Picking a Pro-Choice Running Mate
Apparently, the McCain campaign is leaving open the possibility of a pro-abortion running mate, such as Joe Lieberman or Tom Ridge. Conservatives hate the idea—Rush Limbaugh spent considerable time denouncing the notion, and the National Review crowd hates it as well. If McCain picks a pro-choice running mate, he can count on losing—at least for a little while—a great deal of conservative support.
On the other hand, picking someone like Lieberman or Ridge would also have some electoral advantages. Picking Lieberman would silence any accusations that McCain represents “Bush’s third term,” and would probably attract some moderate and conservative Democrat voters. In addition, such a move would (rightly) be seen as a revolutionary and unprecedented act of bipartisanship.
In addition, McCain still considers himself a maverick, and picking a man like Lieberman or Ridge would confirm his maverick status. And he values loyalty as well (and evidently gets it—Lindsey Graham and Lieberman follow him everywhere), and Lieberman is one of his closest friends, and one who endorsed him at the darkest hour of McCain’s campaign (in mid-December, when Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, and Mike Huckabee were battling for the GOP nomination, with McCain far behind). That must count for something.
And as for the conservative outrage, many McCain insiders don’t think it will be a problem—and they are probably right, at least up to a point. Pro-lifers will be outraged, but where will they go? A third party vote is rightly considered wasted, and Barack Obama supports, (in very limited cases, but still) infanticide. Pro-lifers don’t have anywhere else to go.
McCain’s might not lose many voters (or only register a minor net loss—he might lose some pro-lifers, but gain some pro-abortion voters) by naming a pro-choice candidate, but doing so would still be disastrous. First, there is the future of the country to consider—if McCain is truly pro-life, it would be incredibly irresponsible to leave the nominations of least two, and possibly three, Supreme Court justices in the hands of a man who supports partial-birth abortion (at least in Lieberman’s case). Even his pro-abortion candidate promised to nominate only constructionist justices, and kept his promise, there is still the matter of the federal courts to consider. In four years, it would be possible for a Ridge or a Liebermann to nominate a great many pro-abortion judges.
There would probably be relatively few voters who would simply abandon McCain because of his VP pick, but choosing a pro-choice running mate could still cost him the election. Elections aren’t won only on ideology—grassroots play a vital role, and an organized and efficient grassroots movement can win or lose an election. And it’s hard to imagine the conservative grassroots getting too excited about a potential Vice President Lieberman. (For myself, I would probably still vote for McCain—but unenthusiastically, and I would certainly not bother donating or campaigning for him).
Finally, choosing a pro-abortion running mate would splinter the Republican party. Yes, pro-lifers might vote for McCain this time, but they would almost certainly feel betrayed by their party, and might well look elsewhere in future elections. And given that the Republican party usually chooses the man next in line as its presidential candidate, picking someone who is pro-choice would mean that there would be a strong chance that the Republican nominee in 2012 would be pro-abortion.
On the bright side, all of this might not really matter. McCain has somehow managed to seize the momentum in the race, and a high-risk, high-reward running mate probably isn’t a very prudent idea. In addition, McCain may feel as though he pushed his luck enough with conservatives—he has shifted fairly far right since getting the nomination, and conservatives have warmed up to him. Picking a candidate who supports abortion would throw away all that progress.