Are Cheney’s days numbered?

By Bill Press

Editor’s note: Bill Press’ latest book is now available from ShopNetDaily. Get your copy of “Bush Must Go: The Top Ten Reasons Why George Bush Doesn’t Deserve a Second Term” before you vote!

And you thought the vice presidential sweepstakes were over? No way. Sure, John Kerry ended months of speculation by leapfrogging over Dick Gephardt and Tom Vilsack to nominate John Edwards. But that didn’t end all the frenzy over who would be veep. That just shifted it from one political party to the other.

Today the buzz dominating lunch tables and cocktail parties inside the Beltway – where people don’t necessarily possess more inside political information, but pretend they do – goes like this: Now that Kerry has picked the sunny, cheerful, dynamic John Edwards, what are the odds that Bush will stick with the dark, dour, stick-in-the-mud Dick Cheney? Will Bush dump Cheney? Should he?

Should he? Absolutely. There is no doubt that Cheney has become an albatross around the president’s neck. Most Americans can’t think of Cheney without thinking of Halliburton: its no-bid, multibillion-dollar contracts in Iraq – all coordinated with its former CEO in the vice president’s office – and its subsequent overbilling and cheating of American taxpayers. In the Bush White House, Cheney’s the poster boy for crony capitalism.

Cheney’s also probably the administration’s chief hardliner on Iraq. According to Bob Woodward, he – along with Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz – was one of the first to call for invading Iraq.

He befriended and believed the now-disgraced Ahmed Chalabi and the bogus information he spread about weapons of mass destruction. And despite evidence to the contrary by the Senate Intelligence Committee and the 9-11 Commission, Cheney still insists Saddam Hussein actively supported al-Qaida and was therefore partly responsible for what happened on Sept. 11.

As Bush’s case for war continues to unravel, Cheney is a growing embarrassment to the administration.

And then Cheney dropped the F-bomb. The fact that he told Sen. Pay Leahy to commit an unnatural act is deplorable, but understandable. We all get rattled. We all sometimes say things we later regret. What’s unacceptable is that after Cheney used the F-word on the Senate floor, where profanity is strictly forbidden, he not only refused to apologize, he bragged about it – telling Fox New he “felt better” after he said it. And, of course, he received a pass from religious conservatives who would have raised holy hell had the same word been uttered by Whoopi Goldberg.

So there are plenty of reasons why George Bush should dump Cheney. He’s also been publicly urged to do so by former Republican Sen. Alfonse D’Amato. But will he? Who knows? The Bush family is known for its fierce loyalty. It would be out of character for Bush to jettison his vice president, but – as Charlie Cook, one of Washington’s most insightful political analysts noted this week – not impossible.

“Stipulating that dumping a totality loyal, integral part of his inner circle is something that is absolutely not in George W. Bush’s DNA,” Cook wrote in his nonpartisan Political Report, “losing with plenty of notice does not appear to be part of his genetic makeup either.” With the polls so close, Cook concludes, “The president badly needs to shake this race up, and I can think of just one thing. Cheney may need to watch his back.”

Cheney has one other good reason to be nervous: Bush has a ready list of strong alternatives. Speculation centers around Secretary of State Colin Powell, Sen. John McCain and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Any one of them would be a burst of energy compared to Dick Cheney, who speaks with all the enthusiasm of an accountant giving his annual report to shareholders. And each would be more popular with voters than Cheney, whose current approval rating is at a rock-bottom 21 percent.

Questions over Cheney’s future doubled recently, when he suddenly fired his personal physician, Dr. Gary Malakoff, the man who once assured the nation that Cheney, despite four heart attacks, was “up to the task of the most sensitive public office.” Recent disclosures that Malakoff was addicted to prescription drugs at the time, and still is, gave Cheney good reason to fire him – but also good reason to hire a new doctor who might very well advise Cheney sometime around Aug. 15 that he should step down for health reasons.

None of which is good news for John Kerry and John Edwards, who don’t want to run against Powell, McCain or Giuliani. Democrats, in fact, are praying that Bush sticks with Cheney. More and more Republicans are privately praying he won’t.