Politics

Former Vice President Dick Cheney headlines Florida GOP dinner, attacks Barack Obama

Former Vice President Dick Cheney speaks to a gathering of Florida Republicans Thursday evening in Orlando.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney speaks to a gathering of Florida Republicans Thursday evening in Orlando.

LAKE BUENA VISTA — For Republicans trying to cast themselves as the party of the future, their choice to headline their annual fundraising gala Thursday night seemed a lot more like a nod to the past.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney, 74, gave more than 1,000 Republicans gathered at Disney World a grim assessment of the threats facing America and a blistering attack on the record of President Barack Obama.

“My impression is that Obama's eager to get out of town. I'm eager to have him get out of town,” Cheney said. “It's extraordinarily important that the Republican Party reclaim the reputation that we've had for most of my life — that we are the go-to guys on national security and defense.”

Cheney, a divisive figure even with members of his party, happens to be one of the main reasons why the GOP lost the trust of many voters on foreign policy and national defense. A leading force behind President George W. Bush's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he left office in 2009 with only 13 percent of the American people having a favorable opinion of him.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam introduced him as “easily the most consequential leader in the modern Republican Party and certainly the most consequential vice president in the history of our country.”

My impression is that Obama's eager to get out of town. I'm eager to have him get out of town.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney

But even among the avid Republicans gathered in Orlando for Thursday's Statesman's Dinner and a two-day presidential candidate summit starting Friday, audience members found Cheney a less-than-ideal standard-bearer to put forth.

“I don't consider him the face of the Republican Party. We'll leave it at that,” said state Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton. “We're moving into a new era. ... It's more important for us to see the fresh faces of the Republican Party.”

Jeb Bush, who is working to differentiate himself from his brother and father, did not attend the speech, but Sen. Marco Rubio watched the former vice president and spoke afterward.

Cheney's address to the Florida GOP came as the just-released biography of the 41st president, Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush," revealed that the father of Jeb and George W. thought Cheney had changed since he served as his defense secretary.

“Just iron-a--. His seeming knuckling under to the real hard-charging guys who want to fight about everything, use force to get our way in the Middle East,” the senior Bush told biographer Jon Meacham.

Cheney accused Obama of having turned his back on more than 70 years of bipartisan consensus from presidents about maintaining freedom across the globe, maintaining a strong defense and military and “to be prepared to use it from time to time when necessary.”

The global instability everywhere from Syria to Iraq to Ukraine, he said, is the result of the Obama administration “presenting a case of weakness. ... It's going to be the work of years to reverse the damage Barack Obama has done to our military capabilities.”

Asked about the controversies surrounding Hillary Clinton's emails, he said he thinks she is “in big trouble.”

“I've got to believe that she knew she had to protect and safeguard classified information that she was guardian to as secretary of state,” he said.

And on Benghazi, he said she “misled the American people. I think it does raise, serious, serious doubts about her capacity to be president.”

If this is who the GOP candidates are taking their policy cues from, it tells you all you need to know about where they would take this country: backward.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the Democratic National Committee

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, and the chair of the DNC, said: “If this is who the GOP candidates are taking their policy cues from, it tells you all you need to know about where they would take this country: backward. This GOP field is endorsing the same reckless foreign policy ideas and the same failed economic and fiscal policies as the Bush-Cheney administration, and if they get control of the White House again, it would lead to the same disastrous results.”

After Thursday's fundraising dinner, the party activists move to Orlando's Rosen Shingle Creek resort for the two-day Sunshine Summit featuring all the major presidential candidates. The national media's attention clearly will be focused on how well received Bush and Rubio are before their home-state crowd.

“All eyes will be on Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio,” said Steve Scully, executive producer of C-SPAN's Road To The White House which will air the speeches of all 14 Republican candidates attending.

Some party activists wanted to hold a non-binding “straw poll” vote on the presidential field, but state party officials balked.

The summit begins at 10:30 a.m. Friday. Speakers include party chairman Blaise Ingoglia, Gov. Rick Scott, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Rubio, Senate candidate and U.S. Rep. David Jolly, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former party Chairman Al Cardenas, Senate candidate Todd Wilcox, Bush, Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner, Senate candidate and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, Donald Trump and Ben Carson.

Saturday speakers include Frank Luntz, Senate candidate and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, Rick Santorum, former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, state Rep. Mike Hill, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. Sen. Rand Paul, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Carly Fiorina.

Contact Adam C. Smith at asmith@tampabay.com. Follow @adamsmithtimes.

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