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CAMPAIGN 2000 | REPUBLICAN DICK CHENEY

No. 2 Rising to an Almost-Unlimited Partnership

He Believes Clout Will Come From Serving as Ally, Valued Counsel

October 21, 2000|MICHAEL FINNEGAN and MEGAN GARVEY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

As President Ford's chief of staff, Dick Cheney worked hard to ensure Jimmy Carter didn't oust his boss from the White House. But 24 years later, Cheney finds himself admiring Carter for how he treated his vice president, Walter F. Mondale.

"I wasn't all that big a fan of Jimmy Carter's presidency, but I thought that he and Mondale arrived at an arrangement that made a lot of sense," Cheney said.

Namely, Mondale was a player: the first vice president to get a weekly private lunch with the president, an office in the White House and access to key meetings and briefing papers.

Cheney, the Republican vice presidential nominee, now hopes to gain just as much--or more--clout in the White House if George W. Bush is elected president.

And Bush advisors say Cheney--a former Defense secretary and member of Congress--would wield at least as much power as Vice President Al Gore has under President Clinton.

In an interview, Cheney declined to name the areas he would focus on as vice president, saying "you can't really write a contract" for the job. Ultimately, he said, it would "turn very much" on his personal rapport with Bush.

Aides to the Texas governor said Bush would rely on Cheney for advice on national security and relations with Congress, but also on a broad range of other issues.

"Obviously, there's ultimately only one decision maker, and that's the president of the United States," said Karen Hughes, Bush's communication director. "But I think [Bush] would want Secretary Cheney's advice and counsel on most major decisions."

Hughes also hinted that Cheney might function as a lightning rod for Bush. "Unlike Vice President Gore," she said, Cheney "would take not just credit but also responsibility for decisions the administration makes."

Seeking a More Governing Part

After nearly three decades in Washington, Cheney, 59, is well-equipped to shape a powerful role for himself in the White House.

"I expect I will be doing substantive things," he said. "That's certainly my expectation."

Like Mondale, Cheney said, he wants to play "more of a governing part" in the administration.

The key to Mondale's influence, scholars say, was his access to Carter, which made him a powerful ally to anyone seeking the president's support.

"To have an hour alone every week with the president of the United States all of a sudden makes you a more significant player," said Joel K. Goldstein, a St. Louis University law professor and the author of "The Modern American Vice Presidency."

Cheney has seen firsthand what it's like to be a vice president who is not a player on the president's team. He was the deputy White House chief of staff, and then chief of staff, under Ford when Mondale's predecessor, Nelson A. Rockefeller, was vice president.

The pairing of Ford and Rockefeller, Cheney recalled, was "not a happy marriage."

At the time, Rockefeller's liberal brand of Republicanism was hurting Ford's effort to beat back the challenge of conservative Ronald Reagan in the 1976 GOP presidential primaries. Ford advisors, Goldstein said, tried to "undercut" Rockefeller. Ultimately, they succeeded. Rockefeller was dumped from the ticket in 1976 in favor of Kansas Sen. Bob Dole.

For Cheney, the rift showed that a president and vice president must share ideologies, as he and Bush do.

Learning When to Stay in Background

Later, as Defense secretary under President Bush, Cheney mastered the fine points of another duty of the vice president: staying in the background.

Cheney was "very careful not to get out in front of the president" during the Persian Gulf War, said a former Pentagon aide to Cheney. "He was scrupulous about that."

A stickler for protocol, Cheney once showed up at a White House meeting and was "shocked" to find John H. Sununu, Bush's chief of staff, seated in the president's chair until Bush arrived, the former aide recalled.

As the younger Bush's running mate, Cheney has signaled that he would have little trouble deferring to him, too, even when they disagree.

"When he's made his decision, then I'll salute smartly and support the policy," Cheney said shortly after joining the ticket in July.

Former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Cheney's longtime mentor, described him as "nonthreatening," which is an asset for a vice president staking out turf.

"His manner is easy, laid back," Rumsfeld said. "Some people, it's hard for them to step back, and he does it naturally."

As a former Defense secretary, Cheney would be a key advisor on national security matters for Bush, whose lack of experience in foreign policy has drawn Democratic attacks. At the same time, some Republicans believe Cheney's role would be less prominent once Bush names a secretary of State, national security advisor and secretary of Defense.

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