Dick Cheney Knows What Republican Voters Want To Hear

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Bill Whalen Research Fellow, Hoover Institution
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Now that 19 men and women with the ego to believe they should be America’s next president have traveled to New Hampshire and peddled their goods, we’ve learned one startling thing about 2016’s road to the White House.

The one prominent Republican who best understands what primary voters want to hear just might be Dick Cheney.

Why the former vice president and not one of those 19 fan-dancers – or, for the matter, Mitt Romney or John McCain, the Republicans’ last two presidential nominees?

In a word: indignation.

In a second word: exceptionalism.

It was Cheney who, earlier this month in an interview with talk-radio’s Hugh Hewitt, called Barack Obama “the worst president we’ve ever had,” which, in a way, distinguishes Cheney from other Republicans. For most of them, April has been reserved for three things: paying taxes, kicking off campaigns and ripping Hillary Clinton’s every move.

Not that Hillary-bashing fails to produce applause wherever conservative activists gather, but to those loyalists who hunger for victory in 2016, it has more to do with fuming over Obama’s actions from the past six years (Iran, Cuba, Obamacare, executive orders, etc.) than Mrs. Clinton deep-sixing her Internet server or collecting six-figure honoraria.

And there’s this consideration: whereas Mrs. Clinton isn’t beloved by the media (just read the coverage from her first Iowa safari), 18 consecutive months of assailing her character could make her more sympathetic.

Thus the wisdom of training the fire on Obama – for now – by pushing the narrative, as did Cheney, that his presidency has had a toxic affect on America’s social discourse and foreign standing. First, make the case that the president is taking America in the wrong direction. Then, portray Mrs. Clinton as the next leg in the Obama relay, not an agent of change. It’s a coupling that Mrs. Clinton would rather avoid. While President Obama’s mid-40’s approval rating is 20 points higher than where George W. Bush stood a month before the 2008 election, it’s also more than 10 points lower than Bill Clinton’s numbers in October 2000.

As for that second word, exceptionalism, it may come into vogue among Republicans around Labor Day thanks to the release of Cheney’s next book: Exceptional: Why The World Needs a Powerful America.

Here’s what the former vice president had to say in a statement released by his publisher: “Unfortunately, as we face the clear and present danger of a rapidly growing terrorist threat, President Obama has significantly diminished our power, abandoned America’s allies and emboldened our enemies.”

However, to listen to some participants in the two-day event in New Hampshire, it was Mrs. Clinton who had authored U.S. foreign policy since 2009. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, for example, went after the former Secretary of State for the terrorist strike in Benghazi. While other GOP hopefuls did tear into Mr. Obama’s foreign policy choices, such barbs were overshadowed by all the Hillary talk.

Republican presidential candidates should read Cheney’s book. Or, there’s a cheaper alternative: go online and read Ronald Reagan’s famous “A Time For Choosing” speech. Though Reagan’s first big national address was delivered over a half-century ago, at least one passage applies for more hawkish Republicans: “[E]very lesson in history tells us that the greater risk lies in appeasement, and this is the specter our well-meaning liberal friends refuse to face – that their policy of accommodation is appeasement, and it gives no choice between peace and war, only between fight and surrender.

Political road shows such as the one in New Hampshire tend to be dismissed as “cattle calls.” Another way to describe them: Match.com “Stir” events, with lonely hearts looking for a new relationship. After the last two cycles and McCain and Romney, Republican primary voters yearn for a political affair of the heart – the kind of passionate affair party activists haven’t experienced since the days of Reagan. And they seek leadership. While the GOP is blessed with a surfeit of officeholders at the gubernatorial and congressional levels, there is no dominant voice – and certainly not a nominee-in-waiting as in past presidential elections.

Whoever wants to be that nominee would be well served to talk more about Barack Obama than the woman who aims to succeed him. And offer a bolder vision of America’s role on the world stage.

But before that: put a call in to Dick Cheney for some messaging advice.