As she makes her exit from the Wyoming Republican Senate primary official, Liz Cheney is citing illness in her family as the chief reason for ending her challenge to veteran Sen. Mike Enzi.
But also working strongly against the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney was history. Whatever the state, Republicans historically don't like to dump their incumbent U.S. senators.
Since World War II, roughly 11 Republican senators have gone down to defeat in their own party primaries. In contrast, Democratic senators were given a thumbs-down by their own party more than three times that number.
For the most part, they include southern Democrats who were beaten when the primaries in their states were tantamount to election and, more recently, Democrats who did not follow the increasingly left-of-center line of party activists.
The small Republican fraternity of defeated incumbents ranges from Wisconsin's venerable Sen. Robert La Follette Jr., who lost renomination in 1946 to a young Marine Corps veteran named Joe McCarthy; to Indiana's six-term Sen. Dick Lugar, badly beaten in the 2012 primary by the more conservative state treasurer Richard Mourdock, who went on to lose in an upset to Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly in November of that year.
McCarthy's reputation as a fervent and controversial anti-Communist would come later. When he took on La Follette, McCarthy ran as an internationalist and backer of the United Nations who criticized La Follette's isolationist record. He also trumpeted his youth and service in World War II and campaigned hard in black precincts as a fighter for civil rights.
But over the years, the rare Republican Senate challenger who was triumphant usually ran as a conservative in contrast with a more moderate incumbent. In 1968, California's swashbuckling Superintendent of Public Instruction Max Rafferty defeated Senate GOP Whip and moderate Tom Kuchel on the same night Robert Kennedy won the Democratic presidential primary and was assassinated. Rafferty went on to lose against Democrat Alan Cranston.
New York's Alfonse D'Amato beat veteran GOP Sen. Jacob Javits in New York's primary in 1980 — and won in November — two years after conservative activist Jeff Bell defeated moderate Sen. Clifford Case in New Jersey. Bell lost in November.
In 2010, constitutional lawyer and stalwart conservative Mike Lee won a convention battle over three-term Republican Sen. Bob Bennett of Utah and serves in the Senate today. That same year, conservative Joe Miller ousted the more moderate Sen. Lisa Murkowski in Alaska's Republican primary. But she came back to be re-elected as a write-in candidate.
But for all of the D'Amatos and Lees, there are several more examples of conservatives who could not make a strong enough case to unseat an incumbent senator.
In Connecticut, Prescott Bush Jr., brother of then-Vice President George Bush, finally quit a 1982 challenge to Sen. Lowell P. Weicker, outspoken liberal Republican. Two years later, conservative Rep. Tom Corcoran badly lost in the Illinois Republican primary to moderate Sen. Charles Percy. In 2010, former Rep. J.D. Hayworth could not make a case to Arizona Republicans that Sen. John McCain was not conservative enough. McCain won handily.
Most state and national Republican leaders are expected to breathe a sigh of relief at the news about the Wyoming race. As revered a figure as former Vice President Dick Cheney is in Wyoming, most of his fellow GOP activists ignored his daughter and sided with three-termer Enzi. They saw no difference between the two conservatives on any issue other than Liz Cheney wanted to be a senator.
Liz Cheney clearly had problems going into the race, notably the fact that she had lived in Northern Virginia most of her life before becoming a candidate. She obviously has personal reasons for ending her candidacy Monday. But she also had history against her.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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