There are also positive reasons for dumping Mr Cheney. Bringing in a fresh face as vice-president would suggest that the second Bush term will be more than just a re-run of the first. It would also allow Mr Bush to add someone to the ticket who has a better chance of attracting swing voters than a retired CEO from a solid Republican state.
Who might that be? Rudy Giuliani might burnish Mr Bush's reputation for fighting terrorism, though he is not known for his ability to play second fiddle. Condoleezza Rice might do something to neutralise the Democrats' traditional advantage among blacks and women. But some Republicans would rather turn to Bill Owens, the governor of Colorado. There are signs that Mr Kerry is planning to write off the South in order to concentrate on loosening the Republicans' hold on the south-west. What better way to check this threat than to add the Republican Party's brightest western star to the ticket?
It hardly needs saying that replacing Mr Cheney would have to be done with the utmost finesse. Otherwise, it might seem that the Bush White House was falling apart. Mr Cheney would have to retire gracefully, blaming his dodgy heart (he has already had four heart attacks) and no doubt accepting a post as senior counsellor from a grief-stricken president. Persuading such a powerful vice-president to step aside will be no easy thing, of course. But the Bushes don't have a reputation as the Corleone family of the Republican Party for nothing. The next time Mr Cheney takes that jet to go duck-shooting, he may well find James Baker slipping into the seat behind him, with “a litl' proposal to discuss for the good of the party”.
I'm betting on Giuliani because the convention will be held in New York and because he, like the entire Bush administration, owes whatever political legacy he might have to 9-11-01.