The Blog

Lieberman More Likely?

11:43 AM, Aug 23, 2008 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Now it's John McCain's turn.

In talking to Republican sources close to the campaign, it seems clear that the decision has come down to three people: Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, and Joe Lieberman. The basic dynamic of the McCain selection process has not changed. McCain is most comfortable with Lieberman and would pick his longtime friend if he could be convinced that the political consequences of doing so would not be fatal. Campaign manager Rick Davis has been calling Republican leaders around the country trying to gauge their likely reaction to a Lieberman pick.

Most of McCain's staff favors Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, along with a majority of the RNC types working closely with the campaign. Mitt Romney has some supporters, too, and in many cases he is the second choice of both Lieberman and Pawlenty backers. McCain advisers have been very impressed with Romney's critique of Barack Obama as a McCain surrogate.

What effect will Obama's selection of Joe Biden have on McCain's decision?

On the one hand, Pawlenty supporters will argue that it makes their man more plausible. Pawlenty is a fresh face -- a young, conservative, reform-minded governor -- exactly what McCain needs to run against two sitting senators. If the general election has come down to experience versus change -- with each candidate owning one of those attributes -- Pawlenty could help McCain mitigate Obama's advantage on change. Biden has been in the Senate longer than all but five of his colleagues -- not exactly change you can believe in.

On the other hand, the Biden pick could make Lieberman more doable for a candidate that seems more and more inclined to pick a "comfort" runningmate. Although many Washington insiders see Biden as flakey and unpredictable, he can come across as both likable and knowledgeable. He will do well in a VP debate. Would Pawlenty appear overmatched?

More important, McCain has made national security the central rationale for his candidacy. His main critique of Barack Obama has been that the Democrat is too inexperienced to serve as president during such serious times. Picking Pawlenty undercuts both of these arguments.

The timing of McCain's decision could well be crucial. And the longer he waits, the more likely Lieberman becomes. Democrats have been frustrated at their inability to convince voters that electing McCain will yield the same results as electing George W. Bush for a third term. So they will spend most of the next week linking McCain to "the failed policies of George W. Bush." It's an unpersuasive case for many reasons -- most especially because McCain has publicly challenged Bush on so many issues. But McCain is very sensitive to the comparison with Bush and while he's willing to give Bush credit for keeping us safe, it's no accident that he hasn't yet campaigned with Bush during the general election. If Democrats have success linking McCain and Bush -- or if McCain believes they are having success doing so -- no other choice would so effectively end that argument.