Why would Democrats want Cheney to resign?

February 21, 2006|By PETER A. BROWN

Few batted an eye when Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean said Vice President Dick Cheney should resign, because such personalization of political differences has become the way of Washington these days.

Yet this is one of those situations in which Mr. Dean should be careful. He might not like what could happen if his political rhetoric were to become reality.

After all, that would allow George W. Bush to name a new second in command and go a long way toward anointing the president's potential successor in 2008.

Mr. Dean's comments reflect the mentality of talking first and thinking later that is all too prevalent inside the Capital Beltway.

Whomever Mr. Bush would pick - unless that person at the time immediately took himself or herself out of the 2008 running - would almost certainly become the clear front-runner for the GOP nomination. That would potentially avoid, or at least limit, a messy Republican nomination fight.

Now, let's be clear here. Barring revelations that would be shocking even to the most cynical, the chances that Mr. Cheney will resign aren't even between slim and none. They are none and none.

Mr. Bush is a loyal guy, and a lame duck. He needs to curry public opinion to maximize his leverage on Capitol Hill for his legislative program, but he is never going to face the voters again. He worries little of the spillover on himself from any Cheney problems.

One might imagine that the Democrats want the Republicans in 2008 to have the messiest, longest-lasting primary process possible in order to bleed party fundraisers dry and maximize disunity within the GOP.

Mr. Cheney is certainly a fat target. He was never popular with the public anyway, and of late he has become the subject of the day for journalists and late-night comedians, not to mention Democrats and even some Republicans.

But if one were to think strategically, there is little gain and much risk for the Dean team if Mr. Cheney were to accede to his request.

Mr. Dean, apparently figuring he needed another headline to continue the Democratic offensive that the White House and Republican Party are ethically challenged, used an appearance on CBS' Face the Nation to make his suggestion.

Referring to former Cheney Chief of Staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's indictment in connection with the disclosure of a CIA operative's identity, Mr. Dean said that if the vice president had authorized such a leak, then Mr. Cheney should not remain in office.

"It may be that the vice president leaked security information in a time of war in order to discredit political opponents. I don't think the vice president has any credibility on national security whatsoever, and I think he's in deep trouble," Mr. Dean said.

The allegations about Mr. Cheney authorizing the leak are just that, but even if they were fact, why would Mr. Dean want Mr. Cheney out of office? If that happened, the next time Mr. Cheney was involved in a hunting accident, no one would care.

It has been 40 years since the Republicans entered the presidential primary process without a clear front-runner if not presumptive nominee. This has led to relatively mild primary campaigns, and the ensuing unity gets at least some credit for the GOP winning seven of the past 10 presidential elections.

Mr. Cheney has no presidential ambitions, and Sen. John McCain of Arizona is probably the leader at this point in the GOP contest for 2008. But his edge is a tenuous one and subject to questions about his acceptance among core conservatives.

Why would Mr. Dean want to give the president a chance to strengthen the GOP hand for 2008?

It makes me wonder if the cutthroat mentality that has taken over Washington these days isn't overriding common sense.

Peter A. Brown is assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute and a former editorial page columnist for the Orlando Sentinel. His e-mail is peter.brown@quinnipiac.edu.

Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services

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