Showing posts with label joe lieberman. Show all posts
Showing posts with label joe lieberman. Show all posts

3/22/2008

The McCain Veepstakes

Seeing that the race for the Republican presidential nomination is essentially over, the only real storyline on that side of the ledger now concerns whom John McCain will chose as his running mate.

Vice presidents are chosen for a variety of reasons. They are tapped to bring ideological balance to a ticket (e.g., a conservative trying to broaden his appeal by selecting a moderate), add geographical balance (e.g., a Northeasterner selecting a Southerner), or simply deliver a state (e.g., choosing a governor from State X to take it out of play for the opposing party in the general election). Other vice presidential picks are chosen for reasons unrelated to state-by-state electoral calculus, such as complementing one's resume (e.g., a stiff policy wonk choosing someone more charismatic who can connect with regular people) or to even placate one segment of the party base (e.g., a Republican moderate on illegal immigration choosing a hardliner as his running mate).

There are some factors that may preclude a nominee from selecting a particular running mate that are not due to any weakness of the potential running mate himself. For example, if a Democratic nominee likes a Democratic senator that hails from a state which has a Republican governor, there's a good chance that the Republican governor would appoint a Republican senator, thus changing the balance of the Senate. So in that case, choosing this particular Democratic senator as a running mate may do more harm than good, especially if the Democrat's presidential bid is ultimately unsuccessful.

In the case of John McCain and geography, he has effectively taken Arizona off the map because that is his home state. Democrats had been looking at Arizona as a possible pick-up opportunity, but that will have to wait until 2012 at the earliest.

Regarding ideology, McCain has two paths available to him. He could make a play for the center by selecting a moderate Republican or he could firm up his base by selecting a conservative. McCain still enjoys relatively favorable ratings among moderates, independents, and even Democrats because he is not seen as a hardcore partisan. If he wants to drive a stake in the heart of Democrats everywhere, he would choose a popular Republican governor from a blue state. Former Governor Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania would seem to be a particularly wise choice because Pennsylvania is one of the most important swing states that the Democrats have been able to win in recent elections. Should the Democrats lose Pennsylvania, they would have to flip Ohio or Florida to offset it and hope that Michigan doesn't slip through their fingers.

Florida Governor Charlie Crist may also be a wise choice because Florida is not nearly as Republican as Georgia and Tennessee are. Governor Crist has good looks, strong favorability ratings, and a youthfulness that cancels out McCain's age. And more importantly, taking Florida off the map would force the Democrats to compete elsewhere. A Crist selection seems plausible because of his endorsement of McCain before the Florida primary. So McCain owes Crist.

Of course, the weakness of selecting Gov. Ridge, Gov. Crist or any moderate would be a potentially dispirited conservative base. McCain was pummeled in the primaries for not being sufficiently conservative on taxes and illegal immigration. In fact, John McCain would not have been the nominee had Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and Fred Thompson not all split the conservative vote. Would evangelical Christians and staunch conservatives stay home, or will they vote for the Constitution Party nominee? If these conservatives don't turn out at the polls, swing states like Missouri and Virginia could go blue.

Why would these conservatives rather stay home instead of vote for McCain even if that means they are helping the liberal Democratic candidate? It's because they want to send a message to Republicans that conservatives and conservatism matter. These conservatives care more about ideology than party. In other words, they are more conservative than Republican.

The second ideological tack McCain could take would be to select a conservative as a running mate. This would certainly please the base. However, the problem here is that the most fertile conservative territory is to be found in the South. Tapping Senator John Cornyn of Texas or Governor Sonny Perdue of Georgia is not going to help much. Running up the score on Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton in Alabama and Oklahoma is not going to bring McCain any closer to the nomination because those Southern states are states he should carry anyway.

Governors Mark Sanford of South Carolina and Haley Barbour of Mississippi are strong conservatives, but neither of them will help McCain win any states he shouldn't already be able to win by virtue of being a Republican. Even if Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee, South Carolina and Mississippi are decidedly uphill climbs for Democrats, especially in presidential elections. Conventional wisdom says these two candidates are good choices, but I ultimately believe their selection is unlikely. Gov. Sanford did not endorse McCain until long after the South Carolina primary and Gov. Barbour would probably rather remain as Mississippi's chief executive so he could help rebuild the state after Hurricane Katrina.

Geographically speaking, McCain would be unlikely to choose a candidate from the West. In addition to a lack of candidates to choose from in that part of the country, such a pick would not add much geographic balance to the ticket. On top of this, most Western and Plains states have small populations that would not be of much help electorally. This would eliminate otherwise attractive candidates like Senator John Thune of South Dakota.

McCain could also choose a personal friend as his running mate. The advantage to this would be the natural rapport between the two candidates. The Kerry-Edwards and Gore-Lieberman tickets seemed a bit awkward and forced. That would be akin to McCain choosing someone like Tom Tancredo. Two of McCain's closest friends happen to be the two senators that joined him on his most recent trip to the Middle East--Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.

Both senators would be safe picks in that they hail from states that have Republican governors (who would therefore likely appoint Republican Senate replacements) and they would be acceptable to both conservatives and moderates. Sen. Graham is a center-right senator, rather than a hard right senator. And Sen. Lieberman is seen as Republicans' favorite Democrat. Lieberman could give the Democrats fits because they need his seat in the Senate even though liberals are flummoxed by his defense policy. Then again, partisan Democrats may already view Lieberman as a traitor because of Iraq, so they may be happy to see him go. Lieberman has not expressed much interest in another White House run, but if his good friend McCain asked him, who's to say he would refuse? Another point worth considering is that Lieberman could also put the light blue states of Connecticut and New Jersey in play.

And lastly, no serious discussion of the McCain veepstakes would be complete without assessing his last serious rival for the nomination--Mike Huckabee. Conventional wisdom says that Huckabee would be a good fit for McCain because he could consolidate support among Southerners and evangelical voters. And they both needed each other to beat Mitt Romney. However, I disagree that Huckabee is a likely choice for McCain because 1) his economic populism likely would not go over well with fiscal conservatives, and 2) Huckabee may have worn out his welcome by staying in the race too long and potentially embarrassing McCain. Of course, Huckabee could have been sowing the seeds for another run at the White House in 2012 instead of trying to further endear himself to McCain, so maybe Huckabee doesn't care about McCain's decision.

Of course, all of this is idle speculation. Until the Democratic race gets settled, it would be prudent for McCain to focus more on improving his own relations with the GOP base, rather than worrying about his vice presidential pick. And besides, there's no sense in choosing a running mate before you even know who your own general election opponent is. McCain's choice should be at least partially be based on countering what the Democrats ultimately decide on. Suppose an Obama-Clinton ticket actually does materialize, despite my skepticism. Could McCain then look to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice or her predecessor Colin Powell? What a coup that would be!

In the meantime, considering all current and recent governors and senators, it would appear that Tom Ridge, Charlie Crist, and Joe Lieberman have the inside track.

2/27/2007

The Lieberman Fallout: Part 2

A few days ago I posted a commentary about Joe Lieberman expressing my disapproval of his purported threatening to caucus with Republicans over disagreements with Democrats about funding the military campaign in Iraq. Party-switching alone isn't what I disapproved of; it was the fact that he could so easily consider this so soon after the last election when he gave no hint to the voters that he would take this course of action. And surely, Lieberman was well aware of the anti-war wing of the Democratic party before the elections. And surely he knew those elements would want to defund the war if they had the power of the majority. So Lieberman came across as being interested in nothing more than his own political survival and influence without any regard for his constituents in Connecticut.

Having said that, I have been scouring various news sources and found a few articles that follow-up on his original threats.

For starters, after reading these articles carefully, Lieberman didn't explicitly threaten to caucus with the Republicans over funding. However, he did acknowledge there was a "remote possibility" that this could happen, which essentially leaves the door open. Perhaps this is his way of preventing the Democratic majority from veering too far to the left. But have you heard any stories of moderate Republicans acknowledging a "remote possibility" of caucusing with the Democrats over this very same issue?

Anyway, according to Congressional Quarterly:

...Lieberman would not be able to instantly hand over the steering wheel to the GOP. He could, however, bring Senate business to a screaming halt.

Unlike 2001 — when then-Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont renounced the Republican Party and effectively broke a 50-50 tie in favor of the Democrats — the so-called organizing resolution that currently governs the Senate contains no provision for switching control if the party in power loses its majority.

The reason why such a provision existed in 2001 was because of Vice President Al Gore. Even though the Senate was split 50-50 after the 2000 election, Al Gore still had the ability to cast the tiebreaking vote as president of the Senate. The new Republican senators were sworn in during the first week of January, but Al Gore was still the vice president until Inauguration Day, roughly two weeks later. So until Inauguration Day, Dick Cheney was irrelevant. Of course, after Cheney was sworn in, the Republican VP could cast the tiebreaking vote, thus effectively giving the Republicans control of the chamber. To account for the change in control resulting from Gore's exit from office and Cheney's entrance, this provision was created as a compromise.

However, in 2006, the Senate switched from a 55-45 Republican majority to a 51-49 Democratic one. Dick Cheney's tiebreaking vote is irrelevant in this scenario, which is why no similar compromise provision was created. So even if Lieberman became a Republican or an "Independent Republican," the Senate rules would still allow for Democratic control until the next congress convenes in 2009 even if the Democrats held a 50-50 minority by virtue of Dick Cheney's tiebreaking vote.

Understandably, Republicans would want to rewrite the Senate rules to allow them to control the chamber in light of their new "majority." However, they would need the consent of the current majority (e.g., Democrats) in order to proceed with any rules changes. But do you honestly think the new Democratic majority is eager to relinquish its power? Guess again.

A 50-50 Senate would virtually be paralyzed. Actually, even the current 51-49 Senate can't get much done either. Neither political party can get much done without the consent of a sizeable number of members of the other party, regardless of who's in control. The most power the bare Democratic majority has now comes in the form of committee chairmanships, the ability to call for hearings, and the ability to set the Senate agenda. Legislatively, Democrats are almost paralyzed because of the Republican filibuster. And should Lieberman defect, Republicans could employ all sorts of parliamentary maneuvers until the rules are changed allowing them to reclaim the gavels.

Republicans are in a tough spot too though. If they filibuster too much, they will be branded as obstructionists. This is especially true now because they have already received negative press for "blocking" the debate on the troop surge. Seeing that Republicans are already on the wrong side of public opinion regarding the war, being seen as preventing ways to change it strikes me as political suicide. And if they were to actually reclaim control, they would have to avoid being remiss in their oversight responsibilities like the last Republican Senate was. Protecting Bush at the expense of changing and improving Iraq policy via aggressive oversight would be disastrous in 2008 and could potentially drag down the GOP presidential nominee. My sense is that the GOP was rebuked in 2006 and giving the voters two more years of the same ineffectiveness would be foolish. But the Republican Senate would understandably not be too keen on embarrassing Bush. So their hands would be tied as well.

As for Lieberman, were he to defect to the Republican Party, he would wield considerably less power than he does now because he would lose his committee chairmanship (at least until the Senate rules were changed). In turn, Democrats would then become less beholden to him. And the Democrats are almost certain to pick up seats in 2008, thus reducing Lieberman's influence to nothingness, regardless of which party he chooses to caucus with.

This makes me understand Lieberman's actions a bit more. In such a closely divided Senate, nobody really has any power. Lieberman is not a member of the Big Four (Reid, McConnell, Durbin, and Lott), but he does have more potential power in that he can almost single-handedly grind the Senate to a screeching halt. His own actions have important consequences that would directly impact the Senate until 2008. However, they may impact the Iraq debate and the troops fighting there for far longer than that.

2/22/2007

Joe Lieberman: Love him or Lieb him?

In 2000, Joe Lieberman received more votes than any other candidate for VP and came within 537 Florida votes of being elected to the second highest office in the land. However, in 2006 Joe Lieberman was not even able to win his own party's primary in his home state. A man once revered by his party has now become shunned by it. What happened?

Iraq happened.

There's a new article out in The Politico about Lieberman threatening to caucus with the Republicans (and thus tip the Senate majority to the Republicans) if the Democrats pursue legislation that would cut off funding for the war in Iraq. This article troubled me considerably.

The last time a senator defected to the opposing party was in 2001 when Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont switched from Republican to Democrat. This resulted in the Democrats gaining control of the chamber. Howls of protest erupted from the GOP while the Democrats welcomed Jeffords with open arms and gave him a committee chairmanship.

Now that Lieberman is flirting with the idea of switching to the Republicans, the GOP members are saying nice things about him while the Democrats are on pins and needles. The Republicans are also calling this payback for the Jeffords defection and have little sympathy for the Democrats because of it.

Is the Joe Lieberman of 2007 the same as the Jim Jeffords of 2001?

Absolutely not.

Jim Jeffords was consistently a nominal Republican in that he was a Rockefeller Republican. He was quite liberal on social issues, often siding with Democrats on those votes. He never did much in the way of grumbling about his party until he reached the breaking point over the hard tack to the right that the GOP took after the 2000 election. He had served since 1989 and won his elections as a liberal Republican in a liberal state. His switching of political parties made sense, given the realignment of the two major political parties starting in the 1960s. Switching parties is always a bit deceptive, but at least Jeffords' switch was to something more in line with how his state generally voted in presidential and House elections.

Lieberman's situation, on the other hand, was similar to Jeffords until he lost the Democratic primary to Ned Lamont. While Lieberman had the right to run again as an Independent, his doing so subverted the political process because he was originally rejected as the party nominee. What's the point of having a primary if you don't abide by its rules and all but ignore the will of the voters who participated in it? Was he running for Connecticut, was he running for Democrats, or was he running for himself?

Secondly, and more importantly, during his post-primary campaign, Lieberman consistently said that he would run as an "Independent Democrat," which one would reasonably assume to mean that he would caucus with the Democrats, but not be afraid to stray from them on issues salient to him, such as defense issues. Fair enough. That's what I would expect from an independent. They don't have to tow the party line.

Fortunately for Lieberman, he won the general election (thanks to a stinker of a GOP candidate known as Alan Schlessinger). But now Lieberman is using his vote as a way of blackmailing the Democratic Party. I think it's quite disigenious for Lieberman to campaign as an "Independent Democrat" if he could so easily become an "Independent Republican" not even four months after the election. His doing so is patently dishonest to his supporters in Connecticut, one-third of whom were Democrats. Even worse, the electorate obviously voted for "change" by allowing the Democats to pick up the five Senate seats they needed for a bare majority, no easy task. A Lieberman defection would essentially overturn the will of the millions of voters who wanted a Democratically-controlled Senate to provide checks and balances on the White House because the Repulican Senate obviously couldn't be bothered to do so.

Lieberman is lucky in that he cannot be recalled and that Senate terms are for six years. Other Democratic senators are wary of crossing Lieberman because they know they need his support more than he needs theirs. Surely Lieberman enjoys being courted by both Democrats and Republicans, but the idea that one senator could command so much power is a bit disconcerting to me, especially when he seems more loyal to himself and his own political career than to the people he represents. I think the more honorable thing for Lieberman to do now is to continue to caucus with the Democrats and simply vote with the Republicans when he deems it necessary. Continuously threatening to switch parties just because the party you chose to caucus with just four months ago takes a position you oppose is childish and patently dishonest to your constituents who were not anticipating such political manipulation on your behalf.

If the Democrats do extend their Senate majority in 2008, look for them to cut Lieberman loose. The Republicans might be giddy about having him join their ranks, but they should be cautioned that it appears Lieberman is only loyal to himself and may prove to be more trouble than his single vote is worth. Being a political independent is fine. It's actually quite commendable, given the partisan nature of politics these days. However, being an opportunistic turncoat who misleads your constituents is something entirely different.

Copyright 2007-2008 by Anthony Palmer. This material may not be republished or redistributed in any manner without the expressed written permission of the author, nor may this material be cited elsewhere without proper attribution. All rights reserved. The 7-10 is syndicated by Newstex.