Richard “Dick” Cheney served as the 46th vice president of the United States from 2001 to 2009. In 2004, President George W. Bush ran for re-election with Cheney again on the ticket. During the first Bush term, Cheney had been of singular importance among the president’s advisors, helping to direct foreign policy and anti-terrorism measures in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Sober and serious, Cheney embraced his Secret Service code name “Angler.” He served as a lightning rod during the re-election campaign, but consistently argued that the administration had made tough and unpopular — but necessary — decisions to combat the terrorist threat to the United States.1
Cheney became one of the Bush administration’s most important leaders in the fields of national security, foreign policy, and the overall war on terror, including the use of enhanced interrogation techniques.2 Perhaps because of his role in crafting the response to the 2001 terror attacks, the American public largely viewed the vice president as a staunch and determined leader. He registered an approval rating of 67% in January 2002, despite maintaining a fairly low profile that had earned jokes about the vice president’s “undisclosed location.” He did, however, engage the public where the president believed him most effective; this included making the case for expanding the war on terror to Iraq.3 At the time of the re-election campaign, many had come to associate Cheney with the protracted Iraq War, and his approval rating fell to 45% by February 2004. 4 Complicating matters, a grand jury in Washington, D.C., investigating the leaked identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame focused on the vice president’s office. These issues led some in the Republican Party to urge President Bush to replace Cheney on the ticket.5 While Cheney offered to bow out of the race, Bush expressed no intention of jettisoning one of his most valued advisors.6
During the campaign, critics attacked Cheney for his conservative record in Congress, connections to corporations, including one he used to run (the energy services firm Halliburton), and his perceived influence over Bush.7 Democrats further attempted to exploit a difference of opinion between Cheney and the bulk of his party on the controversial issue of same-sex marriage. With the Republican Party taking a strong stance against both same-sex marriage and civil unions, supporters and critics questioned Cheney about his daughter Mary’s sexual orientation.8 In August 2004, an Iowa voter asked the vice president about his stance on gay marriage. “My general view is that freedom means freedom for everyone,” Cheney replied.9 He agreed with Bush that same-sex marriage should be a matter for the states but never wavered in his core belief despite the political risks.10
Cheney campaigned vigorously on the administration’s national security record while attacking the Democratic candidate, Senator John Kerry, as a “flip-flopper,” unable to hold fast to political positions. “Senator Kerry’s liveliest disagreement is with himself,” Cheney argued. The vice president built the case that the Bush administration had worked tirelessly to keep the nation safe while using Kerry’s numerous inconsistencies to cast doubt on the Democratic nominee’s resolve to wage the war on terror or achieve victory in Iraq. In early September, Cheney drew criticism when he suggested that a Kerry presidency would guarantee another terrorist attack. “If we make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we’ll get hit again, that we’ll be hit in a way that will be totally devastating,” he insisted. This controversial assertion was critical in defining Kerry for many voters who feared that a change in presidential leadership would be dangerous for the country.11
The vice president provided a stabilizing presence in the 2004 campaign. During the first presidential debate, President Bush appeared agitated while Senator Kerry seemed steady and presidential. With some voters giving Kerry a second look in the debate’s aftermath, many Republicans considered the vice-presidential debate a key opportunity for Cheney to make the administration’s case for re-election while also continuing to define the Democratic ticket. On October 5 at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Cheney faced John Edwards, the Democratic vice-presidential candidate. An experienced trial lawyer and litigator, Edwards attacked the administration’s record and Cheney’s role in making policy. Cheney offered a firm response while assailing the credibility of the Democratic ticket.12 “Your rhetoric, Senator, would be a lot more credible if there was a record to back it up,” Cheney said.13
His performance, generally perceived as calm and determined, impressed many voters, especially after Edwards attempted to provoke a reaction by raising the issue of Cheney’s daughter.14 “You can’t have anything but respect for the fact that they’re willing to talk about the fact that they have a gay daughter, the fact that they embrace her,” Edwards said. The comment infuriated Cheney, who wrote of the incident in his memoir: “What gave him the right to make pronouncements about my family?”15 Although deeply angry, he refused to break his demeanor. The awkward attempt to expose a rift between Cheney and the Republican Party instead largely created sympathy for the Cheney family. After John Kerry once again raised the sexuality of Mary Cheney during the October 13 presidential debate, the Cheney family expressed their outrage, and polls suggested the public overwhelmingly agreed.16
It is always difficult to gauge any vice-presidential nominee’s effect on the ultimate outcome of a presidential election, but evidence strongly suggests that Cheney proved vital to the Republican victory, overcoming predictions that his negatives would harm Bush’s re-election efforts. Cheney’s adamant insistence that he held no political ambitions beyond the vice presidency freed him from many conventional political restraints. From his support of his daughter to his unapologetic belief in the Iraq War, the vice president appeared steady and unshakable. In the end, Cheney made the clearest case against Kerry. “There’s no indication at all that John Kerry has the conviction to successfully carry through on the war on terror,” Cheney stated during the debate. The election’s outcome suggests the voters agreed.17
1 Kenneth T. Walsh, “Suddenly Softer Veep,” U.S. News & World Report, April 26, 2004, 30-31; Barton Gellman, Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency. (New York: Penguin, 2008), 160-61.
2 Richard Cheney Interview, Center for Presidential History, Southern Methodist University, The Election of 2004 Collective Memory Project, 18 November 2014, accessed at http://cphcmp.smu.edu/2004election/richard-cheney/.
3 Peter Baker, Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House. (New York: Doubleday, 2013), 155-56.
5 Roger Simon, “The Run of His Life,” U.S. News & World Report, March 15, 2004, 24-28; Allan Sloan, “Cheney—A ‘Risk Factor,’” Newsweek, February 9, 2004, 8; James A. Barnes, and Charles Mahtesian, “Dump-Cheney Move Could be 11th Hour,” National Journal, July 17, 2004, 2215.
6 Baker, Days of Fire, 282-84; Howard Fineman, et al. “Warming Up Kerry,” Newsweek, July 9, 2004, 26.
7 T.D. Allman, “The Curse of Dick Cheney,” Rolling Stone, September 16, 2004, 58-64.
8 Kevin J. McMahon, “A ‘Moral Values’ Election?: The Culture War, the Supreme Court, and a Divided America,” Kevin J. McMahon, et al, eds., Winning the White House 2004: Region by Region, Vote by Vote. (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 39. The 2004 Republican Platform took a clear stance on this issue: “After more than two centuries of American jurisprudence, and millennia of human experience, a few judges and local authorities are presuming to change the most fundamental institution of civilization, the union of a man and a woman in marriage. Attempts to redefine marriage in a single state or city could have serious consequences throughout the country, and anything less than a Constitutional amendment, passed by the Congress and ratified by the states, is vulnerable to being overturned by activist judges. On a matter of such importance, the voice of the people must be heard. The Constitutional amendment process guarantees that the final decision will rest with the American people and their elected representatives. President Bush will also vigorously defend the Defense of Marriage Act, which was supported by both parties and passed by 85 votes in the Senate. This common sense law reaffirms the right of states not to recognize same-sex marriages licensed in other states” (“2004 Republican Party Platform: A Safer World and a More Hopeful America,” UCSB Presidency Project, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/papers_pdf/25850.pdf, accessed 2 February 2015.
10 Craig A. Rimmerman, “The Presidency, Congress, and Same-Sex Marriage,” Craig A. Rimmerman and Clyde Wilcox, eds., The Politics of Same-Sex Marriage (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 286; James W. Ceaser and Andrew E. Busch, Red Over Blue: The 2004 Elections and American Politics. (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005), 131.
11 Baker, Days of Fire, 340-43; Evan Thomas, et al., “All in the Family,” Newsweek, November 15, 2004; Bob Woodward, State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006), 353-54; Evan Thomas and the Staff of Newsweek, Election 2004: How Bush Won and What You Can Expect in the Future. (New York: Public Affairs, 2004), 99-100; John Kenneth White, “Reagan’s Political Heir: George W. Bush, Values, and the War on Terror,” McMahon, et al, eds., Winning the White House 2004, 80.
12 Evan Thomas, et al, “Face to Face,” Newsweek, November 15, 2004, 107-16, Robert Draper, Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush. (New York: Free Press, 2007), 257-59.
15 Richard B. Cheney with Liz Cheney, In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir. (New York: Threshold Editions, 2011), 423.
16 Baker, Days of Fire, 349-50; Richard Morin, “Singling Out Mary Cheney Wrong, Most Say; 2 in 3 Find Kerry’s Comment ‘Inappropriate,” Washington Post, October 17, 2004.
17 Patricia Conley, “The Presidential Race of 2004: Strategy, Outcome, and Mandate,” William Crotty, ed., A Defining Moment: The Presidential Election of 2004 (Armonk, New York: M.E. Sharpe, 2005), 127.