The Facts Machine

"And I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide"

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

SULLIVAN (& TFM) ON KERRY-MCCAIN

Here's the link. Please read it all, but in the meantime, here are a few noteworthy grafs:
Domestically, a Kerry-McCain ticket would also go a long way toward healing the Vietnam wound, now rubbed raw again by recent events in Iraq. The two men represent very different responses to that war, and could help unite their generation--finally!--over it. To have two combat veterans up against Bush and Cheney would also eviscerate Republican attempts to paint Kerry as weak on defense and in the war on terror. Besides, McCain represents a real and utterly unrepresented constituency in America: the fiscally conservative, socially tolerant hawks, usually described as "independents." By bringing these people into the Democratic big tent, Kerry could not only win the election, but help position the Democrats to regain majority status. It would be, for the Democrats, a strategic coup de main.

McCain, of course, is a Republican. But he has worked with many Democrats, including Kerry, and has been systematically excluded by the increasingly fundamentalist caste of the Republican establishment. On domestic issues, such as campaign finance reform, corporate scandals, and the deficit, he might actually be more comfortable in conservative Democratic ranks. He is pro-life, which makes him anathema to Democrats. But this year, with Kerry under fire from the Catholic hierarchy on the abortion question, picking McCain would enable the Democratic candidate to insist that there is real diversity within his own party, and that he respects those who disagree with him on abortion. His position would remain the same, but he could go a long way to reversing the unfortunate litmus test among Democrats and Republicans that abortion has become.

(...)

McCain could say that this national crisis demands that he put country ahead of party and serve. His loyalty to his party would therefore be trumped by loyalty to his country. Kerry could also say that his impulse is to be a "uniter, not a divider," and that, unlike Bush, he will actually show it in his pick for the vice-presidency. Their platform? Winning the war, cutting the deficit, reforming corporate excess. A Kerry-McCain ticket, regardless of the many difficulties, would, I think, win in a landslide. Will it happen? Still unlikely. But Abu Ghraib has shortened the odds; and the arguments for such a dramatic innovation just got a lot stronger.
I assume, then, that Sully's tone on this means that he endorses a Kerry-McCain ticket and would vote for it. I keep forgetting, is he a naturalized citizen? I think so.

I've given this a lot of thought, both right at this instant and in the past several weeks, and I have concluded that a Kerry-McCain ticket is a Good Idea. Does that render McCain my VP first choice? That's yet to be decided, but I'd feel very good if Kerry chose McCain.

That said, there are some issues that need to be explored.

--Abortion. Yeah, Sully brought this up in his article, and downplayed the issue's importance, at least as a party litmus test. I agree, I don't think abortion should be the be-all and end-all of partisan politics. Rudy Giuliani is pro-choice, and Dennis Kucinich was pro-life for a long time, and I don't begrudge either of them that. Perhaps McCain's position will evolve if he ends up on the ticket, but does it have to? The practical implications of a McCain vice presidency on the abortion issue are as follows:

1) Potentially one less anti-choice vote in the Senate (with a caveat, actually, two of them)
2) Kerry will be the one nominating Judges and Justices
3) McCain will be too old to run in 2012, and if he ascends to the Oval Office through other means (let's say Scaife funds a "Massachusetts Project"), I'd say he's very unlikely to use an anti-choice litmus test on his nominees.
4) McCain will be reasonably loyal to President Kerry

Okay, but there are still problems. As Vice President, John McCain would break ties in the Senate. Let's say the Senate is still evenly divided in 2005, and that the Republicans still control the House. The house passes an anti-choice bill on a party line. The Senate goes exactly 50-50 on the bill. Vice President McCain has to break the tie. What happens then? If Senate Republicans do a head-count and see the possibility of a 50-50 tie, they wouldn't hesitate to try to put that bastard turncoat McCain in a pickle like that. Does he vote based on his views and put Kerry in the awkward position of having to veto his own Vice President in a very public manner?

If McCain is to join the ticket, he needs to sit down with Kerry and the two of them need to work out precisely what they'll do in such a circumstance, to eliminate the possibility of future misunderstandings or public conflicts.

--Arizona. If McCain becomes the VP, wouldn't that leave a vacant Senate seat in Arizona? Arizona's governor, by the way, is a Democrat. Would she appoint a Democrat to replace McCain -- perhaps citing balance in her state against John Kyl and his arch-conservative voting record -- thus rendering 50-50 ties on abortion issues a much less likely possibility? (that wouldn't be the sole reason, but you get the point)

Generally, I'm not in favor of the whole "Senator from Party A retires, so Governor from Party B appoints someone from Party B" thing. I like special elections with hastily thrown-together campaigns (well, except for the one in California). However, given Tom DeLay's mid-decade redistricting tactics in Texas and Colorado, I wouldn't mind that much. We can't unilaterally disarm. In early 2001, the incoming Bushies courted Louisiana Senator John Breaux with the idea in mind that it would eliminate a Democratic vote in the Senate. So yeah, I'm fine with it.

By the way, McCain isn't retiring anyway is he? I get my Senators mixed up sometimes. Campbell's retiring, Graham's retiring, Zell's retiring (thank god), and Edwards is retiring (and he'll make a great Attorney General, by the way, that is if Spitzer doesn't get it). I feel like I heard something about McCain. Eh, maybe I'm confused.

--Defense. Well duh, that's precisely the point!

--Things McCain has said. One of the tiffs between McCain and Bush during the 2000 campaign was about how McCain compared Bush to -- gasp! -- Bill Clinton. And it wasn't in a positive, job-creation or peace-and-prosperity kinda way. Bush responded with a series of ads calling McCain's accusation over the line. How is all this going to go over with Democratic voters? True, this time around we've shown a pretty big pragmatic streak, and we'll be willing to overlook this stuff. And maybe we can chalk all that Clinton talk up to "stuff people say to win party primaries". But on some level, it must be an issue.

You'd better believe that the usual suspects -- Dick Morris, Bill Safire, George Will, Peggy Noonan, etc -- are going to have a field day trying to manufacture a rift between Kerry and the Clintons over a McCain Vice Presidency.

--Potential lines of attack for Bush. They finished off McCain in 2000 largely on a psychological angle. They painted him as a short-fused maniac who could blow at any minute. And now he's effectively jumping ship from the Republicans. Certainly they'll try to weave that development into the "flip flop" narrative they've created with John Kerry. They'll watch McCain's positions like a hawk, classifying any perceived leftward shift as a case of Kerry's disease oozing onto McCain.

At the end of the day, however, a Kerry-McCain ticket would be too strong on the issues that matter this election -- notably defense -- for the usual VRWC narrative techniques to take hold, or even matter that much. The media's response to Kerry's pick would be overwhelming. It would match a guy who has a generally lukewarm relationship with the press with a guy who's an undisputed media darling. The unprecedented coalition nature of the ticket would further enhance the usual bounce a candidate receives after their VP choice. And just as Sully points out, people who think Bush fucked up Iraq but as of yet do not fully trust Kerry to do better would suddenly have somewhere to go where they'd be very very comfortable.

Lastly,

The Vice Presidential debate. McCain versus Cheney. I love it!

P.S. Though I'd be very happy with a Kerry-McCain ticket, let me reiterate that I'm not officially endorsing the idea as my unqualified first choice, at least not yet.

P.P.S. Just a little reality check. Recent events have pushed the possibility of such a ticket from around 5% to around 10-12%, and that's it so far.

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