Should Bush Dump Cheney?

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Mr. Spivak is an attorney and media consultant.

Vice President Dick Cheney is taking a lot of flak from friends and foes in George W. Bush's reelection effort. Considered by many to be both the power behind the throne and an anchor on Bush's reelection hopes, prominent Republicans, including former Sen. Al D'Amato (R-N.Y.), are calling for Cheney to be replaced with a more popular candidate on the Republican ticket, with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani prominently mentioned. Perhaps worried about projecting the appearance of disloyalty to a trusted advisor and personally selected number two, Bush has so far resisted replacing his running mate. However, if he changes his mind and drops Cheney from the ticket, he can take comfort in the fact that he will be following a long American political tradition -- dumping their vice president goes back almost to the being of the Republic.

Thomas Jefferson, America's third president, set the standard for this behavior way back in 1804 when he tossed out Aaron Burr, his disloyal VP, in his triumphant run for a second term and replaced him with NY's long-term governor, George Clinton. For a whole host of reasons, many of our greatest presidents, including Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt on two separate occasions, have followed Jefferson's path to success. The tradition is so well established that for nearly 100 years, no vice president served two consecutive terms with the same president.

The reason for removal of vice presidents are manifold, from personal pique -- Andrew Jackson's replacement of John Calhoun comes to mind -- to scandal, as in the case of Ulysses Grant's first vice president Shuyler Colfax. However the major reason for dumping a VP is the most obvious: political gain.

Every president seeking reelection is looking to improve his standing in the public's eye. Jettisoning an unpopular or undistinguished second in command in favor of a more voter-friendly running mate is one way to attempt this political repair job. It is hard to say if veep-replacement surgery has any effect on a president's chances, much as it is debatable if the choice of a vice president really makes a difference at the polls, but presidents are still willing to try it if they feel it will improve their hopes of reelection.

In recent years, anytime there's a less than popular veep, commentators suggest such an effort. Serving as Eisenhower's VP, Richard Nixon successfully navigated the threats to his political future, as influential Republicans lobbied for his replacement in 1956. Nixon survived these treacherous shoals and became only the second vice president in 160 years to gain his party's nomination without first ascending to the presidency through the death of the incumbent.

Lyndon Johnson was reputed to be facing the chopping block, as John Kennedy was supposedly looking for a new running mate for his 1964 reelection campaign, before fate intervened in Dallas. Gerald Ford gave into the desire for a Veep Sweep, when, facing a difficult primary battle against the right-wing Ronald Reagan, he forced out his number two, politically liberal Nelson Rockefeller, in order to appeal to a more conservative base, and replaced him with Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.). Ford narrowly lost his election, but dragged down by the ghost of Watergate, this was no surprise.

Perhaps the most pertinent example on people's minds is one where the candidate was not replaced. As with much else in this election, the situation involved the presidency of George H.W. Bush. Dan Quayle, the much ridiculed VP, was being threatened with removal. Despite the complaints, and the advice of many different politicians, Bush loyally stuck by his running mate, and went down to defeat. The second President Bush may respect his father's loyalty to his faithful second, but he certainly does not want to emulate the election result.

Despite the rumblings of commentators and some party faithful, there has been no sign by President Bush that he is looking to replace Cheney.
However, if the president is afraid about seeming disloyal to his running mate, he should not fear. If history is any guide, voters are not likely to punish a president for dumping the VP.

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More Comments:

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

"Despite the rumblings of commentators and some party faithful, there has been no sign by President Bush that he is looking to replace Cheney."

There is also no sign of Bush and Cheney resigning now and begging the American people to forgive them their arrogance and their blunders. So why speculate on either resignation or replacement ? Are there no real problems and opportunities remaining to discuss ?

william andrew charles adie - 8/20/2004

Given even greater commitment of JFKerry and JEdwards to Eretz Israel, those in academia and the maindrain media (and their dupes) who campaign against Bush as if against war &c. are due for an unpleasant surprise.

The alleged lack of sensitivity and principles that make the socalled liberals or leftists hate Bush, are precisely the reason why he is the best bet to stop the war.
Remember the hated Nixon roping in the Russians and Chinese to scuttle Vietnam?

Will Bush dare to dump his Guardians of beltway Likudniks and crack down on General Sharon's shortsighted and arguably counterproductive 'Defence of Israel' tactics?

Sharon and Arafat, in unholy alliance, just drag out the killing of speakers of Hebrew and Arabic at home while spreading anti-Jewish and anti-Arab attitudes and activities in the diaspora and the wider world.

Clinton tried, Bush can do better, thanks to his flaws.