By Sally Quinn
Tuesday, June 26, 2007 12:00 AM
The big question right now among Republicans is how to remove Vice President Cheney from office. Even before this week's blockbuster series in The Post, discontent in Republican ranks was rising.
As the reputed architect of the war in Iraq, Cheney is viewed as toxic, and as the administration's leading proponent of an attack on Iran, he is seen as dangerous. As long as he remains vice president, according to this thinking, he has the potential to drag down every member of the party -- including the presidential nominee -- in next year's elections.
Removing a sitting vice president is not easy, but this may be the moment. I remember Barry Goldwater sitting in my parents' living room in 1973, in the last days of Watergate, debating whether to lead a group of senior Republicans to the White House to tell President Nixon he had to go. His hesitation was that he felt loyalty to the president and the party. But in the end he felt a greater loyalty to his country, and he went to the White House.
Today, another group of party elders, led by Sen. John Warner of Virginia, could well do the same. They could act out of concern for our country's plummeting reputation throughout the world, particularly in the Middle East.
For such a plan to work, however, they would need a ready replacement. Until recently, there hasn't been an acceptable alternative to Cheney -- nor has there been a persuasive argument to convince President Bush to make a change. Now there is.
The idea is to install a vice president who could beat the Democratic nominee in 2008. It's unlikely that any of the top three Republican candidates -- former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Sen. John McCain of Arizona or former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney -- would want the job, for fear that association with Bush's war would be the kiss of death.
Nor would any of them be that attractive to the president. Giuliani is too New York, too liberal. His reputation as a leader, forged on 9/11 and the days after, carries him only so far. McCain, who has always had a rocky relationship with the president, lost much of his support from moderate Democrats and independents (and from a fair amount of Republicans) when the Straight Talk Express started veering off course. And no matter what anyone says about how Romney's religion doesn't matter, being a Mormon is simply not acceptable to Bush's base. Several right-wing evangelicals have told me they don't see Mormons as "true Christians."
That leaves Fred Thompson. Everybody loves Fred. He has the healing qualities of Gerald Ford and the movie-star appeal of Ronald Reagan. He is relatively moderate on social issues. He has a reputation as a peacemaker and a compromiser. And he has a good sense of humor.
He could be just the partner to bring out Bush's better nature -- or at least be a sensible voice of reason. I could easily imagine him telling the president, "For God's sake, do not push that button!" -- a command I have a hard time hearing Cheney give.
Not only that, Thompson would give the Republicans a platform for running for the presidency -- and the president a way out of Iraq without looking like he's backing down. Bush would be left in better shape on the war and be able to concentrate on AIDS and the environment in hopes of salvaging his legacy.
Cheney is scheduled this summer for surgery to replace his pacemaker, which needs new batteries. So if the president is willing, and Republicans are able, they have a convenient reason to replace him: doctor's orders. And I'm sure the the vice president would also like to spend more time with his ever-expanding family.
The writer is co-host, with John Meacham, of On Faith, an online conversation about religion.