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Cheney attacks may not help Republicans

The recurring theme of the once-reclusive and largely unpopular former vice president: President Barack Obama has put Americans in danger of a new terrorist attack.
Cheney CBS
Former Vice President Dick Cheney said in a recent CBS interview that the current administration's reversal of Bush policies "means in the future we're not going to have the same safeguards we've had for the last eight years."Karin Cooper / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

To the chagrin, perhaps, of Republicans looking to rebuild the tattered party, Dick Cheney has grabbed the spotlight.

The recurring theme of the once-reclusive and largely unpopular former vice president: President Barack Obama has put Americans in danger of a new terrorist attack by promising to close the Guantanamo Bay prison and banning torture.

When Obama took office, former President George W. Bush went quietly to his new house in Texas, slipped intentionally into anonymity and honored protocol by staying silent about his successor.

But Cheney, widely remembered for heading to undisclosed secure locations at times of national crisis and for working invisibly behind the scenes, has done just the opposite.

Most recently he took a shot at Colin Powell, Bush's first-term secretary of state, a retired Army general, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and lifelong Republican who endorsed Obama's candidacy.

Through a spokesman, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele declined to discuss Cheney or his remarks, which have dominated cable news political debate and talk radio since the former vice president spoke out most recently last Sunday.

In a CBS television interview, Cheney reprised his charges that Americans were less safe because of Obama's actions.

"I think to the extent that those (Bush administration) policies were responsible for saving lives, that the administration is now trying to cancel those policies or end them, terminate them, then I think it's fair to argue — and I do argue — that that means in the future we're not going to have the same safeguards we've had for the last eight years," Cheney said.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs on Tuesday dismissed Cheney's comments, saying there has been "agreement across party lines that Guantanamo Bay has not made us a safer country."

And, Gibbs said, Obama had decided long ago that the real danger to the United States was from the Taliban and al-Qaida operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan. "The best way to keep this country safe is to go at the terrorist threat, something that the previous administration didn't do," he said.

What's up?

"This is not the same level of control and discipline Cheney's exercised over the last 40 years," said John Baick, professor of history at Western New England College. "I think it grows out of a deep sense of hurt and betrayal."

Going public
Cheney seemed even more exercised after Obama released memos detailing how "enhanced interrogation" became a tactic used during the Bush administration.

Some contend Cheney has gone public because the Obama White House has cast so much blame on the Bush administration for difficulties "inherited" both at home and abroad. That, the theory goes, gave Cheney the right — in his mind — to fight back very publicly.

"But it could be that Cheney really sees a threat out there, believes the policies were right and feels he would be negligent in remaining silent," said Paul Sracic, political science professor at Youngstown State University.

Others believe Cheney is trying to protect his reputation when the history of the Bush administration is written.

"He sees himself in a position where his legacy is called into question, and he wants to get his story out before history gels," said Jim Riddlesperger, professor of political science at Texas Christian University.

Powell or Limbaugh?
While Cheney's public assault on Obama breaches Washington etiquette, his remarks about Powell were particularly unusual.

When asked on CBS if ultraconservative talk radio personality Rush Limbaugh had been right in saying the Republican Party would be better off without Powell, Cheney responded:

"Well, if I had to choose in terms of being a Republican, I'd go with Rush Limbaugh, I think. I think my take on it was Colin had already left the party. I didn't know he was still a Republican."

As Republicans seek to broaden their appeal — create the proverbial big tent — after dismal showings in the past two national elections, siding with Limbaugh shows Cheney is "not an institution builder," Baick said. "He's not erecting tent poles. He's knocking them down. In terms of building the party, the remarks about Powell were over the top."


One thing is certain: Glee among Democrats who are only too happy to see Cheney and Limbaugh — given their narrow appeal — flood into the Republican leadership vacuum.