There's nothing the Washington press corps loves more than gabbing about rumors of political intrigue. The Democractic Veepstakes provided them with a lot of material to work with (Gephardt! Edwards! Gephardt! Hillary?! Edwards! Hillary?! Villsack! Dean?? Gephardt! GEPHARDT! GEPHARDT! ... Edwards!) but that is over now. So why not run with a little Republican Veepstakes?
Hear the Rumor on Cheney? Capital Buzzes, Denials Aside
By ELISABETH BUMILLER
WASHINGTON, July 14 - In the annals of Washington conspiracy theories, the latest one, about Vice President Dick Cheney's future on the Republican ticket, is as ingenious as it is far-fetched. But that has not stopped it from racing through Republican and Democratic circles like the latest low-carb diet.
The newest theory - advanced privately by prominent Democrats, including members of Congress - holds that Mr. Cheney recently dismissed his personal doctor so that he could see a new one, who will conveniently tell him in August that his heart problems make him unfit to run with Mr. Bush. The dismissed physician, Dr. Gary Malakoff, who four years ago declared that Mr. Cheney was "up to the task of the most sensitive public office" despite a history of heart disease, was dropped from Mr. Cheney's medical team because of an addiction to prescription drugs.
From the sound of it, the Democrats are deliberately feeding the press frenzy while trying to stay above the fray:
Democrats, as part of their campaign to discredit the competition, are energetically promoting the idea that Mr. Cheney is a drag on the ticket. But none of them are suggesting that Mr. Bush should drop him.
"He has come to be a polarizing figure who repels voters," said Tad Devine, a senior adviser to Senator John Kerry. But asked if that did not make Mr. Cheney a dream candidate to run against, Mr. Devine demurred. "I'm not going to lob one in that direction," he said. "I don't want to be the Kerry guy who says 'We want Cheney.' "
Of course we want Cheney on the ticket. But even if Bush were to drop him it would still be a good thing because it would be Bush's McGovern-Eagleton moment. It would feed the impression of a campaign in chaos while putting Bush in the untenable position of naming an acceptable replacement in a very short period of time. Even though a Powell, McCain or Giulliani might otherwise be a boost to the ticket, their pro-choice position would make them unacceptable to Bush's base. His campaign, up till now, has been based almost entirely on getting out the base (thus his support of the FMA) and trying to drag down Kerry's favorables.
It doesn't happen very often, but right now we are in a moment where Democrats are doing a good job of driving the political news. Enjoy it while it lasts.