Liz Cheney’s GOP Primary Challenger Rips Into Her for Defending Torture

Liz Cheney's defense of torture has angered a Republican who's challenging her in the upcoming GOP primary. He calls himself a "Teddy Roosevelt Republican."

Portrait of Rod Miller, April, 2016. Photo: Mike Vanata

The news that Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., would oppose CIA nominee Gina Haspel for her complicity in Bush-era torture perhaps hit a little too close to home for Wyoming Republican Rep. Liz Cheney. The congressional representative, who is the daughter of former vice president and torture architect Dick Cheney, took to Twitter and accused Paul of “defending and sympathizing with terrorists.”

Haspel’s nomination is controversial because of her role overseeing a black site in Thailand during the Bush administration where CIA personnel used torture techniques, such as waterboarding. Haspel later was a participant in the destruction of the CIA’s videotapes of some of its torture sessions. After Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, too, evinced some skepticism about Haspel’s nomination, Cheney gave him a Twitter lecture as well. “The Enhanced Interrogation Program saved lives, prevented attacks, & produced intel that led to Osama bin Laden,” Cheney wrote in response to McCain, who was tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. “No one should slander the brave men & women who carried out this crucial program.”

Cheney’s salvo at Paul drew fire from the lone declared challenger in the GOP primary for Cheney’s at-large Wyoming congressional district. Rod Miller tore into Cheney in a phone interview with The Intercept. He objected both to the incivility of accusing a senator of sympathizing with terrorists, and her advocacy for torture.

“Whether or not you agree or disagree with Rand Paul, he’s a sitting United States senator and he represents the people of his state, and he should be accorded respect and civility due his position in the Senate,” Miller said. “And for Cheney to tee off on him and to accuse him of language like that — in my mind, it’s another step towards what I consider destructive polarization of our political lives today.”

Cheney’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

The people of Wyoming, Miller continued, don’t believe the government should be able to torture people.

“We’re a really red state. We’re crusty, old conservative cowboys and miners, and we’re rough and tough and opinionated, but we are not torturers,” he said. “To have our at-large congresswoman, our only member of the U.S. House of Representatives defend torture indicates to me that she doesn’t know the people of Wyoming as well as I do. Because we’re not the state of torture. Patriots? Yes. Support the military? Yes. But torturers? No.”

Miller is a self-styled “Teddy Roosevelt Republican,” who says he is trying to bring the GOP away from what he described in our interview as “‘alt-right,’ neocon Republicanism” and back to its historic roots. “The core values of Republicanism are a fundamental mistrust of large organizations, a reliance on the individual, his intelligence, and his ability to determine what’s best for him,” Miller told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle when he announced his intention to run in January. “Now, the Republicans are supporting Goldman Sachs and the huge corporations and hedge fund managers. Monolithic institutions are their base now, instead of individuals. And Teddy Roosevelt would not agree with that.”

Cheney, who was elected to Congress in 2016, lived in Wyoming during the 1970s and ’80s when her father was campaigning for and serving in Congress, but she’s spent most of her life outside the state. Miller, on the other hand, has deep ties to the Equality State. He is a fourth-generation Wyomingite and was born and raised on a cattle ranch in Carbon County, in the state’s southern region. From 1984 to 1994, he worked as a federal land planning coordinator and range resources analyst under two governors, Edgar Herschler and Mike Sullivan. Unsurprisingly, he’s made defending public lands from corporate exploitation part of his message.

“Teddy Roosevelt with his deep conservation [ethics] … would be angered at the attacks on national monuments and public lands by the Republican Party today,” he told The Intercept. “Roosevelt would probably roll up his sleeves and do some trust-busting with the mega-corporations and the big banks that are managing our civic life.”

The state is one of the most GOP-dominated regions in the country — President Donald Trump won with 70 percent of the vote in 2016 and in Congress, both of its senators are also Republican. Wyoming has a semi-open primary system, which means that voters have to be registered with a political party in order to vote in its primaries, but they can register on Election Day. For Miller, that means he could conceivably develop a voting base not just of disaffected Republicans, but also independents and Democrats who could change their party registration on voting day to participate in the primary. As of this writing, there is no declared Democratic challenger to Cheney.

Cheney has an edge in the race, being the incumbent and already having $400,000 in her war chest. Miller, who will be officially launching his campaign at the end of the month, understands that it’s going to be an uphill race, but he plans to make Cheney’s campaign finance advantage a liability, by pledging to reject PAC and out-of-state money. The majority of Cheney’s campaign funds are PAC donations, with the second-highest being large individual donors. Small donors — defined as individuals giving $200 or less — comprise just 0.67 percent of her campaign funds.

“It is PACs, it is East Coast corporations, it is banks. Her money comes from the people she is protecting in Congress. … That is one of the problems in politics today,” he said of Cheney’s campaign funds. “It’s been bought and sold.”

There was a crowded field in the 2016 Republican primary, and Cheney eked out a win with just 39.9 percent of the vote. Miller said he is heartened by the results of that election. “There were about 50,000 votes that she did not get in the Republican Party, they voted for other people,” he noted.

He will officially launch his campaign on March 30, and then start campaigning throughout the state. The primary election will be held on August 21.

Miller doesn’t consider himself a protest candidate. “[Cheney] is in my opinion incredibly vulnerable, and I’m going to take her down,” he said.

Top photo: Portrait of Rod Miller, April 2016.

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