Tuesday, 2 March 2004

Castration still on the table?

Robert Garcia Tagorda is the latest to ponder whether or not Dick Cheney needs to be replaced:

Here’s my tentative observation: Cheney represents two related problems. First, he has a bad image. Second, he gives Democrats a good target for criticism. Rudy and Condi can help fix the first, but they wouldn’t necessarily solve the second. For instance, though they’re significant improvements from a public-relations standpoint, they wouldn’t really slow down the attacks on the jobless recovery.

On national security and foreign policy, they could do both: Rudy’s post-9/11 performance still resonates with the public, while Condi has the professional qualifications. But how much would they add overall to the campaign? Bush is already strong on these fronts, and unless he can gain notably more voters by subtracting Cheney’s Halliburton ties and WMD remarks (among others), I don’t see how Republicans truly benefit from the change.

In the end, it might still be best to dump Cheney, if only to energize the ticket. I just caution against high expectations.

I think dumping Cheney, however, removes the most obvious target for criticism—and the only one actually on the ticket. While some of the Cheney criticism would devolve onto Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld, John Ashcroft, Tom Ridge, Paul Wolfowitz, and a host of other figures, it’s hard to pin all of the myriad problems attributable in some tenuous way on Cheney to any single one of them. Removing a lightning rod for critics like Cheney, while not immunizing the administration from criticism, at least has the effect of diffusing that criticism, thus making it harder for Democrats to personalize their attacks.

Update: Kevin Drum doesn’t think it’s going to happen. He asserts that “Cheney is very popular with Bush's conservative base,” something I don’t buy at all, for reasons discussed here, although it’s a forgivable error on Kevin’s part.* For what it’s worth, though, fewer conservatives than moderates think Cheney should be ditched, according to the Annenberg poll numbers that Robert cites, but I can’t tell offhand if the finding is statistically significant.† (The finding may also simply reflect the fact that conservatives are more loyal to the administration in general.)

I’ve previously discussed Cheney’s status as a liability for the administation more than once in the past couple of months as these rumors have swirled around.

* His assessment of Cheney follows directly from the likability heuristic. (Scarily enough, a conference paper that is part of my dissertation is the #1 Google hit for that term.)
† Trivia/small world note: the political director of the survey is none other than New York Times reporter Adam Clymer, perhaps best known because George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were overheard discussing his status as a “major league asshole” on the stump in 2000.