Interviewee: Richard Cheney
Vice President of the United States, 2001-2009
Interviewer: Michael Nelson
Fulmer Professor of Political Science, Rhodes College
Fellow, SMU Center for Presidential History
November 18, 2014
This transcription has been prepared according to the strictest practices of the academic and transcription communities and offers our best good-faith effort at reproducing in text our subject’s spoken words. In all cases, however, the video of this interview represents the definitive version of the words spoken by interviewees.
Q: Vice President Cheney, how did you come to be the Republican nominee for vice president in the year 2000?
CHENEY: Well it basically started in the fall of ’99. I was living in Dallas running Halliburton. My wife and I hosted a book party that involved Barbara Bush and Laura and Governor Bush came as well. This was part of the literacy program. What we did was hold a session in our house where people were invited partly to support the program. During the course of that then Governor Bush asked if there was a place we could talk. I took him back to the library at the back of the house and he asked if I would consider playing a major [00:01:00] role in this campaign — manage the campaign or run the campaign and I told him I couldn’t. I supported him and I wanted to do anything I could to help but I had a full-time job in Halliburton and I just wasn’t available to go take on that kind of responsibility. Then fast forward a few months earlier in 2000 I was visited by Joe Allbaugh. Joe was the governor’s principal executive assistant as governor. He came to see me in Dallas and one of the things he asked was whether or not I would agree to be considered as a running mate and I said no. I had no interest and I was very happy with private life. I couldn’t remember a vice president who ever enjoyed the job. It just wasn’t something I wanted to do. I was pretty firm about it and said no. [00:02:00] A short time after that I got a phone call from the governor asking if I would help him find somebody. And I said yes, I could do that. I could run the search. I had done that for Ford back in ’76 and it had a beginning and an end and it would be over at the convention and wouldn’t detract from my other responsibilities at Halliburton, and so forth. So I ended up then through the spring running a search. It was very thorough, very extensive — a large number of names on the prospective list. There was a long list and then a shorter list that you were really serious about.
Q: Did Governor Bush tell you “here’s what I’m looking for”?
CHENEY: Sure. And part of that process was to hear from him what he wanted, obviously. I needed to know that to be able to evaluate which candidates ought to be considered and so forth. [0:03:00] We did a really thorough job checking out a number of prospective candidates. I talked to him on the telephone frequently, had a couple of meetings. The last one was just before the Fourth of July at the ranch down in Crawford — hot Texas July day and he and I spent the morning going over all of the prospects. I had a notebook for him and a notebook for me. Then when we finished that we had lunch with Laura — just the three of us and then after lunch he took me out on the back porch and I still remember it vividly because what he did then was he looked me in the eye and he said, “You’re the solution to my problem.” And I knew right then I was a failure. What I basically said was I’ll take a look at what would I have to do in order to be able to take that on. I had worries about the company. [00:04:00] I was chairman and CEO of Halliburton. There were questions about health and about residency because we were both residents of Texas at that point. Under the twelfth amendment of the Constitution, the Texas electoral vote could not be cast for both of us. So there were a number of issues connected with it. We then went separate ways. I arranged to have a checkup by my doctor. I wanted to make sure that I was vetted. I set up a session with him down in Austin probably seven or eight days later and as I recall on a Saturday morning where I went down and sat down with him. He had Karl Rove there as well too and I made all the arguments against a Cheney candidacy. I was in the oil business. I was a ripe target to the Democrats. I’d had serious health problems. [00:05:00] At that point I’d had three heart attacks and explained that if I felt a twinge in the middle of a vice presidential debate I’d be off the stage headed to the nearest hospital. I went through all that — talked about my misspent youth. I was not a standout student when I went to college. It took me quite a few years to get through. So I laid everything out. Karl Rove was there with me and then he made all the same arguments I’d made as this was a bad idea. We both pitched it hard against the notion of my being vice president. A few days later his doctor had connected with my doctor — he had Denton Cooley, basically of heart fame down in Texas — talked to my cardiologist and concluded that I was fit to run for office and serve. Then I got a phone call in Dallas. One morning I was on the treadmill and the phone rang. [00:06:00] It was the governor and he said he wanted me to be his running mate and I signed on. That day then I flew down to Austin. We held a big press conference down there and announced that I was going to be his running mate for the campaign. What affected my judgment on it — a couple of things — one, it was clear he was looking for somebody who could play a major role in the administration and clear that what he really needed and wanted was somebody with national security experience. And by that point I’d been Secretary of Defense through Desert Storm and ten years in the Congress — a good part of that on the intelligence committee and White House Chief of Staff. I had the credentials he was looking for. I also became convinced as I listened to him talk about the job and evaluate various candidates that he was deadly serious about it being a meaningful job. He wasn’t looking for somebody because [00:07:00] it would help with the electoral vote. Wyoming’s the smallest state in the nation population wise but three electoral votes. They turned out to be important but we didn’t know that at the time. He was, I felt, genuine in his notion that he’d spent a lot of time thinking about it. This was not a new idea. I found out later — I didn’t know this at the time — but I found out later that back in ’92 in the run up to the ’92 election that he had actually gone to his dad when Dan Quayle was vice president and suggested to him that he should replace Dan Quayle with me in the ’92 election. Like I say I didn’t hear that at the time. This is something I learned some years later. So it wasn’t the first time he’d thought about me in that capacity. But based on his concept of the job and what he was looking for, [00:08:00] I understood why he was interested in me for that post. I also came to believe that he never took my first no for a solid answer. He just accepted it and said, “Well, I’ll get him involved” — have him help me with the search and I’ll understand.