Outside View: Choosing Cheney

By PAUL M. WEYRICH, A UPI Outside View Commentary

WASHINGTON, May 16 (UPI) -- Conventional wisdom held that the longer George W. Bush was in office and doing well, the less important that it would be to have Vice President Richard Cheney on the ticket in the 2004 election. Such inside-the-Beltway chatter was proven wrong recently when Cheney revealed he had been asked by the president to run again and that he had accepted the offer.

Bush has an independent streak in him and it was exhibited in the handling of this matter. Letting the vice president make the announcement was not just an expression of confidence in Cheney, but also in himself because at one time there were those in the news media who tried to present the vice president as the guiding force within the administration.


The president has also departed from recent precedent in two ways.


Often, sitting vice presidents have been kept guessing about their future until shortly before their party convention must decide on who a sitting president's running-mate should be.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's selection of Henry Wallace to be his running mate in the 1940 election placed on the winning ticket a hard-core leftist who would speak independently on the issues.

Wallace and his supporters had expected he would be placed on the ticket again when FDR announced for an unprecedented fourth term in 1944, thus setting him up for the nomination in the 1948 election.

However, FDR's political allies told him that Wallace would be a liability. FDR kept Wallace in the dark until the last minute, then told his vice president that he was being replaced. That cleared the way for the selection of Sen. Harry S. Truman of Missouri.

Similarly, the relationship between President Dwight D. Eisenhower and his vice president, Richard Nixon, was tenuous, too. Eisenhower chose Nixon as his running mate in 1952. Nixon then got into trouble with opponents accusing him of accepting unlawful gifts. Eisenhower did not come to the aid of his running mate until Nixon received overwhelming public support following the televised "Checkers" speech. But relations between the two were not cordial.


Eisenhower had his serious heart attack in 1955 and there was serious doubt as to whether or not he could seek a second term. Nixon performed well during that period, but still Ike didn't let him know that he wanted him to be his running mate again. In fact, it was rather late in the game, following speculation that several others were being considered, when Eisenhower finally gave Nixon the green light for 1956.

When Nixon made it to the White House in 1968, he proved not to be supportive of Spiro Agnew, his own vice president. Agnew had been making a name for himself by challenging student demonstrators and liberals within his own party and the news media, but he had also spoken out against Nixon's policies toward communist China.

When 1972 came along, Nixon hinted that he was considering several candidates for the vice presidency other than Agnew. Conservatives mounted a spirited campaign on behalf of Agnew, whose cause was probably aided by the conservative primary challenge to Nixon's re-election by then Rep. John Ashbrook, R-Ohio.

Finally, Nixon gave the nod to Agnew, and they won re-election in a huge landslide. However, Agnew resigned nearly one year later, as prosecutors got the goods on him for accepting bribes.


Or, as in the case of two presidents, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, the vice president was considered to be an heir apparent.

The current president's father, George Herbert Walker Bush, had served loyally for two terms as vice president under Reagan, who was more popular at the end of his term than when he was first inaugurated. The Cold War was coming to a close, and the high levels of inflation and unemployment that marked the end of the Carter years had been arrested during Reagan's tenure. Elevating then-Vice President Bush to the presidency was viewed by many voters as providing the country with a third Reagan term, and that is why he won convincingly, first in the primaries and then in the general election.

The situation with Vice President Al Gore was similar, although Gore proved to be fairly distant toward Clinton, in part driven by his desire to emerge as a strong political figure himself and also to avoid resurrecting memories of all the Clinton scandals.

Cheney's relations with Bush evidently departs from both models.


President Bush did not dangle the second-term vice presidency over the heads of attractive figures. By making his announcement early, the president cut off the possibility that serious boomlets would develop for Secretary of State Colin Powell, Attorney General John Ashcroft, or Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.

Nor has Bush set up a successor for it is highly unlikely that Cheney, given his past health problems, would seek the presidency.

Having said that, Cheney represents a strong asset to the Bush administration, even though many journalists and politicians thought when he was first selected to be on the ticket in 2000 that he would be a one-termer.

Cheney's strongest assets are his stability and thoughtfulness and the strategic insight he can offer from having served in Congress and as chief of staff to President Gerald Ford. Those are substantial assets in governing and they helped in the 2000 campaign because candidate Bush's credentials on foreign policy were not established.

But Cheney is not a candidate who can pull in support since he does not come from a large state nor does he represent a potential swing constituency such as women or Catholics -- or an ethnic or racial group.


What will happen in 2008 assuming Bush wins re-election? Is it possible that the nomination will be kept "all in the family" as the GOP looks to Florida where First Brother Jeb Bush is now governor?

Well, the early selection of Cheney will certainly feed such speculation.

(Paul M. Weyrich is chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.)

(Outside View commentaries are written for UPI by outside writers on subjects of public interest.)

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