The most powerful V.P. in U.S. history; the administration's essential man; highly conservative to the point of being ideological -- V.P. Dick Cheney.
At a crucial moment during diplomacy over North Korea's nuclear ambitions this year, Vice President Cheney late one night persuaded President Bush to draft new, more hard-edged instructions for U.S. negotiators in Beijing -- which Secretary of State Colin L. Powell only learned about the next day.
And during negotiations on last year's tax-cut bill, when House and Senate Republican lawmakers were barely on speaking terms, it was Cheney who went up to Capitol Hill and in a series of closed-door meetings cut through animosity and arranged the deal that passed the Senate by a single vote -- his own.
Cheney, who tonight debates his Democratic challenger, Sen. John Edwards (N.C.), is arguably the most powerful vice president in U.S. history. He is also the administration's essential man.
He roams across the foreign and domestic policy landscape, identifying issues on which he can make a difference. When he chooses to insert himself into the process, he is a powerful force for resolving problems -- or an unmovable roadblock that thwarts the agenda of others, especially Powell.
"Time after time, he has co-opted the leadership and policy-shaping role that the national security adviser or secretary of state usually has."
He is not a monster. He is not Darth Vader," he said. "He is a very purposeful, thoughtful guy, but highly conservative to the point of being ideological."
"He is the quintessential policy wonk. We would give him three-inch-thick binders full of information, and he would read every single page, every fact and figure."
Lawrence B. Lindsey, director of the National Economic Council in the first half of Bush's term, said the outside image of Cheney as a Machiavellian figure inside the administration may stem in part from the way he absorbs information.
Though Cheney's immediate staff is relatively small, the vice president has allies sprinkled throughout the administration. Rothkopf said Cheney has "an unprecedented virtual staff, especially in Defense, which he has worked very effectively."