“I won’t do it.” “I will not be a candidate and I mean that.” “I will not be vice president of the United States.” “I have totally ruled it out,” says John McCain.
Why won’t the Democrats leave the Arizona Senator alone? And why would they nominate a Republican for the second highest office in the land? It’s not because they’re hoping McCain’s presence will tempt Republicans to vote for Kerry. Most GOP party loyalists showed their clear preference for George W. Bush over McCain in the 2000 primaries. But with the electorate so polarized this year, the Dems hope they can appeal to moderate, independent voters who are tired of partisan bickering. McCain hung on as long as he did in the 2000 primaries because moderates and independents backed him.
And during a time of war, two decorated veterans are better than one, especially when Bush spent Vietnam defending the skies over Texas in the national guard and Dick Cheney sought repeated academic deferments. McCain’s the only Vietnam vet in the Senate with more medals than Kerry. He also adds balance to the ticket. Kerry is a northwestern liberal, while McCain lives in the Southwest, home to the three crucial swing states of Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada. Opponents criticize Kerry for waffling on the issues and for seeming aloof. McCain shows an almost religious devotion to his causes like campaign finance reform and is brashly outspoken. He’s also known for having little patience for partisan politics. He’s co-chairman of Bush’s campaign in Arizona, but when the President’s advisers started taking potshots at Kerry’s war record last month, McCain said publicly they ought to knock it off.
Such independence hasn’t won McCain many friends in his own party. When a reporter asked House Speaker Denny Hastert Wednesday about a recent comment by McCain, Hastert said, “Who?” “John McCain.” “Where’s he from?” “He’s a Republican from Arizona.” “A Republican?” Behind Hastert, Tom DeLay and other House Republicans did their best impression of Draco Malfoy’s cronies, laughing derisively. Conservative Republicans’ disdain for the moderates in their party has grown more palpable every year since they took control of both Congress and the White House. Now they talk of going hunting for RINOs, which stands for Republican In Name Only. Several conservative groups poured their money and time into unseating moderate Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter in last month’s GOP primary. They failed, but it couldn’t have made the moderates feel any safer. If Republicans want to drive McCain into the Democrats’ arms, just keep pushing.
Democrats shouldn’t count on McCain, however. He is still a Republican and if he did run as Kerry’s #2 and lost, his political career would effectively be over. Besides, history is not on the Dems’ side. In the only two previous cases in which a party nominated a vice-presidential candidate with ties to the other party the President died in office. John Tyler was a Democrat before quitting and joining the Whigs, who nominated him for Veep. President William Henry Harrison dropped dead a month after taking office. Tyler took over and soon managed to antagonize both parties into disowning him. Abraham Lincoln’s second veep, Andrew Johnson, was a Democrat. Three years after he succeeded Lincoln, House Republicans impeached him.