Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Politics: Bush/Giuliani (or maybe Bush/Allen or Bush/Owens)

MSNBC gossip columnist Jeannette Walls claims “[a] well-placed source says that the president will ‘most likely’ drop Dick Cheney from his reelection ticket and his first choice for a replacement is former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani”. The source said “Cheney’s health” will be given as the official reason.

It was only a matter of time before someone brought the “dump Cheney” rumor out. It’s actually not a bad idea. Not because of anything Cheney has done, but because a second-term president needs to groom a successor. Cheney is an odd vice president in that there’s virtually no chance he’ll run for the top job himself. The first-term justification for Cheney was that he provided an experienced foreign and military policy hand for a domestic policy president. But now Bush has that experience, and his opponents have virtually none. Cheney is no longer really needed.

But Giuliani is a lousy replacement. Although the former mayor deserved praise for his post-9/11 management of New York, let’s not forget Giuliani was also a power-abusing U.S. attorney and a largely anti-individual rights mayor. Many of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s excesses can be traced to Giuliani-era policies. Beyond that, Giuliani’s political profile—a liberal Northeast Republican—completely contradicts Bush’s conservative reelection profile. True, political marriages often meld contradicting philosophies, but given the State of the Union’s heavy emphasis on conservative appeasement, I don’t see the campaign leadership pushing for Giuliani.

I suspect Walls’s “well-placed source” is a pollster within the campaign or the Republican National Committee. This is exactly the kind of question an overeager pollster asks: Would you vote for President Bush if Rudy Giuliani replaced Dick Cheney as vice president? This reminds me of a story Mary Matalin told about the brief “dump Quayle” movement in Bush the Elder’s reelection campaign:
Dump Quayle rumors popped up at the drop of a hat . . . In the middle of our defense of our Veep, the campaign received a bombshell. All previous data had shown that the vice-presidential candidate had no statistical impact on an election, one way or another. Now, for the first time in modern polling, data indicated that a vice president—Quayle—was a drag on the ticket.
. . .

Though this secret memo included several modifying caveats (e.g., press and party reaction, which might mitigate the positive effects of removing him), its findings were so unique and unsettling that they reopened the debate among Bush’s closest friends. It took several forms: Move Quayle to Defense, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney to State, Secretary of State Jim Baker to chief of staff; or, get Quayle off, put Colin Powell on.
Personally, I can’t imagine how making Dan Quayle secretary of defense would have improved Bush I’s polling numbers, but that’s just me.

Back to my earlier argument: Replacing Cheney makes sense if Bush is looking to elevate a potential successor. Tom Ridge is the obvious candidate in this regard, though my short list would also include Senator George Allen of Virginia and Colorado Governor Bill Owens. (When I say “my short list”, I mean these are the candidates that make the most logical successors from Bush’s view; I’m personally skeptical about any of these men as president).

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