Asked if he was thinking of dumping Vice President Cheney, President Bush is said to have laughed aloud. He is right to do so. For this is a game concocted by pundits with other agendas than his re-election.
“Dump the Veep” has long been a hobby of the chattering classes. Once, however, in 1944, it was critical to the nation. And America owes a debt to those Democrats who realized FDR was a terribly sick man whose vice president would be in the Oval Office in months, not years. Three months after FDR’s fourth inauguration, Harry Truman was sworn in.
Had Henry Wallace, vice president before 1945, stayed on and taken office that April, Harry Dexter White might have become secretary of the treasury and Lawrence Duggan secretary of state. This would have put two Soviet spies at the pinnacle of the U.S. government to shape postwar policy toward Stalin, in whose service both were then secretly enlisted.
In recent Republican administrations, only President Bush’s father escaped a media clamor for his defenestration in 1984. Mondale-Ferraro simply did not cause the nervousness that Kerry-Edwards does today.
In 1955, however, after Dwight Eisenhower’s heart attack, close advisers like Sherman Adams, fearing Ike might not finish a second term, urged him to dump Richard Nixon. Ike himself twice suggested to Nixon that he might want to get executive experience in the Cabinet before running in 1960.
After months of waiting for Ike to move, Nixon forced the issue, and Ike declared himself pleased Nixon wanted to remain as veep. As though there was any doubt.
In the early 1960s, there was talk among the Kennedy clan for the dumping of LBJ, who seemed not at home either in the vice presidency or on the New Frontier. The blood was especially bad between Robert Kennedy and LBJ. Then came Dallas, and the Kennedy era was over.
In 1972, there was a move to dump Spiro Agnew, and it was no secret Nixon felt John Connally of Texas was the man with the stature and brains to lead the nation after he departed. But Nixon knew that, should he drop Agnew, a hero to conservatives for his attacks on anti-war radicals and the liberal press, he would tear the party apart. Moreover, it would be an admission that Nixon himself had blundered in choosing Agnew.
In 1992, Dan Quayle was under constant attack, especially after the “Murphy Brown” episode, as being less than presidential timber. Bush I kept Quayle, and went down to defeat, though observers felt Quayle easily out-pointed Al Gore in the veep debate. That George W. Bush has not given his father’s vice president a role of responsibility or visibility suggests the president may reflect the family’s second thoughts on Poppy’s choice.
Since Henry Wallace, then, 60 years ago, no vice president has been dumped, and though Bush has no intention of dropping Cheney, he would be making a perhaps terminal blunder should he do so.
Dumping Cheney would be seen as an admission that Bush’s enemies were right, that Cheney, who has been both devotedly loyal and the most influential vice president in history, had failed or was no longer up to the job and must be moved out of the line of succession.
Yet, even his enemies do not doubt Cheney’s capacity. Hence, the only believable rationale for dumping him would be that Bush and Karl Rove had concluded Cheney carries so much baggage they cannot carry him over the top in November. But if Cheney is baggage, the sole reason is the role he played in pushing for and preparing for war on Iraq.
But, as America knows, the final decision on that war was not made by Dick Cheney. Thus, dumping him would be an admission the war was ill-conceived and has turned out so badly its co-architect must be cashiered.
What would this say about the man who oversaw the planning and who approved the blueprints – the president of the United States?
Bush and Cheney are Siamese twins. Separate them, and neither may survive. And why risk it? Whom would Bush replace Cheney with? The names promoted are those of Colin Powell, Rudy Giuliani and Condi Rice.
But Rice is a policy wonk and political novice, and Powell and Rudy hold views on social issues such as right-to-life that are unacceptable to the GOP’s conservative-Christian base. Dumping Cheney for any of the three would mean a fight and a walkout in New York.
John McCain fits the bill philosophically, and, should Bush dump Cheney for McCain, he would, initially, get wonderful press. But for Bush to put McCain first in line to succeed him in 2008 would ignite an immediate succession battle, and a fight in front of the TV cameras in New York, if not right on the convention floor.
Bush would also have to explain why he traded in a younger vice president who was loyal for an older senator who has bedeviled him. A charge of cynicism would be laid at the president’s feet, and he would spend September answering it, as Cheney was converted into a victim of Bushite ingratitude.
Moreover, how would Bush enjoy having John McCain sitting across from him at every meeting of the Cabinet and National Security Council?
No way. Cheney’s the one.