To Darth Vader’s theme music, Dick Cheney wows GOP crowd

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Dick Cheney. (Tom Benitez/Orlando Sentinel via AP)
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Marc Caputo

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LAKE BUENA VISTA — Dick Cheney embraced his inner-Darth Vader on Thursday night.

As the dark theme music that accompanies the Star Wars villain played, Cheney took the stage at the Republican Party of Florida’s Statesman’s Dinner and wasted little time savaging the record of President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

While Cheney was unsparing in targeting the Democrats, he said nothing of the recent criticisms of former President George H.W. Bush, who reportedly called him an “iron ass” for the way he handled foreign policy when he was vice president under George W. Bush, according to a press pool report of the event that featured about 970 GOP activists.

Cheney stayed tightly focused on Obama and Clinton. He criticized the president for what he said was a weak foreign policy. And he zeroed in on Clinton’s controversial use of private email as secretary of state and the fatal terrorist attacks on a diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, when she led the State Department.

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“I think she’s in big trouble,” Cheney said of Clinton, the leading Democratic presidential candidate. “If she did do something wrong in her capacity as secretary of state, I think that would say a lot about whether she should be elected to be the commander in chief — I don’t think she should be.” 

Cheney’s appearance wasn’t just celebrated by the crowd. It was relished by state and national Democrats who took turns pot-shotting the unpopular former vice president who is most identified with the misleading case for war in Iraq.

“Dick Cheney (?!?!) is the GOP’s guest of honor this week,” blared the YouTube headline of a Democratic National Committee video that highlighted Cheney’s claims that in early 2003, Iraq was actively developing weapons of mass destruction and that, if the United States invaded, “we will in fact be greeted as liberators.”

Meanwhile, Florida Democrats released a snippet of a 2015 White House Correspondents Dinner joke from Obama: “A few weeks ago, Dick Cheney says he thinks I’m the worst president of his lifetime, which is interesting because I think Dick Cheney is the worst president of my lifetime.”

Cheney has shrugged off the Democratic attacks for years and even laughed at them, especially when he was compared to Darth Vader. During a 2011 radio interview with host Laura Ingraham, she jokingly played Darth Vader’s theme music (called “The Imperial March”) and Cheney said “I love the music and Star Wars reference. I was honored to be compared to Darth Vader.” He said he had dressed up as the Sith Lord for Halloween one year while living in the vice president's mansion.

On Thursday, Republicans cheered and chuckled when he appeared on stage to the accompaniment of “The Imperial March,” but a few groused about the message his appearance sent.

One Jeb Bush donor said Cheney’s appearance was “really dumb unless you want to cause grief for Jeb,” pointing out that Cheney was “architect of [his] brother’s most-controversial policies and subject of papa’s new book rant, all while you are desperately trying to be a ‘disruptor’ and not talk about W.”

A few Republicans groused that, following Cheney, Sen. Marco Rubio spoke briefly. Republican Party activist Deanna Ortner said in a string of Twitter messages that Republican Party of Florida Chairman Blaise Ingoglia was unfairly aiding the presidential candidate, whom he supported in 2010 for U.S. Senate. She chided Rubio because he “failed to distance himself from inappropriate @RPOF endorsement.” She called on Ingoglia to “resign.”

Jeb Bush was unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict, although he and the other candidates will address party activists Friday and Saturday at the state party’s Sunshine Summit.

In his speech, Cheney shied away from discussing the Bush family. And when he talked about “our great presidents” he made sure to say Ronald Reagan’s name, not George W. or George H. W. Bush’s. Cheney also plugged his book, written with daughter Liz Cheney, titled “Exceptional: Why the world needs a strong America.” 

“We wrote it because we became convinced that the state of affairs in terms of national security policy had taken a very bad turn,” Cheney said, calling Obama’s policies from the Middle East to Afghanistan to China a type of “weakness” that’s “provocative” to dictators and strong men like Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“My impression is that Obama is eager to get out of town,” Cheney said. “I’m eager to have him get out of town.”