Reading Adam Nagourney’s New York Times article on John Kerry’s selection of a running mate strongly suggests to me that John McCain will emerge as Kerry’s selection. Combine Nagourney’s article today with Thursday’s Times article by Katherine Q. Seelye on sentiment among voters regarding Kerry’s potential running mates as reflected in polling on the subject, and the suggestion has the force of a logical conclusion to me.
My impression is that McCain is the one vice-presidential candidate who would substantially alter the dynamics of the race adversely to President Bush. The two remaining questions are whether Kerry would select McCain and whether McCain would accept. If the premises set forth above are accurate, those two questions seem to me to answer themselves.
UPDATE: I should note that my observations here give voice to a fear that I hope to dispel by expressing it. As usual, however, our readers are trying to help me along. Reader Frank Gaines writes: “I believe McCain is the Arizona co-chair for Bush’s re-election campaign (with Jon Kyl). How could it look as anything other than selfishly opportunistic for him to jump to Kerry’s VP call? I don’t see it happening, but I could be wrong.”
Reader Dafydd ab Hugh writes:
As it stands now, McCain is Senator-for-Life from Arizona. If he accepts the number two slot behind Kerry, then win or lose, his career is finished — either immediately or else when he ceases being VP. Republicans will be so furious at him that he will never be nominated as a Republican again… and his previous positions are so contradictory to the Dems that they will never trust him with their nomination (note that David Brock’s career ended with that Republican-bashing book he wrote). I honestly think he’s being puckish with his coy answers, and that he has no intention of being the running mate to a left-liberal Democrat.
And for that matter, if McCain did accept such a nod (were one offered) and if he ran as the VP nominee, it’s not at all clear that he would be an asset to Kerry’s campaign: if he runs as himself, then the Republicans will bring out how cynical a move this is, since McCain violently disagrees with the Democrats on almost every point that matters — he is outspoken in favor of the war on terror, he is very pro-life, he loves tax cuts, and so forth. It will just feed into the perception that Kerry has no principles and will say anything to win.
But if McCain changes all of his positions to match Kerry’s, as Lieberman did for Gore, then rather than adding gravitas to the Kerry campaign, McCain will simply wipe out his own credibility… unlike Jim Jeffords, McCain has never been a liberal Republican; the press’s infatuation with him in 2000 was solely because he had a chance to knock off Bush. And frankly, Bush whalloped him in the 2000 primary… why assume McCain will do any better against the Bush buzzsaw in 2004?
If the economy continues to improve, Kerry-McCain will go down to defeat just as ignominiously as Kerry-Richardson or Kerry-Edwards. Nobody ever votes for the VP — the race is about who will be president, and the veep comes along for the ride.
Ab Hugh also comments on the two Times articles linked above:
First, whichever “advisor” suggested that this would “almost guarantee Kerry’s election” is talking through his hat: there has never been any poll that suggested that McCain would push Kerry over the top or even help him in the race. In fact, the other NYT article you cite shows exactly the opposite: “But Senator John Edwards of North Carolina should not despair. Of those most qualified to step into the Oval Office, Mr. McCain topped the list with 15 percent, followed by Mr. Edwards with 14 percent. But Mr. Edwards was picked by 20 percent as the candidate most likely to help Mr. Kerry win the presidency; 12 percent named Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York; and 10 percent named Mr. McCain.”
In other words, twice as many people think Edwards would help Kerry get elected (or so thought a couple of weeks ago) as think McCain would help him get elected. That’s a good proxy, because if a respondent himself thought McCain made him more likely to vote for Kerry, he would assume others would think likewise, and he would say that it would make it more likely among all voters.
In fact, the McCain vote was only for who was “most qualified” to be president if Kerry died or were incapacitated… which in fact reflects the incredibly weak Democratic field rather than any actual sentiment for McCain as Kerry’s running mate.
In any group of advisors, there is always one nitwit who suggests wild and ridiculous strategies, generally based more upon desperation than any sober political analysis. I suspect this advisor realizes that notwithstanding Kerry’s position in the polls at that moment, the structure of the campaigns made it extremely likely that by the time of the actual election, Bush would be way up, and that Kerry was destined for the rubbish heap of history — so this advisor (whoever he is) is flailing about for anything Kerry might do to shake up the election in a desperate bid to change the dynamic.
But dynamics are stubborn things, to paraphrase Churchill: by November 2nd, the economy will have added another million jobs (the October numbers won’t be reported until after the election) at least, bringing the total to nearly two million and clearly headed towards the employment level of the day Bush took office. The electorate responds to trends, not total numbers: they will see employment rising and rising rapidly.
By November 2nd, Iraq will have been running its own affairs for four months; US forces will have withdrawn to impregnable positions outside the major cities, and Iraqis will be the point men in interactions with other Iraqis. The US and coalition forces will be brought out to deal with real hot spots — but if we’re involved in a firefight with insurgents on election day, that will make it more likely, not less, that Bush will be reelected. And nothing that John F. Kerry — or John “F.” McCain — does will change that dynamic.
MORE: The estimable Daniel Wiener of Wienerlog writes: “…And Kerry’s choice for Vice-President is