LOS ANGELES — Former Vice President Dick Cheney isn’t picking sides in the battle for the 2012 Republican Presidential nomination, but in a remarkably candid interview with ABC News in Los Angeles, he had blunt words about the current field of GOP candidates.
Cheney accused Rick Perry of using “over-the-top” rhetoric, chided Michele Bachmann for overpromising on the campaign trail and said that Jon Huntsman’s views on Afghanistan hew too closely to President Obama’s.
The comments came in far-ranging interview with ABC’s Jonathan Karl where Cheney discussed, at length, his health problems, criticism of his book and reflected on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
But on the politics of today, Cheney said it was “inappropriate” for Perry to say that he would treat Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke “pretty ugly down in Texas.”
“I disagree with him,” Cheney said. “Obviously he’s just getting started on the campaign. I’m not sure if he were to get elected he’d want to use that kind of language on the Fed Chairman.”
While Cheney acknowledged that “you don’t want somebody at the Federal Reserve who’s managing the place, quote ‘for politics,’ he said the charge that Ben Bernanke or his predecessor Alan Greenspan have done that “isn’t a valid charge.”
Perry, who has shot to the top of national polls less than a month since he entered the race, will make his debate debut in Simi Valley, Calif. Wednesday night. Cheney also took issue with Perry’s past comments that Social Security is akin to a Ponzi scheme.
“Let’s see what Rick Perry does as he develops through this process. I certainly don’t believe it’s a Ponzi scheme,” Cheney said of Social Security. “It’s a program that a great many people depend upon.”
He added, “I think it’s a very important program, we do in fact want to preserve it for future generations but we have a lot of work to do on Social Security and other entitlement programs like Medicare.”
Cheney is no friend of Perry having endorsed his rival, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, in the 2010 gubernatorial primary in Texas.
The former vice president to George W. Bush, who has just published a controversial new memoir, titled “In My Time,” did not spare Bachmann from criticism either, dismissing her contention that if elected she could usher in a period of $2 a gallon gasoline.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “The free market’s going to work on gasoline prices.”
On Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, Cheney takes issue with her suggestion that she will bring gas prices down to $2 a gallon.
“The free market’s gonna work on gasoline prices,” he said. “We need to do everything we can to produce, especially from domestic sources, all of the conventional power we can. But yeah, to make a hard and fast prediction and say, ‘Gasoline’s never gonna cost more than $2 a barrel,’ I’d be a little careful of that. I don’t believe it.”
While several of the Republican candidates have said they oppose raising the debt ceiling under any circumstances, Cheney said such talk is irresponsible.
“You’ve gotta maintain the credit worthiness of the United States government. And you’ve got an obligation obviously to pay your debts,” Cheney said, adding, “I didn’t have a problem with the notion that our guys would say, “But we’re not doin’ anything with the debt ceiling till you sign up for deficit reduction.”
And, as for Huntsman’s view that it’s time to draw down U.S. troops who were part of the surge strategy in Afghanistan, Cheney said that would be “a mistake.”
“President Obama has announced he’s going to take out the surge forces before the end of the next fighting season. That’d be a big mistake. There’s no military reason to do that. I think it’s driven primarily by politics — that he wants to get the forces out before the election in 2012 because he made those kinds of commitments and promises,” Cheney said. “I have a sense that that’s what Jon Huntsman is advocating. It’s a mistake. I think we cannot take the chance of walking away from the importance of staying on top of the situation and helping the Afghans acquire the capacity to control their own sovereign territory.”
Cheney did have words of praise for one non-candidate: Hillary Clinton. He suggested Secretary Clinton would have been a better President than Barack Obama and with a Darth Vader smile mischievously suggested she should run against him in 2012.
“Hillary Clinton is a pretty formidable individual. And I think she’s probably the most competent person they’ve got in their cabinet,” he said. “Maybe if the Obama record is bad enough, and these days it’s not very good, given the shape of the economy, maybe there will be enough ferment in the democratic party so that there will be a primary on their side. I think it’d be good for the country. I think it’d be good for the Democratic party and it might be the Republicans.”