Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The 'Vox Republican ticket: McCain*-??? 2008

As the John McCain Straight Talk Express meanders toward the Republican Convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul, this September, speculation’s growing about who McCain will tap for the VP spot. The list is a long one — some longshots, a few chin-pullers — and only sporadically exciting.

But behind the parlor-game speculation of who McCain’s running mate will be, a growing chorus of whispers is asking how strong a McCain presidential ticket would be in any iteration. Besides the concerns he’s raised for the public all year long for a variety of political and ethical contradictions, missteps and falsehoods, add now the documented swirl of suspicions about the solidity of the McCain marriage.

It's hard to draw a bead on his best options. McCain needs a counter, someone to counterbalance his national-security meme with economic gravitas. The logical choice would be Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor whose financial expertise was a big selling point for him during the primary season.

McCain and Romney have reportedly settled their past differences, but who knows how that would hold up on the campaign trail? Chuck Hagel’s name has been mentioned, but the Nebraska senator been a thorn in the boot of the Republican base for his stance on the Iraq war. The fact that Hagel’s said to have been on the short and medium lists for the Obama VP spot would seem to eliminate him outright as a possibility for a place on the McCain ticket. Kay Bailey Hutchinson might siphon off some women voters still angry with Obama about Hillary Clinton, but McCain-Hutchinson is hardly exciting. Richard Lugar’s older than McCain is; adding him would be a nightmare for anyone entertaining the idea of opening the GOP to younger voters.

◊ ◊ ◊

Of course, these scenarios all have one constant assumption: that it’s John McCain at the top of the ticket. Steve Rosenbaum would care to differ.

In a thought-provoking piece in Tuesday’s Huffington Post, Rosenbaum proposes the (‘til now) unthinkable: “McCain will not be the Republican candidate in November. …

“The reasons are simple. He can't win. Now that Obama is the presumptive Democratic nominee -- the polls all show that McCain's pro-war stance and Bush endorsement make him a lost cause in November. That combined with soft stands on litmus-test conservative issues make him an unpopular candidate among the base.”

The question, then, is: who’s next? HuffPost graciously included a list of possibles, including some of the usual suspects (Romney, Condoleezza Rice, Mike Huckabee), the second-tier possibles (Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, Hagel) and other names motivated more by short-term electoral gains than long-term governance (Colorado Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, Florida Gov. 
Charlie Crist, Louisiana Gov. 
Bobby Jindal, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, among them). 

A long list of unlikelies, to be sure. But one name on the list warms the brain stem. Wanna start a conversation at a cocktail party (or a fight)? Float this:

Colin Powell 2008.

Think about it. If the Republicans decided to bail on McCain, they could do worse. Way worse.

◊ ◊ ◊

Consider the electricity factor. If there’s anything in this political world that could shock and dazzle the American electorate about the Republican party, that would be it: a massive defibrillator for the GOP, and the kind of existentially daring choice the Republicans have been loathe to make for decades.

You want change? Think of one of the most widely respected Americans alive at the top of the GOP ticket — whoever else is on the ticket. Not to suggest the VP spot is irrelevant, but the emotional charge is generated from the top. Powell would steal much of Obama’s groundbreaking luster as an African American presidential contender. In one thunderous stroke, the prospect of a black American president would be transformed from a possibility to a forgone conclusion. His presence could stem the bleeding expected among Reagan Democrats and independents uninspired by McCain and inclined to vote for Obama.

And how better for the Republicans to tell the nation that they mean to take ending the war in Iraq seriously? Powell was deceived by the Bush administration he worked for. He personally petitioned President Bush not to begin the Iraq war. His insistence on exhausting nonviolent and diplomatic approaches to dealing with prewar Iraq made him a reluctant warrior on the Iraq-war issue. Time away from the worst of that war’s prosecution, and his principled stand on war as a last resort, work for him with a nation still disposed to recognize him as that rare commodity: a general and a statesman.

If the Republicans want to keep Team Obama up nights, this is the way to do it.

◊ ◊ ◊

And then there’s the one we first considered in December 2006 …

James Baker:

“In a time when the Party is under siege as much from within as from without; when scandals from carnal to financial have undercut the confidence of the party faithful; when the enemy runs Congress; when minorities are deserting the party, lowering percentages that were weak to start with, there’s no danger at all in riding the right dark horse to victory. James Baker is precisely the kind of tough, smart, experienced, pragmatic, multi-hyphenate operator the party needs in order to win.”

Those problems with the Republican Party have gotten worse since the end of 2006, a few months after the GOP suffered a thoroughly Iraq war-related drubbing in the midterm elections that brought Democrats back to power in Congress. As a former Secretary of the Treasury (among his other stations of the cross in Washington), Baker would bring the serious weight of past experience to repairing the national economy. With a reputation for Goodwrenching a number of other seemingly intractable problems, Baker may be just what the Republicans need.

◊ ◊ ◊

If, of course, they decide they don’t need John McCain. It’s hard to know how serious the Republican Party is about being (or being perceived as) the change agent in this election. There’s still the high probability that, content to dig in their heels and ride the horse than got ‘em this far, McCain may remain the nominee.

There's reason he should be. He's stood the test of a primary campaign season, besting a number of game challengers. Any seismic shift in McCain’s presumptive status as nominee would only add fuel to the GOP-in-chaos narrative that’s been quietly building around him for weeks already. With the high risk of alienating the millions who voted for him, and a strong chance that voters would interpret a move away from McCain as a sign of party weakness and a tacit admission of probable defeat, making a change is likely to create as many problems as it solves.

Given time, McCain may fully develop the consistency of positions, the calmness of delivery and the perfection of stagecraft that his campaign sorely needs. He’s been slowly about the process of, well, humanizing himself for the country. In his appearances of “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” McCain has played the willing (even eager) object of Stewart’s sly interrogations; that kind of self-deprecation goes a long way in our culture.

But we’ll see. We’re almost to the All-Star break, and the convention is in early September. Who’d have thought this in March — that the party about to be handed a three-month-plus edge in time for planning and preparation for November would be way behind the party whose intraparty squabbles ended in June?

If there's any truth to rumors about his personal issues, what faces the Republicans now may be gut-check time. Is it possible that, this close to the election, the next standard-bearer of the party might actually have an asterisk attached to his name — “ * " denoting, as it often does, "subject to change”?
Image credits: McCain and big flag: T toes, republished under Attribution ShareAlike LIcense 2.0. Powell and Baker: Public domain.

1 comment:

  1. This just in (Muncie Free Press) from Indiana's leading political analyst and commentator, Brian Howey:

    "My Prediction: A month ago, I would have been comfortable predicting a McCain-Romney ticket. But if McCain wants to attract Hillary Clinton voters, he might look at young, attractive Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin who is creating considerable buzz these days. If I had to bet: McCain-Palin. At this point, I think the gender opportunity trumps geography."


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