Thursday, March 24, 2005

Vice President Dick Cheney, in public and private, is being urged by a small but growing number of conservatives to reconsider his refusal to run for president in 2008. So far, the vice president is unmoved by the fledgling Cheney-for-president boomlet.

“I’m not running for president in ‘08,” the vice president told columnist and TV host Lawrence Kudlow last week. “Four years from now, I don’t plan to be here.”

Yet Mr. Kudlow, along with fellow conservatives Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard and Tod Lindberg of Policy Review, have written columns this month pining for a reversal by the vice president. They say his foreign-policy credentials make him the most qualified heir to Mr. Bush’s legacy of Middle East democratization.

“He’s the logical successor,” Mr. Barnes said. “He has the experience at the highest levels of government that no one else can match. And he is the embodiment, along with President Bush himself, of the achievements of the Bush administration.”

Former Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming, Mr. Cheney’s home state, scoffed at such talk. “It just ain’t gonna happen,” the Republican said. “And I don’t usually say things with that clarity, but I know him well, and I love the guy.”

What about other names being discussed for the Republican nomination in 2008? The list includes Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Bill Frist of Tennessee, and George Allen of Virginia; Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

“It’s a field of strong individuals, each with a particular weakness,” Mr. Barnes said. “Every one of them seems to be weak in one area or another. I don’t think Cheney is.”

For example, some conservatives call Mr. McCain too much of a maverick, Mr. Frist too dull, Mr. Romney too moderate and Mr. Giuliani too liberal. Others call Miss Rice too pro-choice, Mr. Bush too close to his brother and Mr. Allen too unknown.

Conservatives acknowledge Mr. Cheney has his own shortcomings as a candidate. The vice president often jokes about his lack of charisma, although Cheney supporters argue that Americans value gravitas over charisma in times of war.

There is also the issue of his age. Mr. Cheney would be 67 by the time he would take office in 2009, or two years younger than Ronald Reagan was when he became president. Moreover, he has suffered four heart attacks.

Some Republicans worry that even if they convinced Mr. Cheney to run for president, their hopes could be dashed by a medical problem in the final months of the campaign. There is also a widespread expectation that Democrats would attack Mr. Cheney for his ties to Halliburton, an energy company with extensive contracts in Iraq. It’s one of many reasons liberals routinely disparage the vice president.

“They don’t dislike him,” Mr. Simpson said. “They hate him.”

Yet persistent Cheney supporters say the president could relieve Mr. Cheney of this conflict by publicly anointing him as his successor.

“You’ll need a lot of anointing oil — like a 55-gallon drum,” Mr. Simpson said. “No, he’s going to get back to Wyoming to fish and hunt and play with his grandkids.”

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