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Draft Cheney? Conservatives Have Competing Visions Over Former VP's Role

President Obama and former Vice President Cheney

A drawing and partial graphic of President Obama and former Vice President Richard Cheney(AP)

Dick Cheney is clearly enjoying private life, settling into his role as the foremost defender of the Bush administration and one of President Obama's fiercest sideline critics. 

But some people are asking: Is that all you got?

As unlikely as it sounds -- and even though Cheney himself describes it as absurd -- a movement is afoot to "draft" Cheney into running for president in 2012. Some conservatives want the former vice president to do more than just beat Obama in the press. They want him to beat the president in the polls, too. 

Public discontent and anger toward Cheney and the rest of the Bush administration are widely blamed for the success of Democratic candidates in 2006 and 2008. Many Republicans in Congress have taken pains to distance themselves from the Bush years; one of the most withering attacks against John McCain during the 2008 presidential campaign was that he represented a third Bush term. 

But Christopher Barron, who last week filed papers to launch his "Draft Cheney 2012" group and Web site, says Republicans need Cheney -- that he's the only one with the experience and conservative credentials necessary to lead the party at a critical juncture in its quest for identity and dominance. 

He knows Cheney is opposed to the idea. But that doesn't matter. 

"We know that Dick Cheney doesn't want to run for president," Barron said. "This is about convincing the former vice president that we need him to run." 

Barron, a political consultant and former political director for the Log Cabin Republicans, said his organization is already attracting contributions and hundreds of followers who want to see Cheney do more with his life. 

"This is one of those seminal moments in the history of our party. ... What is this party going to stand for?" Barron said. "And I think there is only one man who is capable of bringing the entire Republican coalition together and speaking with clarity about the values that have made our party great. And that is Vice President Cheney." 

So much for moving to the center. 

But even among conservative Republicans, Cheney is far from the top choice to lead a Republican resurgence in Washington. 

In a poll conducted by The Washington Post last month, only one in about 800 people who lean Republican picked Cheney as the person who best reflects GOP principles. 

Last February, when the Conservative Political Action Conference conducted its straw poll asking attendees whom they'd pick in 2012, Cheney's name wasn't even on the list. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee topped that roster. 

And Cheney, who already decided once not to run when President Bush's term expired, says he has zero interest in returning to politics. Cheney also has had four heart attacks and would be 71 in 2012. 

"Why would I want to do that?" he said in a recent interview with Politico.com. "It's been a hell of a tour. I've loved it. I have no aspirations for further office." 

The man whose extensive career took him from chief of staff under President Gerald Ford to member of Congress to defense secretary to vice president has what appears to be a more satisfying vocation: defending George W. Bush's administration against any and all attacks from the Obama administration. He's gone from the shadows of the Bush administration to the glaring spotlight of the interview and lecture circuit. 

When Obama started the process of closing Guantanamo Bay and limiting CIA interrogation methods, Cheney blasted him. 

When Attorney General Eric Holder decided to begin a probe into Bush-era CIA interrogations, Cheney blasted him. 

When White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said the new national security team had to start from scratch with Afghanistan because the Bush administration left it "adrift," Cheney blasted him -- and accused Obama of "dithering." 

When Holder announced that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other alleged 9/11 conspirators would be tried in a civilian court on American soil, Cheney blasted him. 

He's also dabbled in playing kingmaker, or queenmaker, endorsing Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in the race for Texas governor over incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Perry

Scott Stanzel, former deputy press secretary to Bush, said Cheney will probably never be convinced to run for president. 

"I don't believe that Dick Cheney has any desire to run for office again and I take him at his word," Stanzel said, adding that he's "very influential" in the role he's already in. 

"There are a lot of people out there who feel strongly about his service, but that's not to say they are advocating for him to run for president," he said. "I do not think his desire is to define the Republican Party. ... He is almost solely focused on defending the policies of the Bush administration." 

Cheney is certainly able to get a rise out of Democrats almost every time he rebuts. 

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and Vice President Joe Biden have both slammed back at Cheney. After Cheney claimed the president was projecting "weakness" in a recent interview by "agonizing" over his war plan, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Tuesday that Cheney's got little room to talk. 

"They started something," Hoyer said of the Bush administration. "Frankly, they turned tail. I get pretty angry when I hear the vice president talk about something they didn't finish." 

And the idea of Cheney running has generated a slew of punchy, Chuck Norris joke-esque slogans on the Internet, including: "I know what the hell I'm doing" and "I already control everything -- let's just make it official" and "The only time I'll bow before a foreign leader is in preparation for an uppercut." 

After Cheney's daughter, Liz, casually, and perhaps jokingly threw out the idea of "Cheney 2012" on "Fox News Sunday" last month, comedian Jay Leno chimed in on the idea: 

"In fact, that's apparently in the Mayan calendar too, you know. Cheney becomes president, and then the whole world ends. That's exactly what happens," he said. Bu-dum-ching. 

So late-night comedy would surely have no problem with a Cheney bid taking off. That's material. 

But Barron said the attention Cheney receives just goes to show how influential he is and could be as a candidate. 

"Every time Dick Cheney speaks, it grabs the attention of the entire party and the entire country," he said. 

While the Post poll showed him with scant public backing, another November poll conducted by "60 Minutes" and Vanity Fair showed 10 percent of people view Cheney as the country's most influential conservative voice -- the same percentage that Palin drew. Radio host Rush Limbaugh was the top pick, with 26 percent. 

Barron is planning an all-fronts campaign to push his candidate. He plans to have a presence at the Conservative Political Action Conference meeting next year. His group is on Facebook and Twitter and is selling an array of merchandise from "Draft Dick Cheney 2012" mouse pads to coffee mugs to bumper stickers to shirts. Barron said he'll move next to travel to events sponsored by the conservative Tea Party activists to try to attract more followers. 

It's unclear whether he'll find an audience. While the Tea Party crowd got involved in the upstate New York Congressional District 23 race to support third-party candidate Doug Hoffman -- who narrowly lost -- the activists are more focused on pushing conservative economic policy than the hawkish foreign policy that Cheney represents. 

"He's just not a name that comes up one way or the other," said Jenny Beth Martin, a Republican Tea Party activist in Atlanta. "He's just not quite on our radar and what we're focusing on right now." 

Fox News' Chad Pergram contributed to this report.