The right eloquence needs no bell to call the people together and no constable to keep them. ~ Emerson

Monday, November 30, 2009

Run, Dick, Run

Perhaps the GOP’s Future Lies with Its Past

Liz Cheney, daughter of former Vice-President Dick Cheney, made a veiled suggestion about her father running for President in 2012 on a recent FOX News Sunday. The reaction was “good natured laughter,” seemingly the way political analysts universally regard a Cheney candidacy. Ordinary viewers reacted more enthusiastically, with people calling in to ask, “Where do I sign up?”

Last Friday, they got a place to do so. Christopher Barron, a Washington-based campaign consultant and lawyer, who served as the national political director for the Log Cabin Republicans, filed papers in Washington to form a committee to draft Cheney in 2012. Barron called Cheney the only member of the GOP “with the experience, political courage and unwavering commitment to the values that made our party strong.”

“The 2012 race for the Republican nomination for President will be about much more then who will be the Party's standard-bearer against Barack Obama,” continued Barron. “The race is about the heart and soul of the GOP.”

In the current issue of Newsweek, editor and historian Jon Meacham earnestly endorses the idea of Republicans nominating Cheney, calling him “a man of conviction, [who] has a record on which he can be judged.” Meacham is actually not the first pundit to float the idea of a Cheney candidacy – Peter Roff, a Contributing Editor at U.S. News & World Report and senior fellow at the Institute for Liberty, Ross Douthat of the New York Times, and Roger Simon, chief political columnist at POLITICO, all engaged in semi-serious musings over a Cheney run earlier this year.

One argument in support of Cheney maintains that he may well be the only Republican politician who never turned against former President Bush. John McCain based his campaign on the promise he was nothing like Bush and accused Bush of making numerous extremist mistakes. Cheney, on the other hand, seems to think Bush’s only mistakes were in not going far enough.

Douthat writes, “As a candidate, Cheney would have doubtless been as disciplined and ideologically consistent as McCain was feckless.” Simon observes, “The Republicans need a person who knows how to attack [Obama]. John McCain never seemed comfortable in that role.”

A strong and unapologetic Republican candidate would provide a clear dichotomy for voters to choose between in 2012, assuming Obama seeks re-election. “There could be no ambiguity about the will of the people,” Meacham contends. A Cheney victory would mean that America preferred a vigorous unilateralism to President Obama's unapologetic multilateralism.” If nothing else, “a Cheney-Obama contest would have clarified conservatism’s present political predicament,” muses Douthat.

Cheney’s vocal defense of Bush Administration policies against Obama Administration criticisms as well as his own criticisms of Obama caused some Republicans to cringe, especially earlier in the year when Obama’s popularity was still riding high. Even so, it was a guilty pleasure for conservatives and they have now long forgotten their previous chagrin with Obama’s approval ratings below fifty percent.

Still, does it translate into anything politically viable for Cheney? John Fund of the Wall Street Journal points out the only reason Cheney “is able to be forthcoming is because he is not running for office.” Would Cheney have to muzzle himself as the official GOP nominee in order to be successful and, if so, could he do it?

A CNN/ Opinion Research Corporation poll from May showed that while fifty-five percent still had an unfavorable view of Cheney, this represented an eight point improvement since he left office in January. On the other hand, George W. Bush improved his popularity six points during the same period by saying absolutely nothing, suggesting fading voter memories were the biggest contributor to both men’s gains.

Yet, in some ways, this might be the best news possible for Cheney. It suggests Bush will be a lighter to non-existent millstone around the neck of whoever the 2012 Republican nominee turns out to be, even someone as close to Bush as Cheney.

The current top GOP contenders among Republican voters are Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, and Sarah Palin, with others, such as Newt Gingrich and Tim Pawlenty, waiting in the wings. A second argument for Cheney insists that for all his unpopularity, he brings strengths and escapes weaknesses that none of these other Republican candidates can match.

At a time when many voters are expressing everything from apprehension to downright hostility about President Obama’s expansion of federal government, Cheney has views and a record standing in stark contrast. Domestically, he promotes cutting taxes aggressively. Internationally, he promotes American hegemony around the globe just as aggressively. In all other matters, he wants the federal government out of people’s lives. The only exception is national security, where he defends all intrusions (at least so far) as necessary and proper.

Douthat notes that Cheney “kept his distance from the Bush Administration’s attempts at domestic reform and had little time for the idealistic, religiously infused side of his boss’s policy agenda.” Roff agrees, arguing that precisely because Cheney “was never considered a part of the so-called Christian Right, he would unify and perhaps re-energize the Reagan coalition in ways that few if any of the potential GOP candidates could.”

The point above would resonate with particular strength among Independent voters. Along those same lines, Meacham contends that, win or lose, “it seems much more likely that Cheney would pull Obama to the right than Obama would pull Cheney to the left. I think it is safe to say that neither a Huckabee nor a Palin bid would have the same effect.”

Finally, Simon observes, “[Cheney] is very, very good on TV. People who don’t like what he says overlook how good he is at saying it. He is calm, articulate and often courageous.”

A Cheney candidacy remains highly unlikely if only because Cheney himself adamantly refuses to consider a future in politics and has done so since first elected Vice-President. A remark by Kay Bailey Hutchison during a Republican rally in Texas got some in the crowd pleading with Cheney to run. “Not a chance,” Cheney responded.

Many would argue that other candidates, particularly Palin, have youth and vitality to bring the GOP success that Cheney lacks. There is also his health to consider – especially his multiple heart attacks.

Yet with his many years in corporate business and experience in government – both Legislative and Executive – Cheney provides a known gravitas that many fear Palin lacks and possibly cannot learn. Moreover, he lacks extremism on some social views that had made Palin and Huckabee so religious-right scary to many Independents last time.

Perhaps Palin’s greatest weakness is not that she is the anti-Obama in her conservatism but that she seems too similar to him, albeit in the opposite direction. Like Obama, she is highly charismatic but with many unknowns and doubts about her qualifications.

Independents suffering buyer’s remorse over the “trust me, hope and change” progressive package Obama sold them in 2008 may easily balk at a similar sales pitch from Palin in 2012. Even a desired direction change may seem unpalatable if it once again involves too large/fast a swing. Cheney is far more the immovable object in opposition to Obama’s irresistible force.

Is Cheney as resistant to holding further political office as he claims? Many suspect Palin resigned the Alaska Governor’s office to devote time to making the political talk circuits and writing a book in preparation to a 2012 run. Interestingly, Cheney is doing exactly the same thing.

Even assuming Cheney’s retirement was as sincere as he insists, might not his dismay and outrage over Democrat’s left-leaning (think “socialist”) agenda and plans to undo/weaken much of the Bush Administration’s goals/accomplishments, propel him back into the fray? As I would not question Obama’s basic patriotism, so I will not doubt the same in Cheney.

Perhaps a Cheney candidacy is nothing but an intriguing mental exercise for bored pundits at a nadir in the four year Presidential political cycle. Or perhaps the GOP’s future lies with a piece of its too quickly discarded past. See Dick run? Run, Dick, run!

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