In 2003 and 2004, pundits created a cottage industry out of speculation that George W. Bush would dump Dick Cheney from the ticket in his ultimately successful re-election bid. The arguments were that Cheney had become too unpopular and was perceived as too dominant, and that Bush would need to find another VP to establish himself as his own man. Most people dismissed the idea as far-fetched, but according to Bush’s new memoirs, Bush wasn’t one of them:
President George W. Bush considered dumping Vice President Dick Cheney from his 2004 reelection ticket to dispel the myths about Mr. Cheney’s power in the White House and “demonstrate that I was in charge,” the former president says in a new memoir.
The idea came from Mr. Cheney, who offered to drop out of the race one day during a private lunch between the two men in mid-2003. “I did consider the offer,” Mr. Bush writes, and spent several weeks exploring the possibility of replacing Mr. Cheney with Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the majority leader, before opting against the switch.
“While Dick helped with important parts of our base, he had become a lightning rod for criticism from the media and the left,” Mr. Bush writes. “He was seen as dark and heartless – the Darth Vader of the administration.” The president resented the caricature that Mr. Cheney really controlled the White House. “Accepting Dick’s offer would be one way to demonstrate that I was in charge,” he writes.
But in the end, Mr. Bush writes, “the more I thought about it, the more strongly I felt Dick should stay. I hadn’t picked him to be a political asset; I had chosen him to help me do the job. That was exactly what he had done.” Mr. Bush wrote that he trusted Mr. Cheney, valued his steadiness and considered him a good friend. So, “at one of our lunches a few weeks later, I asked Dick to stay and he agreed.”
Actually, that wasn’t the first time that Bush had proposed kicking a sitting VP off of a ticket for help in a re-election campaign. In 1992, he tried convincing his father to dump Dan Quayle to improve chances of beating Bill Clinton. Who did Bush propose to replace him? Dick Cheney.
Not that everything remained cozy between Cheney and Bush, before or after the 2004 election. Bush got annoyed with Cheney’s public politicking for an attack on Iraq in 2002 while Bush tried to close all of the other possibilities out more sequentially. To no one’s surprise, Cheney became unhappy when Bush finally fired Donald Rumsfeld the day after the 2006 midterm elections, and scolded Bush for not issuing a pardon to Scooter Libby, claiming that Bush’s decision would “leave a soldier on the battlefield,” a comment that “stung” Bush, he admits in his memoirs. Despite the sharp differences in their final two years together, Bush and Cheney remain friends.
That’s probably not true of Harry Reid, though. Bush takes aim at the Senate Majority Leader for his statement that the war was “lost,” calling it “one of the most irresponsible acts I witnessed” in his presidency. Bush also reveals that Mitch McConnell approached him more privately in 2006, asking Bush to start reducing troops in Iraq after the security plan for that year began falling apart. Bush instead sent more troops in the “surge” strategy, with which McConnell ultimately agreed and supported in the Senate.
The memoirs sound like an interesting look at the inside of the Bush administration. The Times blurb indicates that Bush will offer few regrets and instead offer a detailed defense of his actions for people to consider when looking at his presidency in historical context. Will that prompt a re-evaluation of his administration? We’ll certainly see, but it seems as if the relentless blame-Bush strategy of his successor has already begun that process, if not to Bush’s benefit then certainly to Obama’s detriment.