On Sunday, the New York Times ran a fantastically juicy piece documenting a feud between the Cheney sisters, whose relationship has apparently been sacrificed at the altar of Liz Cheney’s deeply silly Senate primary campaign against three-term Republican Sen. Mike Enzi. According to the Times, Liz’s parroting of the GOP’s anti-gay party line offended Mary Cheney, a married lesbian with two children. In a moment of startling candor, Mary told the Times that it may be “impossible” to reconcile with her anti-gay sister, and noted that, at the Cheney family’s annual Christmas get-together in Jackson Hole, “I will not be seeing her.”
There are two ways to look at this. Mary might, as Dan Savage suspects, be fabricating her anger to give her sister a much-needed boost in the polls. Anybody can say they don’t like gay people, but it takes a dedicated homophobe to do so at the expense of familial relations. Besides, whereas Enzi has a proven track record of opposing gay rights, Christian conservatives have long detected a certain squishiness about Liz’s anti-gay positions. By publicly opposing the rights of her very own sister, the theory goes, Liz could nab the conservative bona fides she requires to topple Enzi. And Mary—who doesn’t exactly have a sterling track record herself on LGBT issues—could be happy to play the role of selfish, bitter lesbian.
Of course, it’s also entirely possible that the rift is authentic and Mary is legitimately miffed at her sister for throwing her rights under the bus. This strikes me as the more likely option. Unless the Cheneys truly have the Times wrapped around their finger, even they couldn’t successfully pull off a publicity ruse of this caliber. Mary’s grievances over her sister’s extremely public homophobia, moreover, have a ring of authenticity about them: not shrill and harsh, like one who doth protest too much, but plangent and disappointed, like, well, a sister who has seen her family bonds needlessly severed.
Either way, one thing is for sure: This sleazy, rotten mess is the race that Wyoming GOP voters deserve. In bluer states, where the gay issue has been effectively neutralized, a candidate can come out of the closet without facing more than a dollop of controversy. But in an intensely homophobic state like Wyoming, where the vast majority of GOP voters oppose marriage equality, any Republican primary is fated to be a grotesque pissing contest of anti-gay animus. That’s why pro-Enzi SuperPAC ads slamming Cheney as a covert gay rights supporter are inundating Wyoming’s airwaves: They work, appealing to voters’ basest bigotries and helping Enzi open up a 52-point lead over his opponent.
It’s easy to find the entire sordid business of anti-gay pandering darkly amusing, especially in a race as hopeless as this one. But really, in the long run, it’s just pathetic. Cheney might not actually be homophobic, but she certainly is a cynical, callous coward. When politicians lose elections—as Cheney soon will, in an ignominious rout—they often say they look forward to spending more time with their families. But what happens when you’ve thrown your family under the bus in pursuit of your hubristic whims? That, in reality, is the only question left to be answered in this miserable farce of a race.