Dick Cheney’s cynicism knows no end.
Yet, it still has the power to amaze—especially when Cheney’s political machinations go to extremes.
Consider his current embrace of the Tea Party movement.
At a point when the Republican Party’s favorability ratings have collapsed to the lowest point in the history of Gallup polling, just about everyone who has an interest in the future of the Grand Old Party is fretting about the damage done by a movement so politically tone deaf that it thought the American people would embrace a politics of government shutdown and debt-ceiling brinksmanship in order to advance the impossible dream of “defunding Obamacare.”
But here’s Dick Cheney—taking time out from pitching his new book, Heart: An American Medical Odyssey—to rally to the defense of the movement.
Hailing the Tea Party as a “positive influence” on the Grand Old Party, he announced on NBC’s Today show that “it’s an uprising, in part, and the good thing is it’s taken place within the Republican Party.”
Despite the chaos it has unleashed within and around the party for which the 72-year-old former vice president serves as a grouchy grand old man, Cheney declared: “I don’t see it as a negative. I think it’s much better to have that kind of ferment and turmoil and change in the Republican Party than it would be to have it outside.”
“These are Americans,” he says of the Tea Partisans. “They’re loyal, they’re patriotic and taxpayers, and they’re fed up with what they see happening in Washington. I think it’s a normal, healthy reaction and the fact that the party is having to adjust to it is positive.”
That’s rich coming from Cheney.
No matter what anyone thinks about the Tea Party movement in its current managed and manipulated form, many of its most sincere adherents joined what they thought was a grassroots challenge to the Republican establishment.
And no one says establishment like Dick Cheney: a permanent fixture in and around Republican administrations since Richard Nixon turned the key at the White House. No one has fought harder than this guy has to maintain the crony capitalist project that has made the modern GOP a lobbying agency for Wall Street speculators, bailout-seeking bankers and defense contractors like his own Halliburton.
Cheney’s everything Tea Party activists say they are fighting against.
So what’s the former vice president up to?
The same self-serving gaming of the process in which the man who arranged his own nomination as George W. Bush’s running mate has always engaged.
Asked about Ted Cruz, Cheney declined to criticize the Texas senator who steered the party off the charts when it comes to disapproval among the great mass of voters.
That’s because Cheney doesn’t at this point have any interest in the great mass of American voters. He’s interested in the handful of Wyoming Republican primary voters who will decide the fate of daughter Liz Cheney’s challenge to Republican Senator Mike Enzi.
Enzi is a steady conservative whose only “sin” was to get in the way of Cheney-family ambition. But he is in the way, so Dick Cheney is quite willing to remake himself as the Tea Party’s ardent defender in order to aid Liz Cheney’s campaign.
Indeed, instead of ripping Cruz—as he would have done in his former days as a White House chief of staff, GOP congressional leader, secretary of defense and vice president—Cheney now compares Cruz with daughter Liz.
“I think [Cruz] represents the thinking of an awful lot of people obviously in Texas,” says Dick Cheney. “But my own daughter is running for U.S. Senate in Wyoming partly motivated by the concern that Washington is not working, the system is breaking down and it’s time for new leadership.”
Shameless? Well, yes.
But that’s how Dick Cheney rolls.
The Republican Party is just a vehicle.
The state of Wyoming is just a political playground.
What matters to Cheney is the Cheney brand. And if he has to attach a Tea Party label in order to advance it, why Richard Bruce “Dick” Cheney is more than willing to oblige.
John Nichols is the author of Dick: The Man Who Is President and The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney (The New Press).
Tom Tomorrow deconstructs Tea Party logic.