Don’t dump the Veep: Local Republicans advise president to stay the course

The Top Story by Chris Graham

The talk that President Bush might want to look somewhere other than Number One Observatory Circle for a running mate for this fall’s election is just that, talk.

“The streets of Washington’s political district are filled with rumors and scenarios where Cheney disappears from the GOP ticket. Yet if Bush drops Cheney, the party conservatives, ever sensitive to a slight, will wail and gnash their teeth, threaten to go fishing on Election Day, and ruin any bounce Bush might get from a substitute veep,” University of Virginia political analyst Larry Sabato said.

It’s a tough spot for the president to be in, clearly.

On the one hand, Dick Cheney is being viewed by more and more voters as a liability – for his connections to Halliburton, a government contractor for which he served as chief executive officer from 1995-2000; for his continued insistence that there was a relationship between Iraq and Al-Qaeda in advance of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, despite a mountain of evidence that has emerged to throw that contention into doubt; and even for his foul-language slip-up on the Senate floor last month.

On the other hand, as Sabato pointed out, there would be negative consequences to deal with should Bush decide in favor of dumping Cheney from the ticket in favor of Arizona Sen. John McCain, Secretary of State Colin Powell or another candidate.

“Dick Cheney has done a great job as vice president, and I think most Republicans support the Bush-Cheney ticket,” Del. Chris Saxman, R-Staunton, told The Augusta Free Press.

“It might make for a nice hit in the press to change things up, but as far as running the country, which should be the most important part of the equation, I don’t think you can do any better than we’re doing right now,” Saxman said.

Saxman’s read of the situation involving how most of those who consider themselves Republicans support keeping Cheney in the #2 slot jibes with data from a recent National Annenberg Election Survey – which reported that two-thirds of Republicans think that Bush should retain Cheney as his running mate.

At the same time, a CBS News/New York Times poll from last month offers that Cheney’s voter-approval ratings are abysmally low – with only 22 percent of those surveyed giving the vice president a favorable job-performance rating.

Contrast that to the positive reviews given to North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who was tapped by presumptive Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry earlier this month to run as the Dems’ vice-presidential nominee, and Cheney could be seen as a weighty anchor mooring the Bush re-election ship to the dock.

“To put it bluntly, Cheney has blown it,” Sabato said. “One would have expected a classic Washington establishment insider to know how to keep his reputation intact through innumerable controversies, calling the right people here, consulting the wise men and women of D.C. there, taking the puffed-up press poobahs of the Capital City to lunch at the White House here and there.

“Anybody recall how Henry Kissinger came out of the Nixon sleaze and the Vietnam disaster smelling like a bouquet of yellow roses, at least with the bunch that counts in D.C. and New York, despite the fact that he was in both situations up to his eyeballs? Instead of being Kissinger, Cheney has been Nixon in the Bush term,” Sabato said. “He has hunkered down in the White House and undisclosed locations. He’s been uncommunicative with the broader public and unconcerned about his image until it’s too late. He’s often appeared to be the sinister puppeteer, pulling Bush’s strings on critical matters like Iraq. He’s more associated with the Halliburton scandal than anything else in the public mind.

“And most importantly from a political standpoint, Dick Cheney is now seen as a rigid ideologue, unconcerned about facts that do not fit into his preconceived notions of the world, too closely tied to the far right and too unacceptable to the voters as a whole to be what he once was: workable standby equipment, a potential president who could take office with popular support.

“In short, Cheney has failed his president and become a significant liability,” Sabato said.

Del. Steve Landes, R-Weyers Cave, and the chairman of the Republican Caucus in the Virginia House of Delegates, concedes that Cheney brings some baggage to the president’s re-election effort.

“I don’t agree with the vice president’s slip of the tongue on the Senate floor recently. I think that was unfortunate,” Landes told the AFP, referring to the June 22 incident in which Cheney reportedly used the F word in a verbal exchange with Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy on the Senate floor.

“But I will say that, honestly, that’s not the first time that an elected official let something like that slip. I’ve heard people on both sides of the aisle, Democrats and Republicans, say some things in public that they would probably wish they could take back,” Landes said. “So he shouldn’t be held any more accountable for what he said than anybody else in the past.”

Landes said he has done some research for himself into the accusations that Cheney has used his office to help throw government business to Halliburton.

“The accusations are there, but I don’t think anybody has been proven as far as there being any kind of connection between the two since the vice president took office,” Landes said.

“An ethical concern would certainly be an issue, but nothing has been founded as far as that goes,” Landes said.

Landes then cited another area of concern that has been muted, to some degree, in the current debate over Cheney’s future – regarding his health.

“That was a huge area of concern as recently as a couple of years ago, but it seems that he has things back on track with that now. I don’t think that’s a factor at all,” Landes said.

The bottom line to Landes, as it was to Saxman, is that “Dick Cheney is well-qualified to be president.”
“That should be the most important factor in this. I think the president should stick with him,” Landes said.

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