The Three-Ring Circus Floats Some Trial Balloons

Some Republicans are urging Bush to dump Cheney and replace him with Condi “if he is serious about presenting a new face to the jaded American public.”

Well, that’s certainly a big if, but okay, I’ll play along.

One Republican strategist, who did not want to be named, said: “If I were Bush I would think of changing Cheney. It is one of the few substantial things he can do to change the complexion of his administration. The rest is nibbling around the edges.”
I’m going to give our unnamed Republican strategist the benefit of the doubt and chalk up “change the complexion” to an unfortunate word choice.

Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard magazine and author of Rebel in Chief, a sympathetic new biography of Bush…said he believed Cheney would be willing to stand down in order to help Bush. “It’s unlike Bush to dump somebody whom he likes and respects,” he cautioned. “But the president needs to do something shocking and dramatic such as putting in Condoleezza Rice.”
Critics of Barnes’ book have widely questioned his designation of Bush as a “rebel,” but, personally, I’ve always questioned the “in Chief” part—a doubtfulness recently bolstered by Robert Dreyfuss’ Vice Squad, which draws a portrait of Cheney and his office that inevitably leaves one wondering who really runs the show. Cheney’s influence over this administration’s decisions can be tracked from the moment he was tasked with selecting Bush's running mate and subsequently selected himself, right through to the current unrelenting secrecy about everything emanating from the veep's office—including, bizarrely, even who works there—and the bullying and spying performed on behalf of the vice president by his mysterious and true-believing staff. It reads as nothing less than a playbook of a coup that most of America has failed to notice. And Bush comes across like the manipulated buffoon wholly ignorant of important details that he often appears to be.

[O]fficials who have opposed Cheney believe that President Bush has "views" only about basic principles, and that in making dozens of complex decisions he relies on pre-determined staff papers. Says one insider deeply involved in U.S. policy toward North Korea: "The president is given only the most basic notions about the Korea issue. They tell him, 'Above South Korea is a country called North Korea. It is an evil regime.' … So that translates into a presidential decision: Why enter into any agreement with an evil regime?"
So who’s right? Is it Barnes—who believes Bush has it in him to cast Cheney aside? Or is it Dreyfuss—who suggests that Cheney’s the true power behind the throne, making the thought of Bush shitcanning his ass nearly inconceivable?

The truth probably falls somewhere in between. Bush may be The Decider, but relies so heavily on the counsel of trusted sources that he can’t really make a decision without it first having been carefully placed in his head by clever manipulators who know how to leave him with the impression the idea was his own. Cheney has undoubtedly filled that role for much of his administration; whether he goes may well be contingent upon Bush’s continued allegiance to him. If he’s got a new devil sitting on his shoulder, expect Cheney’s health to require his retirement in the not too distant future.

(Crossposted at Ezra’s place.)

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