It’s not going to happen. But the media and the Democrats want it to happen, so it will be a topic of intense political conversation–President Bush dumping Dick Cheney from his ticket.
It’s not going to happen, because Bush is loyal to a fault, and Cheney is, in any case, popular and valued within the administration. As a White House aide says: “He’s smart and tough and trusted and discreet. At Madison Square Garden during one of FDR’s conventions they unfurled a banner that read, ‘We love you for the enemies you’ve made.’ That’s the way we feel about Dick Cheney.”
The frenzy over kicking Cheney overboard has been ignited by a stray comment advocating it by former New York Sen. Al D’Amato–who the New York Times accurately describes as “once influential”–and a Newsweek poll showing the Bush ticket would be marginally more popular with someone besides Cheney in the No. 2 slot. According to Newsweek, John Kerry and John Edwards are beating Bush and Cheney 47 percent to 44 percent. But if Bush added John McCain on the ticket, he would be winning 49 percent to 47 percent. Both results are within the margin of error–so, in other words, the race would be basically tied either way.
If Bush dumped Cheney, any bounce he would get in the polls would dissipate quickly since people would soon focus again on what they like and dislike about Bush himself. Bush would risk alienating his base, which loves Cheney, and prompting an intraparty bloodbath if he picked the alternatives bandied about most often, McCain or Colin Powell, both of whom have more cachet with journalists than Republicans.
It is arguable exactly how unpopular Cheney is in the first place. The Newsweek poll has his favorable/unfavorable rating in slightly positive territory, 46 percent to 43 percent. Not stellar, but not disastrous. It is possible to find polls that have roughly similar numbers for Kerry. The Republican polling firm the Winston Group recently had Kerry’s favorable/unfavorable rating at 43 percent to 45 percent. Dump Kerry? Even in the Newsweek poll people by a 2-1 margin think Cheney “has strong leadership qualities,” 63 percent to 30 percent.
If the Bush campaign considers Cheney a liability, it is not acting that way. It is sending him to swing states that Bush lost in 2000. On the weekend of July 4, he traveled to Pennsylvania. This weekend he is scheduled to be in Michigan, Iowa and Minnesota. The campaign believes that Cheney can talk compellingly about the two most important issues in the campaign for both Bush’s base and swing voters: the war on terror and the economy.
Democrats are so eager to have Bush ax Cheney because they know it would be a sign of weakness and play as an admission that their charges against him have been accurate. It would be the most important Democratic takedown since Robert Bork and Newt Gingrich, and the Bush campaign knows it. “For years the Left’s strategy has been to go after effective conservatives on a personal basis,” a Bush campaign official says. “That’s the modus operandi. The political game is personal destruction.”
What of the substantive charges against Cheney? He kept the proceedings of his energy task force secret in order to establish an important point about executive powers–and won a preliminary battle in the Supreme Court. He was formerly chairman of Halliburton. So what? Halliburton had the same arrangement to provide emergency work overseas with the Clinton administration that it does with the Bush administration. Cheney has been one of the strongest hawks on Iraq. Thanks in part to his advocacy, in a historically and strategically central country in the Middle East there is now a popular government waging the fight against terror in almost exactly the same terms as Bush. Gosh. What a fool Dick Cheney is!
For all these reasons and more, the Bush team’s reaction to calls for Cheney’s scalp is a politer version of the vice president’s recent famous rebuke of Sen. Pat Leahy–buzz off.
–Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years.