Palin with a Pedigree

Article excerpt

Byline: Michael Isikoff and Michael Hirsh

Liz Cheney is truly Dick's daughter, galvanizing the Republican base with her right-wing views and blistering critiques of Obama. Did somebody say 2012?

When the Republican Jewish Coalition hosted its annual winter conference at Las Vegas's splashy Palazzo hotel earlier this month, party luminaries such as Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham showed up to hobnob with some of the GOP's most generous donors. But the guest who seemed to excite the audience the most was a diminutive, former mid-level State Department official who has never held elected office. Introduced by Miriam Adelson, wife of casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, Elizabeth Cheney delivered a rousing attack on Barack Obama's foreign policy that won her a standing ovation. It was an impressive performance by Cheney, a policy wonk, law-school grad, and mother of five who may now be bidding to establish America's next political dynasty.

It's telling that no one at the Palazzo seemed very concerned that Liz, daughter of Dick, had just four days earlier appalled many in her own party's establishment. Her conservative advocacy group, Keep America Safe, had launched a nasty assault on seven Justice Department lawyers who had defended Guantanamo detainees. The ad branded the Justice lawyers "the Al Qaeda Seven" and asked, in ominous tones, "Whose values do they share?" To many critics within and outside the GOP, the attack smacked of McCarthyism for seeming to impugn the loyalty of lawyers who--like all members of their profession--sometimes represent unpopular (and guilty) clients. Nineteen conservative lawyers later issued a statement denouncing the ad. Among them were Ken Starr and top officials who had served in the George W. Bush administration. "I was horrified," says John Bellinger, Condoleezza Rice's former chief counsel.

Like father, like daughter, it seems. Much as Dick Cheney staked out the far right wing of the Bush administration, winning the respect and gratitude of GOP hawks despite his low popularity nationwide, Liz seems eager to make her reputation by unnerving her party's moderates. In another era--one less driven by ideological extremes--the vicious attack ad might have sunk her political career. But now it may have only turbocharged it. Cheney's aides could barely contain their glee last week at the ruckus they had stirred up. "For $1,000, we've driven the debate for over a week," said one political adviser, who asked not to be identified because the group, co-led by conservative commentator Bill Kristol, wanted to speak only through official statements. Or as one of Liz Cheney's biggest fans, Rush Limbaugh, put it on his radio show: "It sure as hell got everybody's attention, didn't it?" (Cheney herself did not respond to a request for comment.)

The 43-year-old Cheney appears modest and unassuming, but she's been rattling the GOP establishment for much of the last decade. After she left the State Department in 2006 to have a baby, later joining Fred Thompson's presidential campaign, Cheney became a fierce political combatant on the TV talk circuit. When Larry King asked her last year about the "birther" conspiracy, she said she didn't believe Obama was born in a foreign country, but explained the movement by saying people are "increasingly uncomfortable with an American president who seems afraid to defend America. …