WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Dick Cheney’s health problems and the perjury conviction of his former chief of staff touched off another round of a favorite Washington “what if?” parlor game: What would happen if he quit as President George W. Bush’s vice president and who would replace him?
The game has been played frequently in recent years, usually after the vice president, who has suffered several heart attacks, has had a health scare or has done something particularly embarrassing, like blasting a fellow hunter with birdshot.
The latest round of “what if?” began with the perjury trial of Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Cheney’s former chief of staff, who was convicted this week of trying to obstruct an investigation to determine who leaked a CIA operative’s identity to the press.
The discovery of a blood clot in the vice president’s leg fueled further resignation speculation.
Former Texas Democratic congressman Martin Frost played “what if?” in a piece for Fox News online last month, wondering if Bush might replace Cheney with Sen. Joseph Lieberman, who lost his Democratic primary in Connecticut and had to run as an independent with Republican support to win re-election.
Frost speculated Connecticut’s Republican governor could then appoint a Republican replacement for Lieberman. With one Democratic senator seriously ill and not voting, that might shift the balance of power in the U.S. Senate to the president’s party, he speculated.
The British media took up the theme. The Evening Standard asked “Will a blood clot force Cheney to step down?” and reported “widespread speculation that if Mr. Cheney is unable to complete his term in office through ill health he will be replaced by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.”
Larry Sabato, a professor at the University of Virginia, told the online Cybercast News Service that if Rice were interested in the presidency and became vice president, the other Republicans in the 2008 race would have no chance.
“Right now, this seems wide open, you have a few top-tier candidates,” he said. “But the situation can change quickly if Bush picks Rice as his new vice president.”
Interesting to think about, perhaps, but is it likely? Hardly, say political aides on Capitol Hill and analysts who study the vice presidency.
“There is no speculation over here of him stepping down,” said a Republican leadership aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “I don’t know why he would. He isn’t the one who got convicted.”
If Cheney did resign, could Bush give a boost to a 2008 Republican presidential contender by appointing him or her to the vice presidency?
“Only a fool would take an appointment,” said the aide. “You get saddled with defending the administration and distracted from pushing your own message.”
“Anyone who would take it, you know, is not a serious contender in 2008,” the aide said.
Speculation that Bush might replace Cheney is “silly talk,” said Stephen Hess, a presidential scholar at the Brookings Institute.
“No serious political analyst can make a case that he would or should resign,” he said.
“I don’t see Cheney resigning,” added Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University. “Bush and Cheney both believe they have to play this hand out and they have to succeed or they are both toast historically.”
Additional reporting by John Whitesides and Thomas Ferraro