Okay, here’s my take on the McCain veep stuff, based on talking to people who talk to people. (I think it’s clear that the aides closest to McCain, the ones who are really making the decision, are not talking to the press, or at least they’re not revealing anything about the process. But people talk to people, and there are concentric circles of information out there.)
I get the sense that if McCain were able to name his veep choice and know in advance that he was going to win, he would choose either Joe Lieberman or Tom Ridge. They’re his friends, and he believes they share his world view. The campaign obviously floated a trial balloon about a pro-choice candidate, and got clobbered today. But I think they look at it as being clobbered by all the usual suspects, and thus not all that big a deal. They expected the pro-lifers to be very agitated about it, and they expected Rush Limbaugh to come down on it. But in their view, Limbaugh did everything he could to try to stop McCain from being the nominee, and yet here McCain is. So I think they view the loudest reaction to the trial balloon to be in some part a lot of sound and fury. What matters now, they say, is the larger electorate. A choice of Lieberman, I’ve been told, would give McCain back his maverick status, reach out to disaffected Democrats and independents, and remove the argument that a McCain administration would be a third term for George W. Bush.
But there is still the reaction of state officials, money people, and other politicos to be considered. That is still coming in. The campaign is looking at delegates from the various states, and how loyal to McCain those delegates are, and whether a Ridge or Lieberman choice could be a problem with the less McCain-dependent types in the GOP delegate world.
On the Lieberman thing, I think that, McCain’s personal feelings aside, there was a slightly stronger feeling for him a while back than there is now. Then, there was the feeling that choosing Lieberman would be so dramatic that it would be a game changer. But now, the feeling is that the game is moving in McCain’s direction anyway, so that reduces some of the urgency for a Lieberman choice.
But it’s all still up in the air. People who have talked to McCain on a regular basis believe that he is struggling with the issue, is doing a lot of listening, and has not made up his mind.
As for the other potential candidates, the greatest impression Tim Pawlenty has made with some in the McCain camp is one of blandness. But that might be good, especially if Obama were to choose Evan Bayh, who is also profoundly bland. So a choice of Bayh might help Pawlenty, who is viewed as the safest available choice.
But I’m told that a number of people on Team McCain believe Obama will choose Tim Kaine. That could push the argument a bit toward Mitt Romney — a more forceful governor than Pawlenty. If Obama chose Joe Biden, that might also push Pawlenty down a little bit, but would not specifically help either Ridge, Lieberman, or Romney.
So what’s going on? I think it’s clear that what a number of conservatives view as worst-case scenarios are definitely under consideration. On the other hand, scenarios that would be welcome to conservatives are also under consideration. Several weeks ago, a close McCain adviser told me to keep in mind the possibility of a “personal” choice on McCain’s part. I asked him if that meant “quirky.” He said he preferred the word “personal.” Personal. Quirky. Who knows?