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Jewish World Review July 27, 2000 /24 Tamuz, 5760

Morton Kondracke

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Cheney adds heft to GOP ticket -- AIDES to Sen. John McCain vigorously denied any plot to pressure Texas Gov. George W. Bush into naming McCain as his vice presidential nominee, but the denials didn't work with the Bush people.

Bush aides rolled their eyeballs at word that McCain had suddenly decided he would be available, if asked. Meanwhile, their boss was doing the right thing -- looking for another figure of national stature for the No. 2 slot.

Since Bush couldn't get retired Gen. Colin Powell, the next-best choice was the one he settled upon, former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney.

Cheney has been out of public office since 1992 and has little national name recognition. But the choice gives the Bush ticket what it most needs: gravitas.

Cheney is one of the most respected figures in the GOP, a natural leader with deep Washington experience as White House chief of staff, House minority whip and the defense secretary who helped win the Persian Gulf War.

Moreover, he's close to Bush. The governor trusts him, Cheney is pro-life and, though he knows Washington, he's a business executive now and not a D.C. "insider."

My guess is that in selecting Cheney, Bush allowed stature and readiness to be president to trump shorter-term political calculations as the standard for selecting a veep, which will cause Vice President Al Gore to put former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (D-Maine) at the top of his list.

Bush aides say that they did not reveal Cheney's name late last week to squash any McCain movement, but Cheney's emergence certainly had that effect.

McCain reportedly had said that he would reluctantly accept the nomination if it was offered.

McCain aides say this word was picked up and circulated by Republican members of Congress, not by McCain, and that it was not intended to pressure Bush.

But that's not the way it was taken by the Bushies. They saw it as more than a trial balloon, more of a dirigible designed to dominate the pre-convention sky, create an instant rush of enthusiasm among victory-hungry Republicans -- and pressure Bush to acquiesce to something he clearly didn't want to do.

There were good political reasons for Bush to have chosen McCain, who brought so many new voters to the polls this past winter that turnout in the early GOP primaries set new records. A McCain nomination might have locked up the independent vote that recent polls show is drifting away from Bush.

But Bush has indicated often that what he values above everything else is loyalty and dependability and what he values least is being jerked around.

If McCain had called Bush and privately announced he was available, it might have led to something. But coming indirectly -- and through press leaks, to boot -- the McCain move more likely offended Bush than swayed him.

Bush surely feared that McCain, instead of being his loyal partner in the campaign and the White House, would have been self-serving and would have let the world know when he disagreed with Bush policy.

Among the others on Bush's veep list, there were those who could have given him loyalty and brought some political advantages to the ticket. But they also had drawbacks.

Ridge is a loyal friend, governor of an important state, and he's pro-choice. But he had been publicly campaigning for the veep job and seemed to be participating in the McCain ploy.

Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating is loyal and discreet but wouldn't have brought many electoral votes or magic to the ticket. Also, he would have been seen as a poor alternative to McCain and a cave-in to the anti-abortion lobby.

GOP Sens. Fred Thompson (Tenn.) and Chuck Hagel (Neb.) came out of the McCain camp, but McCain's willingness to serve had made them seem second-best. Besides, Thompson lacks executive experience, and Hagel is still a junior senator.

Cheney, while pretty uncharismatic, is one of the people Bush trusts almost completely. Bush asked him to serve as his campaign chairman last year, and although Cheney declined, he finally agreed to supervise the veep selection process.

Cheney initially ruled himself out as a running mate, pleading that he'd assured the board of the Dallas-based Halliburton Co., a struggling energy giant, that he would stay on as CEO.

But Cheney's reluctance added to his appeal. Bush had to change Cheney's mind, and changing peoples' minds -- being persuasive -- is a key talent for a president.

Cheney formerly had heart trouble but has had bypass surgery and has led a stressful, active life since, indicating his health problems are behind him.

Next to Powell, Bush's presumptive secretary of state, Cheney brings more heft to the Bush ticket than anyone else on the Texan's list could have. And Bush can be sure that he'll receive Cheney's sound advice face-to-face, not through the newspapers.

JWR contributor Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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