Laboring, I suspect, under the erroneous impression that it will hurt him, the New
York Times has recycled yet again the "news" that in 2001 Sen. John McCain
contemplated switching parties, and that in 2004 Sen. John Kerry asked Sen. McCain
to be his running mate.
"The episodes shed light on a bitter period in Mr. McCain's life after the 2000
presidential election, when he was, at least in policy terms, drifting away from his
own party," wrote Elisabeth Bumiller last Monday.
Neither story is news. "For Kerry aides, McCain would fit the bill as running
mate," read the headline of a Boston Globe story April 6, 2004.
"Democrats say McCain nearly abandoned GOP," said the Capitol Hill newspaper the
Hill on March 28, 2007. The Hill was recycling a rumor which first appeared in
June, 2001. At that time Sen. McCain said: "I have no intention of leaving the
Republican party, nor have I ever displayed any intention."
In the course of beating these dead horses, Ms. Bumiller acknowledged "there are
wildly divergent versions of both episodes, depending on whether Democrats or Mr.
McCain and his advisers are telling the story." The facts that Sen. McCain didn't
switch parties or become Sen. Kerry's running mate suggests the McCain camp's
account is closer to what happened.
The New York Times evidently hoped to increase disgruntlement among conservatives
unhappy with Sen. McCain for his frequent deviations from Republican orthodoxy. But
most conservatives are already familiar with these stories, and most of the few who
aren't tend not to be regular readers of the New York Times.
However, many independents and Democrats who will be unhappy if the candidate they
prefer does not win the increasingly bitter fight for the Democratic nomination do
read the New York Times. How better to reassure them that Sen. McCain is a safe
alternative if their preferred candidate doesn't win than to suggest that Sen.
McCain contemplated becoming a Democrat?
President Bush won two elections through base mobilization. But because of the
unpopularity of the president and earmark-addicted GOP senators and
representatives, the Republican base is dispirited this year. This election will be
won in the center, as most elections have been in the past. I suspect Sen. McCain
is grateful to the New York Times for burnishing his independent, centrist
With the demolition derby in the Democratic party taking center stage, Sen. McCain
largely has been banished to the wings. This hasn't hurt him. He's overtaken both
Sen. Obama and Sen. Clinton in head to head polls.
Once the Democrats select a nominee, the gap almost certainly will close. Sen.
McCain needs to use the time when Sen. Obama and Sen. Clinton are sniping at each
other to increase the stature gap between him and them.
Sen. McCain's credentials on national security policy are unassailable. But if
there are no attacks on our homeland and Iraq remains relatively quiet, domestic
economic concerns will dominate the fall campaign. Sen. McCain's credentials here
are not so strong (though stronger than those of either Sen. Obama or Sen. Clinton.)
Radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt has a suggestion for burnishing those credentials:
"If Sen. McCain selected a running mate early and set about the country with a team
of advisers that will accompany him into the executive branch in some capacity, the
contrast with the rapidly deteriorating Democratic front bench would be profound."
An additional benefit of Mr. Hewitt's suggestion would be to put more distance
between Sen. McCain and the Bush administration. So I think naming a vice
presidential candidate early would be a good idea. But who?
I argued in a column Feb. 3 that the best running mate for Sen. McCain would be
Chris Cox, currently the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. I'm
pleased to see others since then have been touting him, too, most recently Brendan
Miniter in the Wall Street Journal last Tuesday. Picking him early would give the
country more time to become familiar with this extraordinary man.
Mr. Cox remains my first choice. But Mitt Romney's been growing on me. His
credentials as an economic turnaround artist are as unassailable as Sen. McCain's on
defense. And the Democrats through amazing stupidity have put Michigan in
Mr. Romney is more likely than any other to turn that state from blue to red.