Liz Cheney’s rough landing

Was it worth rending her family to run a feckless race?

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One beleaguered politician once uttered the plaintive question: Where do I go to get my reputation back? Senate candidate Liz Cheney might ask what she does to reclaim her relationship with her sister, Mary.

Now might be a start.

Liz Cheney dropped out of the Wyoming Republican Senate primary race Monday at a time when it was clear she couldn’t win barring a miracle. In Wyoming, it turns out, you could like the Cheneys but you don’t like them galloping into the state and taking on the popular conservative incumbent, Mike Enzi.

In announcing her withdrawal, Ms. Cheney cited unspecified health problems in her family. All good wishes those get resolved. She was spared from using the cliche that she had a new, sudden desire to spend more time with the family.

Former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson predicted the primary race would tear the state party apart. It didn’t because Ms. Cheney never gained altitude. The advantage she had — a great career, good conservative credentials, a stint in the State Department — didn’t overcome the arrogance of challenging Mr. Enzi minutes after she left suburban Washington for Wyoming. She tried to prove Mr. Enzi a liar for saying he’d gone fishing with her father. But she could never erase Mr. Enzi’s plaintive cry upon finding out she was running: “I thought we were friends.”

Until he was challenged, Mr. Enzi was the kind of politician who seemed adequate but not great. But when forced to think about it, and make odious comparisons, Mr. Enzi looked better than that. He wasn’t a rabble-rouser like newcomer Ted Cruz, but by any other standard he was a sterling conservative. The most Ms. Cheney could muster was that Mr. Enzi wasn’t defiant enough about Obamacare.

But look where the crusade to defund Obamacare got Republicans: a government shutdown that hurt the brand so much that, as Republican Sen. John McCain said, only blood relatives could support it.

Ms. Cheney’s ill-timed race hurt more than her career. Unless she’s made of stone, she has a deeper loss — her relationship with her sister, Mary, a lesbian, who took umbrage at her older sister’s opposition to gay marriage.

Every election has one winner and at least one loser, but this one has a family that lost its privacy and comity. When her father, Dick Cheney, weighed in, he took sides, supporting the sister who was running and dissing the other one. Dad clarified that Liz felt sorry for Mary. Although Liz had “compassion” for Mary, he said, that shouldn’t be mistaken for approval.

Much of the family laundry got an airing on Facebook. Mary’s spouse, Heather Poe, let it be known how “offensive” she found Liz, her sister-in-law — in 15 states and the District of Columbia, at least. “Liz has been a guest in our home, has spent time and shared holidays with our children, and when Mary and I got married in 2012 — she didn’t hesitate to tell us how happy she was for us,” she wrote.

If Liz has a sick family member, she has everyone’s compassion. This must have been a tough holiday season for the Cheneys; the sisters didn’t spend them together. Now the Cheneys have a year to get it right before the next one.

Margaret Carlson is a columnist for Bloomberg View.

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