February 25, 2008

Two Potential Veeps To The Right

Byron York interviewed two of the men mentioned most often as potential running mates for John McCain, governors Tim Pawlenty and Mark Sanford. Both men enthusiastically supported McCain in the primaries, but both men have significant policy differences with McCain on the nominee's signature issues -- immigration and campaign-finance reform. How they reconcile themselves to McCain may prove instructive to the rest of the field, and may give conservatives reason for hope in both men:

On Sunday, I spoke with two leading contenders for the McCain ticket, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, both in Washington for the annual meeting of the National Governors’ Association. While each expressed strong support for McCain, neither would deny differences with the candidate on two of the issues that have caused McCain the greatest trouble with the conservative base: immigration and campaign-finance reform. ....

Both men praised McCain’s desire to fix the system — “I don’t begrudge him for trying to do something on that,” Sanford told me — but it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that both think McCain’s reform crusade was profoundly misguided.

Yet both enthusiastically support McCain, and both stressed to me that, in light of their agreement with him on big issues like Iraq, the war on terror, and federal spending, their differences on a few other issues did not diminish their zeal to help him win election in November. “John McCain is a conservative,” Pawlenty told me. “Now, there are some particular issues that have disappointed conservatives. He acknowledges that, and he has got some work to do to convince and reassure people that he is in fact a conservative…. But if you look at the totality of his record over the total time he’s been in Congress, it would seem to be unfair and incomplete to label him as something other than a conservative. And if the definition of conservative is going to be so narrowly construed as to only be those things to the right of John McCain, we’re going to have a fairly narrow market share.”

Both men have received quite a bit of attention from those making early VP predictions. Both have recently won re-election as governors, and both have been at least center-right in their governance, with Sanford probably more reliably conservative and Pawlenty dealing with a more opposition-dominated legislature. Both governors are relatively young and potentially good candidates for a later presidential run for the GOP.

Conservatives have expressed a great deal of hesitation in climbing aboard McCain bandwagon, mostly on the basis of the two issues York mentions. They may find themselves energized by the addition of a running mate willing to dissent on McCain's positions on immigration and on the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, better known as McCain-Feingold.

Pawlenty and Sanford both give gentle but firm opposition to McCain's efforts on both in this interview -- which normally would signal a presidential nominee to avoid them as running mates. However, in this instance both men could make excellent emissaries to the conservative wing of the party. They can lay out the thinking conservative's case for enthusiasm in McCain better than anyone else, and at the same time lay out their own cases for higher public office in the post-McCain phase. It promises a means to influence in the next administration and grooming more palatable conservatives for the future.

McCain will make his own decision on a running mate, but he may not get better choices than Pawlenty or Sanford. If he chooses a partner willing to dissent with him on these two issues, he will send a signal of openness to the Right that should help build more enthusiasm for his campaign.

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