Dick Cheney is 68, white and bitter. He is the Republican Party today.
The Republican Party has no serious wing other than the Cheney wing. The moderate wing of the Republican Party is distinguished by the fact that it does not exist, and yet it is still shrinking.
Arlen Specter, senator from Pennsylvania, recently left the Republicans for the Democrats, and Jon Huntsman, the Republican governor of Utah, is joining the Obama administration as its ambassador to China.
After Huntsman’s appointment was announced last week, article after article said he had been one of his party’s “leading” candidates for the presidential nomination in 2012.
Leading candidate? With the possible exception of Salt Lake City, you could fire a cannon down the main street of any city in America at high noon and not hit a person who had ever heard of Jon Huntsman.
Everybody has heard of Dick Cheney. True, a Washington Post headline last week said: “As Cheney Seizes Spotlight, Many Republicans Wince.” But a wince can sometimes be mistaken for a spasm of ecstasy.
Cheney has many pluses. He is very, very good on TV. (People who don’t like what he says overlook how good he is at saying it.) He is calm, articulate and often courageous. Who else but Dick Cheney would have the guts to go on “Face the Nation With Bob Schieffer” and say “in terms of being a Republican, I’d go with Rush Limbaugh” rather than Colin Powell?
After that, Maureen Dowd wrote: “Cheney, who had five deferments himself to get out of going to Vietnam, would rather follow a blowhard entertainer who has had three divorces and a drug problem (who also avoided Vietnam) than a four-star general who spent his life serving his country.”
To which the Republican wing of the Republican Party replies, “Yeah? So who wouldn’t?”
One of Cheney’s greatest attributes is that he revives the whole “Daddy Party vs. Mommy Party” argument that has bedeviled Democrats for decades.
Republicans say they are the Daddy Party. They are strong and will protect us from communists, terrorists and people who want to take away our guns. Republicans say Democrats are the Mommy Party. They say Democrats care only about social programs for the poor, don’t care about national defense and don’t understand terrorism.
Bill Clinton described the dilemma in December 2002 by saying: “When people feel uncertain, they’d rather have someone strong and wrong than weak and right.”
Cheney offers a clear choice. He is for waterboarding to save the United States from terrorism. He is a Daddy Party kind of guy.
True, President Obama gave the go-ahead for the military to shoot three pirates last month. But Cheney actually shot a guy in the head once. How Daddy Party can you get?
And why do you think Barack Obama has been so busy recently trying to cover his right flank? Now he doesn’t want to release torture pictures, he is in favor of military tribunals and he is not planning to reinstate a ban on assault weapons anytime soon. He also is not joining the attack on Nancy Pelosi, who apparently knew all about waterboarding (but insisted it be done with Evian).
The Republicans need a person who knows how to attack. John McCain never seemed comfortable in that role. When McCain would mention Obama during his campaign speeches and people in the crowd would yell “Off with his head,” McCain would actually try to calm them. Cheney would have said: “Why stop with his head?”
Dick Cheney is the voice, the face, the spirit and the guts of the Republican Party today.
He’s tanned, he’s rested and his approval ratings can only go up.
The Republicans could do worse in 2012. And probably will.
Roger Simon is POLITICO’s chief political columnist.