Thursday, March 29, 2007

Did McCain Consider a Party Switch? Ask Frist & Lott

The Hill reports that in 2001, John McCain discussed a party switch with Tom Daschle, Harry Reid, Ted Kennedy, and former Democratic Congressman Tom Downey:

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was close to leaving the Republican Party in 2001, weeks before then-Sen. Jim Jeffords (Vt.) famously announced his decision to become an Independent, according to former Democratic lawmakers who say they were involved in the discussions.

In interviews with The Hill this month, former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and ex-Rep. Tom Downey (D-N.Y.) said there were nearly two months of talks with the maverick lawmaker following an approach by John Weaver, McCain’s chief political strategist.

Democrats had contacted Jeffords and then-Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.) in the early months of 2001 about switching parties, but in McCain’s case, they said, it was McCain’s top strategist who came to them.

At the end of their March 31, 2001 lunch at a Chinese restaurant in Bethesda, Md., Downey said Weaver asked why Democrats hadn’t asked McCain to switch parties.

Downey, a well-connected lobbyist, said he was stunned.

“You’re really wondering?” Downey said he told Weaver. “What do you mean you’re wondering?”

“Well, if the right people asked him,” Weaver said, according to Downey, adding that he responded, “The calls will be made. Who do you want?” Weaver this week said he did have lunch with Downey that spring, pointing out that he and Downey “are very good friends.”

To be honest, I'm not sure how interested I am in knowing more about this. John McCain is who he is. On lots of issues - spending, the military, and some social issues - he clearly is more in line with Republican views than those of the Democrats. On others, he goes his own way. He is mercurial, stubborn, and he has a temper. He will win or lose the Republican nomination based on his long resume and his extensive record on the issues. That includes both good and bad, but right now I don't think he can be optimistic about his chances.

Would I be surprised if this were true? Not at all. Captain Ed is skeptical - since the Democrats would have offered him a blank check - and that's true. But it assumes that McCain would already have been dead set on a switch. That might not have been the case, or he might have had a change of heart. The Hill suggests that one motivation was that the Bush team had not hired any McCain people; perhaps that changed. Or he might have decided that he couldn't win the Democratic Presidential nomination, but he could win the GOP nod.

In any case, a good way to learn more would be to talk to Trent Lott, Mitch McConnell and Bill Frist. As their party's leaders, they would have listened very closely for any such rumors and reacted quickly. They might not answer 100% candidly, but they should be asked.

Read also Powerline and Say Anything.


Philo-Junius said...

Lott will say whatever he thinks will advance his own interests; Frist wouldn't have noticed anything short of gunplay in the lobby. McConnell doesn't have an interest in giving the story any oxygen--which in fact would be the party's basic position from a marketing point of view.

Either they knew, and decided to cover it up, didn't know (but, as you say, ought to have), or Downey and Daschle are just making up stories out of whole cloth in an attempt to sabotage McCain.

I personally believe Downey because he has little direct motive to lie, banks upon his reputation as an honest broker between parties, and isn't saying anything fundamentally new: we already knew McCain negotiated with Kerry over the Vice President nomination.

The Editor at IP said...

I tend to agree that Lott and McConnell would say the political thing - whatever they judge that to be. But ask them, ask Frist, ask any other close friends of McCain in the Senate. I suspect you would develop a better idea.

Philo-Junius said...

"Close friends of McCain in the Senate."

ROFL. Stop--you're killing me.

The Editor at IP said...

Come on. Do you think Hagel has no one to talk to?

Philo-Junius said...

Hagel mostly talks to himself, from what I hear. The larger question is whether McCain listens to anyone.

That's why they get along so well. Folie a deux, of a sort.