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Jewish World Review June 6, 2001 / 16 Sivan, 5761

Jules Witcover

Jules Witcover
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McCain doth protest too much

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- IT may well be that the only reason Republican Sen. John McCain entertained Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle at his digs in Sedona, Ariz., over last weekend was to gaze at the sagebrush. But the timing and circumstances that provided the backdrop for their cozy meeting made more speculation of a McCain party switch inevitable.

With Sen. Jim Jeffords' leap to independent party status fresh in the public mind, it was only natural that the little get-together would send tongues wagging of yet another political love affair - or at least a soft Democratic shoulder for another unrequited Republican to cry on.

One or more of McCain's own political aides fanned the speculation with reports of conversations with other Democrats and McCain insiders about the chances of a third-party bid for the presidency in 2004 - if he finds himself mishandled by President Bush between now and then.

Amid all the chatter, McCain put out a statement saying he had "not instructed nor engaged any of my advisers to begin planning for a residential run in 2004," and that he had "no intention of running for president, nor do I have any intention of, or cause to, leave the Republican Party." Then he added: "I hope this will put an end to future speculation on this subject."

John, you had to be kidding. In the wake of the Jeffords bombshell and the damage it is expected to inflict on the Bush agenda by putting the Senate in Democratic hands, it will take a lot more than you saying it ain't so to still the delicious fence gossip about a resumption of your feud with the Bush kid.

The report that the junior Bush himself phoned you in Sedona during the Daschle visit to inquire about your intentions suggested more than a bit of concern on his part, which must have given you a good chuckle. Indeed, the more all this speculation continues, the more you continue to crowd him in the GOP spotlight.

More than that, as long as talk reaches the White House that you may go off the reservation, the more unlikely it would seem that your pet legislative project, campaign finance reform, would face a presidential veto.

You were quoted elsewhere over the weekend, John, as saying one White House slight wouldn't send you over the side, and that "it would have to be an accumulation of things that would force me out of the party, and right now I don't envision that scenario transpiring." That sounds like a warning not to push you too far.

In all the McCain speculation, one reality about him is getting short shrift, and that is, he is not Jim Jeffords. Although McCain came off in last year's Republican presidential primaries as a moderate in comparison with the likes of Steve Forbes and Bush himself, the fact is, he is a solid conservative on most issues.

Jeffords had become a true outsider in today's GOP. McCain is an outsider only in the sense that he revels in marching to his own drummer, and that his aggressive style sets him apart from the knee-jerk conservatives of the Republican Party, like Trent Lott.

McCain is not generally viewed in the same light as the small coterie of Republican moderates in the Senate that includes Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, and maybe one or two others. His avowed loyalty to the GOP and intention to stay in its ranks cannot be dismissed easily. At the same time, however, temperamentally he is not one to turn the other cheek when he feels he has been mistreated.

There is just enough orneriness in John McCain to let one imagine him, if he considers himself abused or if the issues he cares about are detoured, throwing his own bombshell into the Bush calculations and agenda. So don't take too seriously any McCain expressions of dismay about all this speculation that he may leave his party, become an independent and run for the presidency again.

In terms of attracting public attention for one's favorite issues, there's nothing like being a presidential candidate. And in the years between elections, there's nothing like being considered a possible candidate to capture the ear of the public and press. Methinks McCain doth protest too much.


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06/04/01: Memo to the Bush daughters
05/30/01: Missing in action: Democratic outrage
05/30/01: Honoring World War II vets
05/23/01: Lauding the Nixon pardon
05/21/01: Messin' with McCain
05/18/01: A great movie plot
05/16/01: The level of public sensibility these days
05/14/01: "I am Al Gore. I used to be the next president of the United States"

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