Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Is This Cheney's Agnew Moment?

When, about a year ago, people were suggesting that Dick Cheney might resign from the vice presidency, I dismissed the notion as pure fancy, the sort of speculation in which political junkies like me love to engage on slow news days.

But now that Cheney's one-time chief of staff, Scooter Libby, has been found guilty of four of the five crimes with which he was charged, I really do wonder if Cheney might not become the third US Vice President to resign from that office.

The most recent, of course, was Richard Nixon's veep, Spiro Agnew. In October, 1973, Agnew made a nolo contendere plea to a number of bribery charges stemming from his tenure as Maryland governor. Simultaneously, he resigned the vice presidency. (Less than a year later, Nixon became the first President to resign from office for totally different corruptions.)

For some time now, Cheney has appeared to be trying to distance himself from the Libby trial, traveling to other parts of the world, ostensibly consumed with matters of state, just as Nixon did in his famous--and famously ill-advised--trip to Egypt in 1974. Like Nixon, Cheney may have risked his life with these junkets, as it has been learned that also like the thirty-seventh President, Cheney is suffering from blood clotting in his leg. The clotting makes walking painful and is potentially-life threatening.

Libby was, by all accounts, Dick Cheney's alter ego. There will thus be many questions asked about any association the Vice President may have had with Libby's crimes. A verion of Howard Baker's questions during the Watergate hearings, posed about Nixon, will be foremost among them:
  • What did the Vice President know?
  • When did he know it?
The Bush Administration, trying to assert its leadership on Iraq, the war on terrorists, and a number of domestic initiatives, may decide that they can't afford a drawn-out defense of the Vice President. Cheney, a loyal soldier, may also be able to use his new health issues as a convenient (and legitimate) reason for stepping down. His resignation would give Bush Administration critics one less thing to complain about. And the right replacement nominated by Mr. Bush could earn him points and goodwill.

The most likely opponents of a Cheney resignation, at least in the short run, would be Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and Mitt Romney, frontrunners for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination. They would be fearful that any new veep who gained popularity would be likely to sweep their cracks at the presidency aside, automatically becoming the frontrunner for Republicans next year. If Cheney is to resign, they will lobby for the President to nominate a Republican elder statesman for Vice President, someone like Richard Lugar or John Warner, people unlikely to run for the presidency themselves.

Democrats will also have reason not to see Cheney replaced, although like moths attracted to a flame, they may feel duty-bound to press for his resignation. They and the GOP candidates might be open to the nomination of someone like Chuck Hagel, a Republican with impeccable conservative credentials who nonetheless opposes the war in Iraq, to be nominated for the vice presidency.

The country at large would likely push for any quality nomination, appropriately heedless of 2008 politics. If vox populi gets the upper hand, the President might nominate a Democrat for the vice presidency. The one Mr. Bush would probably like is Joe Lieberman; but Democrats would howl at that. Another name that might get in the mix would be that of Fred Thompson, a figure whose popularity goes beyond politics, the one-time minority counsel for the Senate Watergate committee, and a close friend and ally of John McCain's who is unlikely to run for the presidency himself.

It's all speculation and wild speculation at that. But at 12:42PM, March 6, 2007, I think that it's far likelier that Dick Cheney will resign his office than it was just one hour ago. This could be Dick Cheney's Agnew moment.

[IN THE COMMENTS: One person says that there's a big difference between the crimes of Spiro Agnew and those of Scooter Libby. I respond:
The analogy I drew was not between Agnew's crime and that of Scooter Libby. The analogy is between the damage Agnew could have done to Nixon had he not resigned and the damage Cheney might cause Bush if he doesn't follow the same course.

Had Agnew stayed on, a weakened Nixon White House would have confronted the question of whether it would expend its ever-depleting political capital on defending Agnew or cut him loose. The Bush White House may confront a similar moment with regard to Cheney. My point was political and historical.]
[THANKS TO: Glenn Reynolds, Andrew Sullivan, Pajamas Media, and Ron Coleman & David Nieporent for linking to this post.]

[THANKS ALSO TO: Michael McElroy of The New York Times political blog, The Caucus, for linking to this post.]

[THANKS TO: Indepundit for linking to this post.]

[THANKS TO: The Daily Briefing for linking to this post.]

[THANKS TO: Richard H├ętu, New York correspondent for the French Canadian, La Presse, for linking to this post.]

[THANKS ALSO TO: Howard Kurtz, Media Notes columnist for The Washington Post, for linking to this post. And to Christopher Beam at Slate for doing the same.]

[FURTHER THANKS TO: Kiko's House and Memeorandum for linking here.]

[THANKS TOO, TO: Joe Gandelman of The Moderate Voice for linking to this post.]


Skymuse said...

I surmised about Cheney resigning at this time last year, but my reasoning was based on health/age issues combined with the likelihood of lame-duckness for Pres. Bush in 2007-8. Now that he has been diagnosed with blood clots and travel is likely to be diminished, I believe more than ever that he will resign. http://skymusings.blogspot.com/2007/03/little-smirking.html

Your thoughts on the Agnew-like parallels are very interesting and I believe will also factor in the VP's decision.

Willy Barret said...

Cheney resigning would ultimately help the Republicans in 2008, but it would help them even more if Bush puts someone who *would* run for the presidency in as Veep. Sure, it throws the primary process into disarray, and the current frontrunners would be furious (assuming they aren't the one picked), but the current frontrunners have major issues to overcome, like flip-flopping on liberal positions, or not flip-flopping on liberal positions, or divorce, or brittle easily-angered personalities, or corruption, etc. The whole picture could change overnight if Bush picked a good candidate for a veep.

But you've also admitted something else that instapundit and lots of other commentators on the right refuse to admit: it looks bad for Cheney. The usual right-wing spin is that Libby did nothing wrong, but that holds little water. He was lying to protect someone, and so now that it's not so easy to say that there was never any evidence he actually lied, the obvious question is: who was he trying to protect?

And although it would make sense for the Bush administration to defuse this question, I seriously doubt Cheney will resign. Bush isn't inclined to ask anyone to resign, no matter how badly they do their job, until it's impossible to do otherwise. Bush can't force him to resign, and Cheney doesn't seem like the type who would give up so easily. But I hope I'm wrong about that.

Anonymous said...

bin Laden gets caught, Cheney resigns citing health, Rice gets the Veep spot, and announces White House bid sometime around December, negating whatever demographic edge Hillary Obama thinks he/she has.

Deborah White said...

Yes, I believe Dick Cheney will resign, likely citing his health. There have been rumors to this effect, anyway, for about a year. Rice will ascend to the vice presidency.

If President Bush had the foresight to dump Rumsfeld and Cheney before the 2006 elections, the results might have been vastly different.

This administration's influence was effectively over when the Senate first stood up to this administration on torture. It now has zero credibility.

Unknown said...

He'd be the third: Calhoun was the first, Agnew the second.

DJ said...

This is nuts. So long as Cheney is VP, he's (more or less) immune from criminal prosecution. Why would he jump out of the safety of the EOB and into the vipers nest of Fitzgerald grand juries, rogue international courts, and civil litigants looking to score political points with meritless law suits? He wouldn't. No matter how loyal of a soldier he is.

Much better to ride this one out in saftey and comfort--and with the best guaranteed medical treatment in the world.

Duke of DeLand said...

Deborah (above) states my wish and desire. However, I do not feel that is a likely event. I even have a Rice for Pres weblog which i ran for many months, but Condi seems straight in her conviction to not run.


How about Rice/Guiliani?


Mark Daniels said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kevin Murphy said...

umm ... there's a big difference between Agnew accepting bags of cash over his White House desk, and this (apparently legal) outing of a double-dealing CIA employee that Cheney got involved in.

Remember, Libby was never charged with any crime other than lying about what he said. The underlying action wasn't criminal. Just the lying. Martha Stewart did worse.

DJ said...

Not to pile on, but you missed the mark again about Calhoun. He resigned not from the Adams Administration, but from the first Jackson Administration. The quick story is that Jackson supported the protectionist Tariff of 1832, Calhoun endorsed and promoted South Carolina's illegal nullification of the federal statute, South Carolina passed its so-called Nullification Ordinance, Jackson threatened to lead troops into South Carolina, and Calhoun resigned in protest when a Senate seat from South Carolina opened up at the end of 1832.

Back to the books, dude!

Mark Daniels said...

I'm glad you piled on. Thanks for the follow-up.

The analogy I drew was not between Agnew's crime and that of Scooter Libby. The analogy is between the damage Agnew could have done to Nixon had he not resigned and the damage Cheney might cause Bush if he doesn't follow the same course.

Had Agnew stayed on, a weakened Nixon White House would have confronted the question of whether it would expend its ever-depleting political capital on defending Agnew or cut him loose. The Bush White House may confront a similar moment with regard to Cheney. My point was political and historical.


lws said...

Dad makes him appoint Jeb.