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May 15, 2004
McCain: The Canary In The Mine of Democratic Desperation

The New York Times continues to insist that John Kerry wants Republican Senator John McCain to fill out the bottom of the Democratic ticket in November. Sheryl Gay Stolberg and reliable Kerry hack Jodi Wilgoren report from that even some Democrats often named as potential VP choices dream abut a Kerry-McCain ticket:

Despite weeks of steadfast rejections from Senator John McCain, some prominent Democrats are angling for him to run for vice president alongside Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, creating a bipartisan ticket that they say would instantly transform the presidential race.

The enthusiasm of Democrats for Mr. McCain, an Arizona Republican, is so high that even some who have been mentioned as possible Kerry running mates including Senator Bill Nelson of Florida and Bob Kerrey, the former Nebraska senator are spinning scenarios about a "unity government," effectively giving Mr. Kerry a green light to reach across the political aisle and extend an offer.

"Senator McCain would not have to leave his party," Mr. Kerrey said. "He could remain a Republican, would be given some authority over selection of cabinet people. The only thing he would have to do is say, `I'm not going to appoint any judges who would overturn Roe v. Wade,' " the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, which Mr. McCain has said he opposes.

Chris Lehane, a Democratic strategist who once worked for Mr. Kerry, said such a ticket "would be the political equivalent of the Yankees signing A-Rod," referring to Alex Rodriguez, the team's star third baseman.

This raises huge political issues for Democrats in 2004. First, McCain has repeatedly said that he won't agree to run on Kerry's ticket. In fact, McCain has publicly come out and endorsed George Bush, stating that "he has led the nation with strength and clarity since Sept. 11." For him to reverse himself and argue against Bush's re-election would destroy his credibility, the very quality for which Kerry needs McCain, thanks to Kerry's extremely flexible approach to policy principles. How would turning John McCain into a political opportunist benefit the Kerry campaign?

Next, in a narrow sense, all of this focus on McCain and his personal stories of courage as a panacea to what ails the Democratic ticket only emphasizes the very real problems Kerry has in this area. Kerry's entire campaign, thus far, has been to run on his biography, thinking that his experience under fire would simply flood the zone and reduce the amount of time speaking on policy. Unfortunately, his attempts to infuse what happened 35 years ago while declaring off-limits what happened in the years immediately following that time have been a disaster, and now Vietnam looms as more of a liability. McCain could fix that by association with Kerry, or so the Democrats quoted in the article imply.

Following that line of thought a bit farther, Wilgoren and Stolberg note that adding McCain would boost Kerry's credentials on the war on Islamofascist terror. Up to now, we had not heard any concern about credentials coming from the Kerry camp or the New York Times. However, you can feel that concern coming off in waves from this article. And again, it's interesting to note that in order to claim some gravitas on national security, Democrats have to turn to Republicans -- much like Bill Clinton did when he selected William Cohen.

In a larger sense, it also emphasizes a notion that the Times starts to explore, and that is that no other Democrat seems qualified to run with Kerry, or at least the Democrats begin to leave that impression with all of this McCain wooing. Bob Kerrey and Senator Bill Nelson of Florida go on record endorsing the notion that no one else is best suited for the Democratic VP nomination than a Republican. Either no one significant in the party wants to run with Kerry -- an indication of major difficulties in itself -- or the party admits that they can't field a qualified candidate. This desperate pursuit of a candidate for VP would be bad PR even if the candidate were from the same party, but in this case, it appears pathetic.

In the end, McCain won't do it, which only will embarrass the Democrats and make their eventual selection look like a consolation prize. If the Democrats continue to insist that the best selection for VP is a Republican, the voters may be forgiven for following the argument to its logical conclusion and decide that a Republican would be the best choice for President as well. (via Power Line)

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 15, 2004 9:15 AM

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