With more media fanfare than most of his other campaign events to date, Sen. John McCain is gathering with friends, political allies and three potential running mates this weekend at his Sedona, Arizona ranch this weekend.
The three — Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal — are coming to McCain’s ranch for what McCain advisor Charlie Black is (according to a Washington Post report) just a social event and nothing to do with the vice presidential selection process. Which is precisely the way pols tantalize us with the behind-the-scenes intrigue that may or may not be happening.
It’s unlikely that McCain would announce his pick on the basis of a weekend barbecue, but he’s had to be thinking about it in the three months since he secured the nomination. So what will Sen. McCain use as his criteria for a running mate? Do any of these gents meet them? And who could he be considering that we don’t yet know about?
Democrats usually pick someone by bargaining between pressure groups and candidates (which is why Hillary is trying to muscle in on Barack). Republicans sometimes work hard to come up with a surprise: a choice that is personal to the candidate that may even go against the advice of his campaign team.
Ronald Reagan sprang a small surprise by picking George H.W. Bush, a move that unified the Republican Party, joining the establishment Repubs in the Reagan Revolution (at least until election day). George H.W. Bush surprised the world in 1988 by picking the relatively unknown and quite young Sen. Dan Quayle of Indiana as his number two. George W. Bush tasked Dick Cheney to find him a good, solid conservative running mate and so he did: Dick Cheney.
Given McCain’s maverick nature, and his discomfort with some of the prominent members of his party, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect the unexpected when it comes to his choice.
McCain, like most candidates, wants someone who is on the same policy wavelength as he is. Speaking about the veep selection process in February, shortly after clinching the nomination, McCain said, “…the fundamental principle behind any selection of a running mate would be whether that person is fully prepared to take over and share your values, your principles, your philosophy, and your priorities. I think that’s the first and only real criteria for the selection of a running mate.” He said much the same again last month, adding that he didn’t think that the choice will greatly affect the November results.
So the maverick wants another maverick. That choice will not be easy to make. Congressional Quarterly’s recent poll of readers recommended former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee as McCain’s veep candidate. Huckabee is almost the same sort of maverick McCain is, agreeing with the “global warming” theory and the European “cap and trade” economy-killer as a solution to it. Though Huckabee’s strength among evangelical Christians would help McCain (and Huckabee has all but asked for the job) it’s an unlikely choice.
Of the three governors invited to this weekend’s event, each would bring to the ticket bring something McCain needs. Romney ran a good campaign, and is also quite conservative. Romney disagreed with McCain on several key issues in the campaign such as illegal immigration and use of harsh techniques to question terrorist prisoners. And — as reported in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday — the “Romneycare” mandatory health care plan he created is now apparently a runaway entitlement. It is, as the Journal reported, “…already trembling on the verge of bankruptcy inside of a year.” The distance between the two is probably too great to close easily. And McCain probably doesn’t want to have a running mate whose health care plan is tanking.
Louisiana Gov. Jindal, new to his job, is a solid conservative and — at the age of 36 — could offset concerns about McCain’s age. Jindal is energetic and imaginative, but can’t be called a maverick. And Jindal’s political star is rising at warp speed: a premature run for the Veep job could slow or stop his progress altogether. And to a degree his youth is an inhibiting factor. The press — eager to help Obama — would inevitably compare Jindal to Quayle in hope of mischaracterizing him as they did Quayle. (I knew Quayle to be intelligent and thoughtful from my dealings with him on the Senate Armed Services Committee before he became 41’s running mate. He was not the fool the press played him to be.) I’m betting Jindal means what he told our John Gizzi. He doesn’t want the job now. He’s too smart to do to himself what the unlucky Quayle did.
In the runup to the Florida primary in January, as one Republican strategist said at a recent dinner, rumors are that Sen. McCain obtained Gov. Charlie Crist’s hugely valuable endorsement by secretly offering him the veep slot. (McCain won the Florida primary by about 5 points over closest rival, Mitt Romney). The strategist said that he believed McCain is just playing the selection process out to announce it at the politically best time.
That Crist scenario is entirely possible, and not just because Crist could help McCain win Florida again in the fall. Crist is on McCain’s wavelength on global warming, is an enthusiastic tax-cutter and might do well in other states. But Crist isn’t without baggage, including 1970s-vintage adultery and drug use, which would be used by Democrats as an offset to their own candidates’ problems. Of the three visiting Sedona, Crist is the most likely choice for McCain.
So who’s left? Who might Mr. McCain be thinking about if not one of these three? This is the point at which a pundit veers into wishful thinking. Instead, who might McCain choose from among his closest allies?
Also present in Sedona will be McCain’s Senate acolyte, Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina. Graham is an anathematized by conservatives for reasons too many to list here. Choosing him would be fatal to McCain’s ambition of uniting the Republican Party.
HUMAN EVENTS has published interviews of all the likely choices (except Gov. Crist, and we plan to interview him soon). Who else is out there? Independent/Democrat Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut is also a McCain pal, but Lieberman — sensible on the war — is otherwise an unreconstructed New Deal liberal. He won’t be McCain’s choice because, like Graham, Lieberman would preclude party unification.
So, again, who? Let’s hope Sen. McCain selects a solid conservative, someone in whom those Republicans who still aren’t comfortable with McCain can invest their confidence and their votes.