My record for political prognostication has been consistent… consistently wrong. I predicted the election of Presidents Birch Bayh, Gary Hart, and Ted Kennedy. I had it right once but five members of the Supreme Court snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory. Failure never stopped me from trying again. So here goes.
I predict the 2014 Republican primary for the Senate will be decided not by Republicans, but by whether or not enough Democrats decide to cross over to vote against Liz Cheney.
Current polls may give Enzi a big lead, but by the time Liz has actually lived in Wyoming long enough to legally purchase a resident fishing license, those numbers will change. What matters now isn’t what Republicans say when asked whether they’d vote for Enzi or Cheney if the election were today.
The reason the race will narrow in coming months can be found in the probing questions Cheney’s pollsters most likely asked. You can bet Dick Cheney’s daughter didn’t decide to run without a strong reason to believe she could win. All you need to know about what pollsters learned that gives Cheney encouragement is that Mike Enzi has joined Tea Partiers like Ted Cruz in threatening to shut down the government if Democrats don’t agree to defund Obamacare, an ideas Enzi’s Republican colleague, Senator Richard Burr (North Carolina) calls “dumb” and the New York Times called “reckless.”
Enzi knows what Liz learned polling Wyoming Republicans. A majority is more interested in doctrinaire, anti-Obama, uncompromising rhetoric than in having an effective senator. They prefer someone who lobs grenades and takes no prisoners to one who might be willing to negotiate a cease-fire. Evidence the comparatively lukewarm reception Enzi received last weekend at Tea Party events.
A divided Republican Party won’t determine the outcome, neither Tea Partiers nor RINOS. Democrats will have to decide whether to save the GOP from itself.
Remember the 2010 GOP primary that nominated Matt Mead? Most Republicans didn’t want him to be their nominee. They wanted someone they perceived as far more conservative. That candidate frightened Democrats who crossed over in droves to vote in the GOP primary for Mead, assuring him the nomination, which was tantamount to winning the general election.
In Natrona County, Democrats did the same for state senator Charlie Scott. They feared the religious-right candidacy of Bob Brechtel and so they crossed over and saved Scott’s bacon.
In both cases, Democrats have been more than a little disappointed. In response to Brechtel’s challenge Charlie became Bob, leading efforts to kill a bill protecting homosexuals from job-related discrimination and stopping the expansion of Medicaid. They got Bob Brechtel’s voting record with Scott’s influence. It was a bad bargain.
The disappointment with Mead is even greater. His “thank-you” to those who secured his nomination has been to cross-over to the Republican right on everything from fracking to Medicaid expansion. He decided that instead of showing gratitude to those who nominated him, he would try to shore up his right-wing.
Now we are coming into 2014 and Democrats are already considering whether to bail out Mike Enzi. Remember George Bush’s admonition, “fool me once, shame on - shame on you. Fool me – well, you can't get fooled again”? Democrats have been victimized by unrequited love before and hesitate to give themselves away again. As much as Democrats relish a chance to get a bit of revenge against Dick Cheney they may choose to exercise some restraint. If Enzi decides that to win the nomination he has to “out-nutty” Liz Cheney, Democrats have nothing to gain or lose by letting Republicans decide their nominee for themselves.
Enzi’s willingness to demand the repeal of Obamacare as the price for his vote to approve a budget is a bad omen. I may be wrong again. Mike Enzi may not need Democrats in 2014 like Mead needed them in 2010. He’s signaling he wants to do it on his own. Unless he throws Democrats a bone, they should let him.