A McCain-Lieberman ticket?

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Columnist, blogger, novelist, and Army Reserve Col. Austin Bay (has anyone else ever had those credentials?) calls for a McCain-Lieberman ticket in 2008.

A Republican McCain-Lieberman ticket. Is that a fantasy? It strikes me as less improbable than the Kerry-McCain ticket MainStream Media reporters touted in 2004. McCain and Lieberman are friends, with a more cordial relationship now than Lieberman probably has with all but a few of his Democratic colleagues, who are busy endorsing this week's primary winner Ned Lamont (as they pretty much have to do) and adding gratuitous comments (as Harry Reid and Charles Schumer did in their press release) about how Lieberman has been too cozy with George W. Bush. McCain and Lieberman have also been allies on important issues, on campaign finance regulation (cynically signed by Bush), on response to alleged climate change (where they stand opposite Bush), and on the war on terrorism and specifically the conflict in Iraq (on which they have been utterly steadfast).

Not all these stands are congenial to most Republican voters, of course. Economic conservatives don't like their stand on climate change; partisan conservatives (and First Amendment purists) don't like their stand on campaign finance. And, of course, Republicans can hardly fail to have noticed that Lieberman has voted about 90 percent of the time with Democrats, on issue after issue; they've been noting that as they castigate Democrats for their rejection of a party paragon. They won't be entirely comfortable about putting a Democrat one heartbeat away from the presidency--the heartbeat of a man who would be 72 when and if he were to take the oath of office.

Still, I can see some solid arguments for a McCain-Lieberman ticket.

First, it's only possible if Lieberman beats Ned Lamont in November--as I think he probably will. In which case, he will be bereft of obligations to the Senate Democratic leadership and can vote against them on party-line issues as often as he wants. Which will probably be a lot more often than in 2001-04, when he was preparing to run in the Democratic caucuses and primaries, and in 2005-06, when he hoped to avoid defeat in the Democratic primary. So Lieberman's likely to be less objectionable to conservatives. And, of course, when the president and vice president disagree, the vice president loses by a vote of 1 to 0.

Second, a McCain-Lieberman ticket would seem, and would be, a sharp departure from the harsh partisanship of which American voters, however partisan they may be individually, are surely tired. George W. Bush was, I think, sincere when he promised to try to bring a new mood to Washington. But after the Florida controversy, and the bitterness of Democrats over the result, he could not do so. McCain and Lieberman could argue plausibly that they could.

Third, a McCain-Lieberman ticket, however nonconservative on some issues, would be solidly committed to a vigorous prosecution of the war against terrorism. This issue unites the two of them as no other and so would help make that the central issue of the campaign. And an issue on which McCain-Lieberman would probably have a huge advantage over any possible Democratic ticket.

Fourth, McCain-Lieberman would probably win easily. Pollster Scott Rasmussen has paired McCain and Rudy Giuliani against both Hillary Rodham Clinton and Al Gore in 26 states (subscription required).www.rasmussenreports.com I'm prohibited by membership agreement from disclosing the results, but I think I can say that both McCain and Giuliani run far ahead of both Clinton and Gore--and at a time when Republicans are not doing well in polling for 2006 races. McCain-Lieberman might run behind Bush-Cheney in the South, but that would still leave them ahead in most if not all of the region; they would probably run well ahead of Bush-Cheney on both coasts and would be competitive in many states where Bush-Cheney wasn't.

Fifth, a McCain-Lieberman ticket could claim that it would govern without a view to political advantage. If it won, McCain would take office at 72; it would not be obvious that he would run for re-election (Ronald Reagan won re-election at 73). Lieberman, as a lifelong Democrat, would not be considered a candidate for a Republican nomination in 2012 or 2016 (at which points he would be 70 and 74). That would allow Lieberman, as it has allowed Dick Cheney, the ability to be a useful and active vice president with no concern about his personal political prospects.

Sure, this is all speculation. It's by no means certain that McCain will win the Republican nomination; he trails Giuliani in most polls now, and he may prove anathema to Republican primary voters as he did in 2000. It's not certain that Lieberman will win this November. It's not certain that Republicans would stomach a Lieberman nomination. We've never had an example of the same candidate running for vice president on two parties' tickets (although Theodore Roosevelt was elected president as a Republican in 1904 and ran for president as a Progressive in 1912; John C. Breckinridge was elected vice president as a Democrat in 1856 and then was nominated for president by a breakaway Southern Democratic convention in 1860; Henry Wallace was elected vice president as a Democrat in 1940 and ran for president as a Progressive in 1948). Anyway, it's an interesting idea--and remember that you read about it first here, or, rather, from Austin Bay.