By James P. Gannon
An open letter to Vice President Cheney
Dear Mr. Vice President:
I am writing to you as a long-time admirer. Ever since you rose to prominence 30 years ago — when you became chief of staff to President Gerald Ford and I was a Wall Street Journal reporter covering economic policy in the Ford administration — you seemed to embody the qualities needed at the right hand of the president. Your competence, calmness amid crisis and absolute devotion to duty were obvious then, as now.
For nearly four years now, you have been a loyal and hard-working partner in the presidency of George W. Bush. Your experience, steadiness and character surely have given the president strength in these difficult times. I believe you have always considered first what is best for the president, and only secondly what is best for Dick Cheney.
That question arises now in this election year. Forgive me for suggesting that self-sacrifice may be the greatest service you can render to President Bush in what promises to be a closely contested election. You must ask yourself now if your continued presence by his side will offer strength or weakness to the Republican ticket in November, and what it will mean for GOP prospects in the future.
Nobody knows better than you do that you have become a lightning rod for criticism, and a favorite target for your party’s political opponents. Fair or not, it is simply too easy to paint Dick Cheney as a tool of the oil industry, a too-eager advocate of war in Iraq and a too-gullible supporter of the now-disgraced Ahmad Chalabi, who fed the Bush administration false intelligence on Iraq. Your former company, Halliburton, is a political albatross around your neck, weighing down not only you but also President Bush.
Health also an issue
Moreover, given your history of health problems, you do not offer the Republicans what they need for 2008 and beyond — a president in training. After November, the party will need to think beyond the presidency of Bush, even if he is re-elected. Inaugurating a vice president next January who could step up to lead the party in 2008 would be a great asset for the GOP.
You know that Bush’s sense of loyalty means he would never ask you to step aside. The move would have to be yours. You would have to convince the president that your stepping aside is necessary to secure a second Bush term to pursue the agenda you both share.
The nation is at war again, this time against the elusive enemy called international terrorism. In previous times of war, two great American presidents have found it necessary or desirable to change vice presidents in a re-election year.
- In 1864, as the Civil War raged on, Abraham Lincoln let the Republican Party convention choose a Southern Democrat, Andrew Johnson, to replace Vice President Hannibal Hamlin on a national unity ticket.
- In 1944, in the midst of World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt sidelined Vice President Henry Wallace in favor of Sen. Harry Truman of Missouri.
Both of these new vice presidents succeeded to the presidency on the deaths of their war-time leaders only months after being inaugurated.
As this election approaches, President Bush needs a running mate who supports the war on terrorism as much as you do, but without your political liabilities. He also needs a running mate who might help unify the nation. Your Democratic opponent, Sen. John Kerry, made overtures to Sen. John McCain to join him on a bipartisan ”national unity” ticket of two war heroes.
Follow Kerry’s lead
If it was a good idea for Kerry, why would it not be an even better idea for Bush? Think of the broad political appeal of a Bush-McCain ticket, especially to political independents whose votes may decide the outcome. Yes, I know the relationship the president and the maverick Arizona senator is full of tension and rivalry, and McCain sometimes seems to go out of his way to aggravate the White House. But you could persuade President Bush that reaching out to his onetime rival (but strong supporter in the war on Iraq and terrorism) would be a magnanimous gesture — not unlike that of Ronald Reagan picking his former GOP rival, George H.W. Bush, as his running mate in 1980.
If not McCain, there are other intriguing running mate possibilities. Rudy Giuliani, who showed such great leadership as mayor of New York City after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, is an obvious one. Former Missouri senator John Danforth, a man of unquestioned integrity, who presided with such grace at the funeral of Reagan, also comes to mind. If he’s good enough to be the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, wouldn’t he also be good enough to be vice president?
But you can draw up your own list of candidates. I hope that you will take it to President Bush and convince him that his chances of being re-elected — and maintaining the policies you’ve helped shape — are better with a new running mate. He will listen to you. You could even cast it in Reaganesque terms. Remind your boss that he is the heir to the Reagan political legacy, and the keeper of the values that Reagan espoused. For those values to triumph in 2004, it may be necessary for you to take a hit for the team, so that President Bush can win one for the Gipper.
James P. Gannon
Gannon is a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal and editor of The Des Moines Register.