What today's GOP can learn from Dick Cheney
© Getty Images

Last week, former Vice President Cheney visited Capitol Hill as a guest of Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseScalise blasts Democratic legislation on gun reforms Liz Cheney calls for 'proportional military response' against Iran On The Money: Senate panel scraps vote on key spending bill amid standoff | Democrats threaten to vote against defense bill over wall funding | Trump set to meet with aides about reducing capital gains taxes MORE (R-La.) and addressed the House Republican whip team. Contrary to conventional wisdom, both GOP majorities could learn a lot from Cheney — hopefully they listened carefully.

Despite the unfair shake he gets from the media as well as Democrats — excuse the redundancy — Cheney is one the greatest statesmen of this generation. People with resumes like Cheney's should be praised and have buildings named after them. He served as White House chief of staff, in the House of Representatives, as secretary of Defense and as vice president, all with distinction, dedicating most of his adult life to public service.

ADVERTISEMENT

I wasn't at the meeting with Cheney and Scalise, but thinking about Cheney's career, four tenets come to mind that the GOP should take to heart if they hope to maintain majorities.

1. Spend more time worrying about getting things done, not who gets the credit. An incredible amount of energy in Washington, today is personality-driven, much more so than in previous decades or administrations. Who is "driving the day?" Who is up and who is down? Who appeared on cable news last night? Whom did Jon Stewart zing?

Cheney never spent much time trying to get public credit for anything, and it served him well. Focus on the substance of what matters: national security, domestic issues and global affairs. Getting sidetracked with the politics of personality is a mistake. As Cheney asked rhetorically in 2004, "Am I the evil genius in the corner that nobody ever sees come out of his hole? It's a nice way to operate, actually."

2. Don't be afraid to be a wolf in sheep's clothing, so to speak. Sometimes, perception is reality. When Cheney was nominated to be secretary of Defense in 1989 after the failed nomination of Sen. John Tower (R-Texas), he was seen by both Democrats and Republicans as a middle-of-the-road, rock-solid choice for the position.

A 55-45 Democratic-controlled Senate confirmed Cheney 92-0 in 1989. As hard as it might be to believe, Cheney was essentially former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates several decades earlier. Just as Gates was viewed as the polar opposite of his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld, Cheney was the antithesis of Tower. Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) said Cheney was "an excellent leadership example for the men and women in the U.S. military establishment." Even the Los Angeles Times, in an incredibly ironic statement, said "Cheney, whose background in national security is strongest on intelligence issues, also becomes a key player in the Bush Administration's most sweeping review of American strategy."

Cheney would tell you he hasn't changed and has always been conservative; he was just somehow perceived as moderate. Similarly, House Republicans would be better off viewed as lambs as opposed to lions. Tone it down and good things will happen.

3. Above all else, think about the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the rise of radical Islamic extremism and how we can crush their efforts. As vice president, Cheney started every day with a singular focus: keeping America safe in a world governed by post-9/11 realities. Today, just as it was then, elected officials should focus on the issue that matters most. As a nation, we must defeat ISIS in the Middle East and not let the battle come to our homeland again.

4. Loyalty still means something. The loyalty Cheney showed President George W. Bush during their eight years together is incredible. This is particularly true after reading a book like Days of Fire, written by Peter Baker, where it becomes clear that Cheney and Bush had major disagreements, especially in the second term.

Tea Party "conservatives" need to realize that when Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) looks good, they look good. When Scalise looks good, they look good. Publicly shaming and undercutting leadership and threatening coups are not the ways to secure long-term majorities or short-term policy gains. If these "conservatives" aren't careful, they might find themselves pushing for principle as a minority, instead of governing as a majority.

Currently, we have the worst foreign policy and most ineffective president of the United States since Jimmy Carter. It is imperative for the GOP majorities in the House of Representatives and Senate to get as many substantive things done as possible. To get there, they’d be wise to heed the example of Dick Cheney.

DeCleene served as Vice President Cheney's deputy press secretary from 2004 to 2005, traveling with him to over 30 states. Currently, DeCleene is a partner at kglobal, a Washington-based firm focusing on public affairs and public relations.