John McCain sure likes yanking the conservatives’ chain doesn’t he? The popular names we are hearing for McCain’s VP choice are Joe Lieberman and Tom Ridge. Dick Morris continues to push the choice of Lieberman, who has an undeserved reputation as a possible game-changer for McCain. What does Joe Lieberman bring to the table? Well…he agrees with McCain on the war in Iraq. And…he’s a Democrat — which may not be as big of an advantage as Morris and his ilk seem to believe. For one thing, he wouldn’t necessarily bring in Democrats and independents to the McCain column. He’s not exactly the most popular Democrat right now for supporting Bush and McCain on the war, and for ticking off local Connecticut Dems to the point that they almost turned to Ned Lamont. Even if Lieberman does manage to pick off a few Dems and independents, they won’t be enough to prevent the mass exodus of conservatives who might just find this pander to the other side of the aisle one step too far. And addition to that, Dick Morris doesn’t want us to pick another boring white guy, which theoretically rules out Lieberman.
It would also pick off another flavor of the month, Pennsylvania’s Tom Ridge. Frankly, I don’t see the appeal here. He is pro-choice, and social conservatives would have a serious objection to that. He has a nice resume of accomplishments, but that’s it. McCain’s advisors may believe that conservatives have already made their peace with McCain as the Republican nominee and as our possible next President. But how far does McCain want to push us before we say “enough is enough”? How far can he go before conservatives decide to sit this election out, regardless of the consequences of electing Barack Obama by default? If he doesn’t pick someone who is much more conservative than these two, there will be a rather loud protest by conservatives. I would have a tough decision to make — because I can’t sit this out and let Obama become President. That’s how strongly I feel about this election. But McCain should know how conservatives feel about this and we should hold him accountable here while we still have the influence to do it.
The competitiveness of the Obama-McCain contest now argues for safe vice presidential choices. Neither is in a position to risk — nor does either need — a running mate whose selection dramatically changes perceptions of their candidacies.
The “first, do no harm” rule is especially important for Obama, given the question marks he is still dealing with. But it is similarly significant for McCain, whose still-tenuous relationship with his party’s conservative base may check his instincts to use his pick to send a message to swing voters that he is not a George W. Bush Republican. Some Republicans believe he will send that message with his acceptance speech, rather than his vice presidential pick.
As if to test how much leeway he has in picking a running mate, McCain gave an interview to the Weekly Standard in which he floated out the idea of choosing someone who favors abortion rights, someone like former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge. The reaction from social conservatives has been highly negative.
That should be the expected reaction to this suggestion. McCain needs to remember that he can’t win a general election if conservatives sit this race out…and the vice presidential pick can send a strong message to us that conservatives will have a seat at the table in a McCain administration.