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Cheney For President? Slim Odds But Not Impossible

(CBS)
With this being the end of summer and Congress still on recess, maybe James Taranto was stuck for a topic when he used his Wall Street Journal column to float Dick Cheney's name as a possible Republican candidate to challenge Barack Obama in 2012. Dick Cheney? Take a breath. However unlikely that prospect might seem today, Taranto presents at least one - maybe the single - scenario where a Cheney candidacy might resonate with enough voters to give him a shot at winning the White House.

"If the Bush administration's policies really did keep us safe for 7½ years, then it stands to reason that the Obama administration's policies may be endangering us now. Certainly that is how the public would see it in the event of another terrorist attack. If that happens, heaven forbid, Obama will be seen to have failed in the most basic presidential duty, and the Bush administration will be vindicated. As inconceivable as it may seem today, the 2012 election may end up turning on national security. Republicans would be wise to nominate someone with both toughness and experience. Under such circumstances, it's hard to think of a better candidate--assuming, of course, that he could be persuaded to run--than Richard B. Cheney."

A few big "ifs" there. So far, Cheney has evinced little interest in running for president. What's more, the man's history of health problems would raise questions about his durability should he win election. Yet at the same time, Cheney does remain the de-facto face of the Republicans In Opposition and his frequent criticisms of the Obama administration's reversal of Bush-era policies on detainee treatment have endeared him to the party's conservative base. With no other Republican emerging to challenge for the party's leadership, you can make the case that Cheney rates as first among equals. Or even more.

So play out the scenario assuming another terror attack occurs on U.S. soil. Cheney, the Bush administration's must outspoken defender of enhanced interrogation techniques - many others call it torture - could make the `Hey, I told you so' argument until the cows come home. The question is whether that line of attack would be enough to help Cheney become the first out-of-office vice president since Richard Nixon to come out of retirement to win the White House.

"If something like that happened, I can see the appeal of a tough guy on national security," said Alex Keyssar, Professor of History and Social Policy at Harvard. "It's hard to think that his health issues wouldn't be a qualifier but I can also imagine a lot of political scenarios over the next two or three years where that wouldn't be the case."

"Usually out of office VPs - maybe like all VPs - are engaged in a process of simultaneously selling continuity and change. And that can be a tough one," he added. "Cheney would look a bit more to me like Walter Mondale in this case – since the last election really did seem like a repudiation of the Republicans' policies."

Morris Fiorina, a professor of political science at Stanford's Hoover Institution, said that while "the scenario is not crazy," he remained skeptical. "Cheney is such a polarizing figure and given his health, a Cheney candidacy, let alone a successful one, strikes me as a terribly long shot," he said. "A major terrorist attack would advantage other less radioactive Republicans as well."

The only other former vice president in the last century who came out of retirement to mount a run at the presidency was Henry Wallace. After Franklin Roosevelt dumped him as his running mate in 1944, Wallace unsuccessfully challenged Harry Truman four years later as a third party candidate. But there's something about the idea of a Cheney for President candidacy that the 4th Estate finds irresistable. For the record, Taranto is not the first columnist to bruit the idea.

• In April, Ross Douthat titled his maiden New York Times column as the house conservative "Cheney for President." Enough said.

• The following month National Review's Jonah Goldberg praised Cheney's pugnacious counter-punching, contending that the former Veep has prevailed"on almost every issue he has championed since he left office." (A bit over-the-top but you get the idea.)

• And Peter Roff of U.S. News and World Report wrote in June that the Republican Party had no one else (although he did allow that a Cheney candidacy was "unlikely.")

"Unlikely" - as well as "inconceivable" - is how Dan Schnur, a former Republican strategist, who now directs the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California, put it. Schnur said he had a hard time imagining a presidential candidacy predicated on the eventuality of another terrorist attack. Even if such an attack were to occur, he continued, "Cheney would have to come to the conclusion that there's no other person in the Republican Party capable of protecting our national security."

Of course, Sarah Palin, Tom Ridge and David Petraeus, among others, probably have their own ideas about that topic.

Let's see how long the Cheney for President meme lasts once the Labor Day recess ends and the news cycle moves onto a new favorite theme du jour. Historically, former vice presidents as well as and former vice presidential running mates receive disproportionate amounts of attention in the months following the election of a new team. Until, that is, they get elbowed aside by someone else.

For perspective, let's recall that eight years ago, Joe Lieberman was considered by many to be the voice of the Democratic Party.

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Update: So who would be the former veep's VP? Since we're blue-skying today, how does a Cheney-Palin ticket sound? Let me know what you think in the Talkback section below.

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