Former Vice President Dick Cheney has made himself the most prominent spokesman for the Republican establishment in recent weeks. But for the most part he has confined himself to outlining the policy fight that he thinks the party should have with the Obama, particularly with regard to Cheney’s favorite government program: torture.
But, now, the prince regent of the Bush-Cheney interregnum has taken a position of the direction of the Grand Old Party itself.
Asked on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday morning to choose between those who believe the Republicans should expand their base to include more Americans and those who would follow the advice of syndicated radio personality Rush Limbaugh and cling to the fringe positions that have made the GOP a political outlier in recent election cycles, the man who has succeeded in pushing his own approval ratings below 20 percent pulled no punches.
Host Bob Schieffer set things up: “Rush Limbaugh said the other day that the party probably would be better off of Colin Powell left and just became a Democrat and Colin Powell said Republicans would be better off they didn’t have Rush Limbaugh speaking for them. Where do you come down?”
Cheney replied: “Well if I had to chose, in terms of being a Republican, I’d go with Rush Limbaugh. My take on it was that Colin had already left the party. I didn’t know he was still a Republican.”
Cheney and Powell were very much at odds during the period when the former vice president took almost complete control of the Bush-Cheney administration’s foreign policy initiatives, elbowing aside Powell, who was then serving as secretary of state.
Cheney’s actions pushed Powell to the breaking point — as did the GOP’s lurch to the extreme right on a number of domestic issues — and the former secretary of state endorsed Democrat Barack Obama in 2008.
But Powell has long been the Republican party’s most popular moderate leader, and savvy strategists have said for months that getting the retired general back in the GOP fold would signal that the party is ready to compete once more for middle-of-the-road voters.
But Cheney has rolled up the welcome mat.
A big tent? No, says Dick, I’ll just sit here in my room listening to Rush on the radio.
John Nichols is the author of Dick: The Man Who Is President (The New Press) and The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Most Powerful Vice President in American History (The New Press). NPR recently featured Nichols on the question of Cheney’s lingering influence in the piece: “Cheney Chooses Spotlight Over Keeping Quiet.”