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 Guantánamo 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.