had to go through the office of Chief Counsel Philip Perry. Perry is married to Elizabeth Cheney, a former State Department official who is one of the vice president's two daughters."

At DHS, Perry was charged with implementing the chemical safety laws he had previously defanged during the legislative process. His regulations took out what teeth were left. He then left DHS for Latham again, where chemical giant Monsanto and the American Chemical Council were among the largest clients. Chemical plants remain insecure, according to government investigators, and waste and fraud continue to run amok in the Pentagon and Homeland Security Department.

In 2012, he and Cheney purchased a multimillion-dollar second home in Jackson Hole, Wyo., from which to launch a campaign against "Washington insiders." "The Washington establishment is doing all it can to try to stop us," Cheney warned in one fundraising pitch. "I am standing up to and fighting back against these Washington insiders, but I cannot do it without the support of conservatives from across the country."

Jon Ward contributed reporting for this article.

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