Sending in the Cavalry; on Deck: Bush Is Counting on His Veep to Help Slow Kerry's Rise. Dick Cheney, Ready to Rumble
Henneberger, Melinda, Newsweek
Byline: Melinda Henneberger
When Dick and Lynne Cheney's daughters hosted a 40th-anniversary party for them in Washington this summer, the guests were mostly old pals from Wyoming, folks who have known the Cheneys since he was senior-class president and she was head baton twirler at Natrona County High in Casper. He hasn't changed friends since becoming vice president any more than he's changed his mind or his manner much over the years. On the campaign trail, even the jokes are the same as in 2000, though his wife--and maybe this is how you get to a 40-year anniversary--still seems delighted afresh every time.
"It was people he feels comfortable around" at the anniversary party, said Joe Meyer, a high-school classmate who is now Wyoming's secretary of state. "We laughed and scratched and it was comfortable." It was also a rare moment, Meyer added, for the vice president to let his guard down: "He doesn't have the same chance now to blow off steam as in the old days, and that has a cumulative effect." Under pressure to defend the war in Iraq in a tightening re-election campaign, Cheney is the same guy he always was, only more so--with "more burdens on his back, and that makes you go inside yourself."
If anything, the fact that Cheney's longstanding worry about a terror attack on American soil came true on 9/11 has made him even more sure of his own judgment, and more determined that his decidedly dark world view is the correct one. Who better than Dick Cheney, then, to smack down Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry's argument in last week's debate that "certainty sometimes can get you in trouble"--and that that's just what happened in Iraq. After President George W. Bush's only so-so performance at that outing, the stakes in Cheney's own debate with Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards on Tuesday have been raised considerably. Now it's up to him to make the case for constancy in a war that Kerry says diverted resources from more pressing priorities, like going after Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. In a way, it's the assignment the almost preternaturally steady Cheney has been preparing for all of his life.
And Edwards, in the first one-on-one debate of his career, is clearly outmatched in both experience and expectations. "All I know about Richard Bruce Cheney is there's no one like him on the face of the political earth. He has answers," says his friend Alan Simpson, the former senator from Wyoming. On Tuesday, Simpson predicts, "He'll crack a few jokes, try to wipe the smile off Edwards's face and just show stability, common sense and the fact that we're right." Edwards, a former trial lawyer, "is a sharp guy, but you're not talking to a jury of 12 that you picked," Simpson adds. "Cheney's been dealing with lawyers all of his life, and you can't irritate people by taking on lawyers."
The danger for Cheney, though, in the debate and beyond, is in the temptation to overstate his case. Polls show most people thought he did that when he drew a straight line between a Kerry victory in November and more terrorist attacks: "It's absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on Nov. 2, we make the right choice," he said, "because if we make the wrong choice then the danger is we'll be hit again in a way that will be devastating." From here on out, Cheney's biggest challenge is to be tough without overdoing it.
He hasn't always been seen as the scary guy that former Bush supporter and radio politico Don Imus last week called "an evil presence on the planet. …