For the last eight years, many conservative defenders of President Bush bemoaned his administration’s communications strategy. They found the White House woefully inept at making its own case — the Bushies were said to be too quick to concede arguments, too willing to put forth ineffective spokesmen (despite high marks for Tony Snow), and too slow to explain or defend its positions, often allowing the conventional wisdom to harden against them before even bothering to try. Former Vice President Dick Cheney has put this theory to the test.
Whatever you think about the substance of his arguments, Cheney is a far more skilled defender of Bush policies than virtually anyone in the administration. He is a sober television presence who marshals facts quickly, summarizes arguments easily, and seems unflappable in the face of hostile questioning. While Bush struggled in the campaign debates, Cheney mopped up the floor with Joe Lieberman and John Edwards. Cheney often takes the maximalist positions on issues like interrogation and Iraq. And Cheney’s office was skilled at leaking things to friendly reporters like Stephen Hayes, who is part of a push to claim that Cheney is winning the debate.
Cheney’s prominence is giving a lot of Republicans indigestion because of his low approval ratings. But for commentators like Bill Kristol are cheering, because Cheney is joining them in making the arguments that they’ve been making without much Bush administration support. Now, if Cheney fails to persuade the American people, it might simply be because it’s too late — they’ve turned the page and made their minds up already. A concerted effort earlier on still might have had some effect. But this is as close as we are going to get to seeing what kind of results more effective Bushite messaging might have gotten.