- The Washington Times - Monday, March 21, 2005

President Bush famously rewards loyalty and competent service. There is one more promotion logical for him to make in his second term: engineering the 2008 GOP presidential nomination for Dick Cheney.

Such a move is not, of course, within the president’s plenary authority. Others will surely want the nomination. Republican-primary voters will have to be heard from. But as the 2004 election demonstrated to the surprise of many, Mr. Bush is something close to a beloved figure among Republicans nationally. That’s true at the grassroots level, and it’s true among the party’s biggest donors. They all regard Mr. Bush as having persisted against huge adversity in a sober but bold fashion to the benefit not only of his personal political stature but also of the party. If Mr. Bush decides that he would like Mr. Cheney to succeed him, the momentum created would be huge and instantaneous.

The biggest obstacle to a Cheney candidacy is usually given as Mr. Cheney himself. I had a chance to put the question to him directly over the summer, and he convincingly stated, as he has on other occasions, that he was looking forward to 2004 as his last campaign, and that he believed an essential part of his effectiveness in offering counsel to Mr. Bush was the absence of further political ambition on his part.

That’s plausible. If Mr. Cheney “retires” in January 2009, he will do so having compiled an extraordinary record of public service. His memoirs will be must reading. He will go down as possibly the most important and influential vice president in history. There will be competing biographies. His CV, come the final curtain, will hardly look incomplete. He may even emerge as a model in the selection of future vice presidents: Rather than the next-most-promising in line for the top job eight years hence, go with the older and wiser head who will focus on the administration’s success now.

And yet: Fred Barnes wrote in the Weekly Standard a couple weeks ago exploring the possibility of a Cheney candidacy in 2008. If there were no realistic possibility of the vice president going along, the person I was sitting next to at dinner the other day would surely have taken my mention of the Barnes article as occasion to knock the idea down. That didn’t happen. On the contrary.

If you look closely at what Mr. Cheney has said on the subject, there actually is a way from here to there. I believe that Mr. Cheney has been sincere in contending that the key reason for his influence and effectiveness is that he doesn’t have a political agenda independent from the president’s. But that means Mr. Bush has the power to solve the problem unilaterally — by telling Mr. Cheney that it is in Mr. Bush’s interest for the vice president to succeed him in order to continue and develop the policies Mr. Bush put into place with Mr. Cheney’s help. The supposed conflict of interest is Mr. Bush’s to eliminate.

But is a Cheney candidacy in Mr. Bush’s interest? Mr. Bush could, after all, sit back and let history judge him on his eight years. But one gets the impression that Mr. Bush is rather more ambitious than that — that when there is an opportunity to reach for more, he takes it. I was in Brussels when he announced the nomination of John Bolton as U.N. ambassador, which produced a collective shudder. I pointed out that the selection of Mr. Bolton in a time of turmoil and reform ferment at the United Nations was actually a sign that Mr. Bush was taking the place seriously. If he didn’t care, he could have easily found a null placeholder. I noted that no one in the administration had more credibility with the American right on the United Nations than Mr. Bolton, and that this would make it easier rather than harder for him to be effective in promoting a reform agenda.

One could make a similar point about Mr. Bush’s selection of Paul Wolfowitz to head the World Bank. There were certainly safer choices available, but from Mr. Bush’s perspective, none as potentially far-reaching in terms of policy impact. So, too, a Cheney administration would be the ultimate in extending the Bush project.

Mr. Cheney will be 68 in 2008. Is that too old, especially given his history of heart trouble? But does anybody — apart from callow youth — really think that 68 is necessarily all that old? What you have, as backdrop, is the aging of the baby boomers. They weren’t past their mid-30s when Ronald Reagan took office at 69, and from their vantage, 69 sounded old. But many of the boomers have kept themselves in decent shape, and all of them have benefited from tremendous advances in medical care and in health-consciousness. Mr. Cheney’s their older brother. And he will have had the benefit of eight years of better than the best health care money can buy. He’ll be fit to run if he wants to.

Who knows? But it does look like the stars are coming into alignment.

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