The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Dick Cheney is the Bush administration’s defender-in-chief. That’s bad for Bush.

Meet the post-Bush administration.

While George W. Bush was on one Sunday show talking about his paintings, his vice president, Dick Cheney, was on another one ... forcefully defending their administration's interrogation techniques.

This is how it is these days. Bush has basically cast aside politics, while his No. 2 keeps popping up from time to time, weighing in on the day's events and offering the Bush administration's take on relevant issues.

Cheney's TV appearances over the past few days, of course, come as the Senate intelligence committee's report on interrogation techniques came out. And Cheney was a disciplined messenger on NBC's "Meet the Press," repeatedly rejecting the word "torture" and saying that the word would more aptly be applied to the 9/11 hijackers.

In a pointed interview, Cheney also called the committee's report a "crock" and said of the techniques, "I would do it again in a minute."

But while Cheney was as on-message as ever, he is also an inherently flawed messenger -- in that he is one of the most unpopular presidents or vice presidents in recent U.S. history.

Cheney left office with a 30 percent favorable rating and an unfavorable rating more than twice as high (63 percent), according to Gallup.

Similarly, the final Washington Post-ABC News poll of the Bush administration showed Cheney's approval at 30 percent and his disapproval at 60 percent. Only five U.S. presidents since World War II have fallen below 30 percent, and it was usually for only a brief moment.

And a CNN/Opinion Research poll around that same time showed 23 percent of Americans said Cheney was the worst vice president ever.

For all of Bush's problems, Cheney's were often worse. At their worst, as many as 44 percent of Americans said they felt "very" unfavorably toward Cheney, according to and NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll in mid-2008. For vice presidents, who are often behind the scenes, that's a pretty remarkable number.

And Bush's numbers have actually recovered quite nicely in recent years -- as they do with most ex-presidents.

We don't have any high-quality polling on Cheney in recent years -- an online YouGov/Economist poll in June showed Cheney's favorable/unfavorable split remains just 31/52 (but this poll doesn't meet the Washington Post's standards). At the same time, it's doubtful that Cheney's have recovered like Bush's have.

Partly that's a function of who Cheney is (the word "gruff" comes to mind), and partly it's because Cheney generally returns to talk about the administration's less-happy moments, including the war in Iraq and, now, interrogation techniques/torture. It's not exactly a recipe for success.

And that's partly by design. Cheney is, was and has always been the Bush administration's pitbull. He wasn't worried, as most vice presidents are, about positioning himself to run for president or about helping the ticket win a swing state (he's from Wyoming, after all).

But years later, when the Bush administration needs a forceful defender on things like torture, Cheney is basically their only option. And they probably wish he was a little more warm and fuzzy.