||Syndicated columnist Robert Novak is co-host of CNN's "Evans Novak, Hunt & Shields," as well as "Crossfire." He is providing exclusive convention analysis for CNN.com.|
Robert Novak: Cheney scores points in VP debate
DANVILLE, Kentucky (CNN) -- In Thursday night’s vice-presidential debate, Dick Cheney may not have contributed all that much toward the election of GOP presidential hopeful George W. Bush, but he certainly helped himself.
Cheney certainly did not follow in the dreary footsteps of Republican vice presidential candidates: Bob Dole making a fool of himself in ‘76; Dan Quayle humiliated by Lloyd Bentsen in ‘88; Jack Kemp outwitted and outmaneuvered by Al Gore in ‘96.
But beyond avoiding disaster, Cheney partially redeemed Bush’s surprise selection of him to be his running mate. There has been growing discontent in Republican circles about Cheney-drab, uninspiring, no help at all to the ticket when compared with the Vice
President Al Gore’s lavishly praised choice of Sen. Joe Lieberman as his Democratic running mate.
On Thursday night, Cheney looked more like the widely praised Washington insider who had been White House chief-of-staff at age 34, had become No. 3 in the House Republican leadership after only two years in Congress and led the victorious forces of Desert Storm as Secretary of Defense.
In comparison, Lieberman -- though, as always, likable and ingratiating -- seemed a little ordinary. The basis of Lieberman’s wide and escalating popularity in Washington over the past decade was his willingness to digress from the Democratic party line.
No more. Lieberman spent much of the evening at Centre College reciting the talking points faxed to him from Gore headquarters in Nashville. To be sure, they sounded more civil coming from Lieberman’s mouth than from Gore’s. But they amounted to the same old denunciation of tax cuts for the rich, privatized Social Security and the rest of the Bush program.
Cheney was clearly not working from Austin’s talking points, which may have disappointed the Bush high command in the Texas capital. Appearing to be flying solo, he was less than effective in responding to attacks on the Bush attacks and did not reiterate key Bush arguments (such as suggesting that the Clinton-Gore team had fallen short during the past eight years).
However, Cheney left Lieberman in the dust in his discussion of the military’s defects, of foreign policy and of energy policy. Cheney sounded like somebody who had been around and done a lot. Lieberman sounded like another senator -- a very nice senator, but unmistakably another senator.
Will this lead the 20 to 30 percent of the electorate that is still not firm in its presidential allegiances at this late date to look more closely at the Bush-Cheney ticket? Perhaps not, but it certainly dispelled the Washington insider talk of a vice-presidential mismatch in Lieberman’s favor.