The conventional wisdom is that almost nobody votes for a Presidential candidate because of his running mate, but that is only because few people realize the influence the running mate has on the candidate and his campaign. The U.S. President is the most powerful man in the world, which means that proximity to that power is also power. When you have a scenario where a man such as George W. Bush is most likely to become our next President, everyone and his brother wants to be close to the Vice President if they know they can’t get close to the man himself. GWB has few ingrained opinions on matters of critical importance to the nation and the world. As an example, one of the first issues thrown at him when he first indicated he may be a candidate was “global warming.” He responded with great concern and there was a scramble in Austin while his staff got him straightened out on an issue that belongs to Al Gore and would have undermined his chances of winning the GOP primary had he stuck with it.
This is the reason I was so cheered with the first news that Dick Cheney was the frontrunner for the second spot on the Bush ticket. The idea of Arizona Senator John McCain or Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel or almost any GOP governor joining the ticket would indicate that critical avenues of influence on a Bush administration immediately were closing -- especially in the selection process for the Cabinet. We know Colin Powell would be Secretary of State, which is as good as it gets for that post. The post of Treasury Secretary will be key to a GWB administration -- as it was to his father’s. Remember, it was Bush Treasury Secretary Nick Brady who persuaded the President to break his “read my lips” pledge and go for the tax increases that cost him re-election and produced the only recession since the early 1980s. With almost any other running mate, Bush’s pick for Treasury would be uninspired, I’m afraid. With Cheney, there really is the possibility that the best man for the job, Steve Forbes, would get serious consideration. This is not because Cheney is a “supply-sider,” but because he knows that if GWB wants economic growth, he will have to have someone who not only understands the way the world works in that regard, but also is able to command the respect of the business and financial community. Anyone but Forbes would be rolled by the international bankers and the IMF. In today’s NYTimes, a Republican intellectual who hates and despises anything that smacks of Reaganism and supply-side, the Canadian expatriate David Frum, hails the Cheney decision on the grounds that it slams the door shut once and for all on the Reagan wing of the GOP. He doesn’t know Cheney.
I first met Dick Cheney 30 years ago, when he was the 29-year-old aide to Donald Rumsfeld, then a former Illinois Republican Congressman who was President Nixon’s director of the Office of Economic Opportunity. I met him next in 1974 when Rumsfeld came back from Brussels, where he was NATO ambassador, to be President Ford’s chief-of-staff. Cheney was his deputy and, as I recounted in my brief on Friday, was the fellow who first saw Art Laffer draw his famous Curve on a cocktail napkin in early December 1974. When Rumsfeld moved to the Pentagon, Cheney became WH chief-of-staff, and I continued a snail-mail correspondence with him as he got the experience of helping run Ford’s losing bid against Jimmy Carter in 1976. And I attended several small conferences on political economics with him in Colorado in the early 1980s where I got to know him best. I had no contact with him when he became Defense Secretary in the Bush years, but believe he was as good at that post as is humanly possible to be. It has been a dozen years since I’ve had more than a hello with him, but 30 years of knowing a man who is also in the public eye is enough for me to know his strongest suit is his appreciation of sound principles and good ideas, as well as his having a personality ready to give a fair hearing to anyone who wants one. He is laconic, but as Colin Powell came to see, when he asks a question, it cuts to the heart of the matter. It was Cheney who really chose Powell to leap over several other candidates to be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1989 and then to be named National Security Advisor in time for the prosecution of the Gulf War. When Norman Schwartzkopf wanted to go to Baghdad after the Iraqi Army was expelled from Kuwait, and Powell wanted the mission to end with the expulsion, it was Cheney who sided with Powell, the correct move, one that elevated the U.S. in the eyes of its Islamic allies in that war.
Cheney was a Cold Warrior, but he is not a bomber, which is why his selection is a defeat for the Cold Warriors that Bush had assembled in Austin early last year -- Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz -- and their supporters at The Wall Street Journal editorial page, who have always viewed Powell as a wuss, who prefers diplomacy to war. I seriously doubt, for example, that Cheney would go beyond fleet defense with ABM systems -- another litmus test for the military-industrial complex. With Powell at State and Cheney at Bush’s elbow, giving him all the options and not playing ideologue, a Bush administration would be able to make some sense of U.S. responsibilities in managing the world. There will be some nervousness in the Jewish community, I noted in an interview I gave to Bloomberg news today, because Cheney’s work as CEO of Halliburton put him even closer to the Islamic world because of its concentration of oil. This is a good thing. There are one billion Muslims in the world who would like to have the ear of the White House -- which they now do not have. Ira Stoll, a former editor of the Jewish Forward, this morning wrote at his website: “Mr. Cheney was on a committee for an Arab charity event in Washington that invited virtually the entire diplomatic corps but excluded Israeli representatives. After the Jewish weekly the Forward reported on the event earlier this year, other members of the event committee, including Hillary Clinton and Senator Daschle, publicly distanced themselves from the charity event and its policy of excluding Israel. Mr. Cheney declined to do so. This may only reinforce doubts about the Bush ticket among Jewish voters who still remember President Bush’s record of defying the pro-Israel lobby.” Too harsh, but it is another example of Cheney’s independence.
All in all, I’d say that Cheney is the perfect fit for GWB, an inspired selection. As I noted Friday, any other pick would force me to conclude the electorate would still choose GWB in November but give the House to the Democrats. A Bush/Cheney ticket may be solid enough to produce the first unified Republican government in a half century.