June 19, 2005

Would McCain run as an independent?

On "Meet the Press" today:
MR. RUSSERT: Your hero, Theodore Roosevelt. Let me show you a picture of him. This is from Fargo, North Dakota, in September 1912. Mr. Roosevelt was then running as the bull moose candidate for president. He tried to win the Republican nomination; lost to Senator Taft. If John McCain ran for the presidency in the Republican primaries, carried the Independents, carried the crossovers, but didn't receive the Republican nomination, would you ever consider running as an Independent?

SEN. McCAIN: No, I don't think that that would be possible, number one. And number two is I keep emphasizing I'm of the party of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. I see no other reason. By the way, a new book is out on Roosevelt's post-presidency year. It's very excellent. And one of the things he was seriously thinking about was running again in 1920. So...

MR. RUSSERT: You would never run as an Independent?

SEN. McCAIN: I cannot imagine a scenario where I would because, again, I would be leaving the party that I've been a part of and loyal to and worked for for all my political life.
Seems a bit inconsistent, doesn't it? He's devoted to the party because Roosevelt is his role model. Not very convincing. (Thanks to John for pointing this out.)

UPDATE: John cites the New Republic article "This Man Is Not a Republican."


Gerry said...

Hence the reason he keeps teasing with it.

McCain certainly knows how to play to the media and to those who wish to recreate 1992.

I've been going through a weird phase in my evaluation of McCain. I'm currently of a mind that he could win. And despite the fact that I really don't appreciate some of the things he's done and said over the past 6 years, part of me would love to see him run and win. The screams from those on the left who have been singing his praises over the same timeframe would be delicious when they realize that the guy is actually pretty darn conservative.

Ann Althouse said...

Funny you should put it that way, Gerry. We had that argument here. I was assuming that McCain really is conservative and that it's just deluded for liberals to like him so much and I was argued down on the subject. My son took the postion that McCain really is a liberal Republican and that he's shown it again and again. Who's right?

Gerry said...

Well, I would *like* to agree with your son, because I really do not like much of what McCain has done over the past five years.

His accusations at Bush's campaign in SC are undercut to my eyes by the fact that I have a whole half of my family (my wife's side) that live in SC, plus all of my friends from when I lived there. Almost all of them are Republicans, and not one says they saw anything that McCain claims was being done. Not one got the calls that were supposedly being made to Republicans.

On the other hand, I do know about the "Catholic Voter Alert" calls that McCain's campaign first denied, but later admitted, to making.

And while I know that some leaders of the "religious right" deserve criticism, McCain's comments in VA or NC in 2000 went way beyond them. He may have meant to hit others, but I felt the force of the blows of his words personally.

Top it off with his seeming glee of irritating the conservative "base", of which I am a charter member, and I don't like the dude.

But I am also pretty good at separating my feelings from the political analysis game, and when I look at McCain, I see a conservative playing the moderate.

And the tell-tale sign is with judges. He voted for Robert Bork when other Republicans were jumping ship. He voted for Clarence Thomas. He voted for all, every single one, of Bush's judges (father and son), both for cloture and for confirmation.

And he did not vote for all of Clinton's judges, including the reprehensible H. Lee Sarokin.

Those are not the votes of a liberal Republican. Those are the votes of a conservative who wants the judiciary to get those lifetime appointments in conservative hands.

Part of me would feel very satisfied if your son was right because it would make me feel as if I disliked the guy for more than just him being a jerk to people like me. But I suspect you are right.

Mark Daniels said...

I have several reactions to your ruminations on John McCain.

First: TR remains a Republican hero and, I would say, a conservative Republican hero, who stands in the tradition of Lincoln and of the GOP ancestors, Washington, Hamilton, and Clay. Each advocated the establishment of a national economy, national identity, and strong national defense.

TR advocated reforms that buttressed those principles in a world that was rapidly changing. His 1912 run on the Bull Moose Party ticket came precisely because his White House successor, William Howard Taft, departed from vital conservative Republicanism and instead embraced dead traditionalism.

Second: After the 1912 election, TR and the GOP leadership mended their fences. Just before his death, it had become apparent that Roosevelt was the prohibitive frontrunner to receive the Republican nomination in 1920. That's how complete the reconciliation between him and the party regulars who, in 1912, had backed Taft out of deference to the party.

Third: As between Bush and McCain, there is a strong argument to be made that the senator from Arizona is the actual conservative and not the President. Bush has embraced judicial activism that mocks strict constructionism; a Wilsonian foreign policy that upholds a penchant for military intervention and eschews traditional Republican realism; an acceptance of porkbarrel spending worthy of Lyndon Johnson and Robert Byrd; and deficit spending of breathtaking proportions. Viewed in this way, McCain is seen as the conservative and Bush as a big government royalist, as both Sullivan and Phillips have argued.

Fourth: Buttressing McCain's conservative credentials is that he clearly stands in the tradition of another Arizonan, Mr. Conservative, Barry Goldwater. Goldwater believed that government ought to live within its means, ought to care about the environment, and ought to respect people's privacy. All conservatives seemed to believe in these principles until they started routinely getting majorities in the Congress and regularly winning the White House by forging coalitions with the Religious Right.

Fifth: I believe that if the Republicans nominated McCain in 2008, there would be a collective sigh of relief from the GOP's grown-ups--people like Brent Scowcroft, James Baker, Colin Powell, Bob Dole, Mike DeWine, George Voinovich, and even Bush the Elder--and that he would expand the current Republican majority to Reagan proportions in the general election. But I don't think that he can emerge as the nominee from the sort of savaging to which he was subjected in 2000.

Sixth: I further believe that he will not make a third party run and I believe that for two reasons. (1) He's too much of a realist. The guy who played a central role in brokering the judicial filibuster deal proved that he knows how to count. If Theodore Roosevelt was unable to win the presidency as a third party candidate, John McCain knows that he can't do it either. (2) He is a loyal Republican. To find evidence of this, all you have to do is look at all the work he put into campaigning for Bush, a man toward whom he might well feel bitter, in 2004.

James said...

The only lessons I ever draw from Teddy's 1912 run are: 1. He never should have given up the office to Taft (especially considering Taft's lack of antitrust credentials dating back to the 1890 Pullman strikes). 2. His running was not so much a triumph for third parties but the handing of the White House on a platter to Wilson.

The first doesn't really apply to McCain, but the second certainly does. A split Republican vote would be very hard for even the Democrats to mess up, and McCain's chances would be even weaker if the Republicans nominated, say, Guiliani, who would also draw outside the base.
Not to mention the possible effects a split ticket would have on the House and Senate balance, and gubernatorial races.

EddieP said...

Mark said it, ...he knows how to count. The dream of an independent or 3rd party in american politics will remain just that

McCain could certainly play the spoiler that Perot did, but how does he come up with the 45 to 50 million votes necessary to beat Hillary and Rudy or whomever?

EddieP said...

I meant to add that if McCain runs, it will be as a Republican.

Gerry said...


You made some very good points, until you tried to say that Bush's foreign policy was a departure from the Republicanism that you claimed for conservatives with Teddy Roosevelt.

While it is probably accurate to call Bush's foreign policy "Wilsonian", it is also accurate to call Wilson's belief in the projection of American power "Teddy Rooseveltian", or taking it back to its proper root, "McKinleyesque".

Mark Daniels said...

I have to say that I disagree. Roosevelt was certainly not McKinley in his foreign policy. TR was an internationalist, whereas McKinley was an advocate of the primitive projection of American power summarized in his phrase, "manifest destiny." While Roosevelt certainly toyed with such rhetoric and his taking of Panama is an example of it, the balance of his foreign policies actually were marked by subtlety: action where possible, restraint where necessary, and, again except for Panama, respect for international cooperation. This is why he won the Nobel Peace Prize for brokering peace between Russian and Japan. This is why foreign policy realists, like Henry Kissinger, regard Roosevelt so highly.

Wilson, on the other hand, undertook repeated military interventions during his administration. This has been a hallmark of Democratic presidencies, going quickly to the use of the military, perhaps an extension of the big-government mindset. It was true of Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, and Clinton to the max. Interestingly, FDR and Carter departed from this partisan norm. FDR only acted militarily, of course, when it was forced upon him by the invasion of Pearl Harbor, although he certainly felt by that time, that some US role in WWII was inevitable.

TR certainly regretted giving up the presidency with the 1908 election. He was so wildly popular, there is no doubt that he would have won re-election and may have become the first Roosevelt to be elected four times. Who knows?

But on election night of 1904, Roosevelt, in the magnanimity often created by victory, made a very public pledge not to run in 1908. He felt duty-bound to keep that promise.

Furthermore, Taft, although clearly an unimaginative plodder, had been a loyal friend of TR's. Roosevelt had little reason to believe--and certainly little desire to believe-- that Taft would settle into the sedentary traditionalism that marked his administration.

I think that people have made some great points here in this discussion.

Charles said...

All that... but the thing that disturbs me is the time he spent in the prison camp. That does things to people and they aren't quite the same. This is a guy that KNOWS what torture is because he was tortured by some experts. He has real anger problems and temper problems. Why doesn't his wife and their kids live with him? So whether he is a great (fit your category), is he mentally stable and able to handle the pressure of President?

Anonymous said...

McCain has gone as far in the party ranks as his attitude and positions will let him. All that's left if he wants to advance *is* run for president. He may feel as though he doesn't owe anything to the party at that point and be a Bull Moose. I don't think he has a chance at winning, but he does have a good chance of pulling a Perot and putting Hillary in the White House. I say, "Don't even joke about it, John."

Gerry said...


I am not persuaded. As best I can distill your argument, TR is an internationalist because he had only one example of engaging in war to project American power (Panama) and despite him being part of the McKinley administration , while Bush is Wilsonian because he has had two (Afghanistan and Iraq). Further, McCain is Rooseveltian and not Wilsonian, despite the fact that he backed both of Bush's military engagements as well as Clinton's engagement in Bosnia. I think this line of reasoning fails in three regards-- first, it does not draw a meaningful distinction between what you mean by "Wilsonian" as opposed to an "internationalist"; second, it does not give sufficient reason for categorizing Bush as the former rather than the latter; third, it does not give any reason for considering McCain less of a Wilsonian than Bush given that his voting record shows him to have been every bit as hawkish, and perhaps moreso.


My own views of McCain were spelled out above, but FWIW to give a counter-point to the article in TNR that your son referenced, here is one with the opposite view in The Economist:


Unfortunately, it is subscription only. However, here is an excerpt:

"When Mr Bush was talking about the importance of having a “humble” foreign policy back in 2000, Mr McCain was preaching the virtues of “rogue state roll-back”. He has long been a believer in the Reagan doctrine of linking American power with the spread of American values, not least in Iraq. And his foreign policy has not softened with time. He remains an articulate defender of the Iraq war—though also an equally articulate attacker of Donald Rumsfeld's handling of it. He is an outspoken critic of the authoritarian regimes in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, as well as of Vladimir Putin's “creeping coup” in Russia. If Mr McCain isn't a Reagan Republican when it comes to foreign policy, then nobody is..."

[This gives evidence to what I was talking about earlier when I pointed to McCain's support for Bosnia intervention. There is evidence that he is more of a hawk than Bush, not less of one. Continuing...]

"To be sure, the senator's views on domestic policy are harder to pigeonhole. His support for campaign-finance reform infuriates libertarian conservatives, who worry that it limits free speech. His support for immigration reform appals conservative activists, who think that it condones law-breaking while opening the floodgates to more immigrants. His support for preserving the filibuster infuriated party loyalists, who want to get more conservatives on to the bench.

"But in each of these cases there is a good conservative argument for his position. The campaign-finance system arguably encourages pork-barrel spending. How can politicians champion the conservative goal of a limited but effective government when they are in hock to special interests? Some of the biggest supporters of Mr McCain's immigration reforms are business people who want to bring the laws in line with the global economy, and homeland-security officials who want to be able to focus their resources on real threats to national security. Getting rid of the filibuster would not only have broken with 200 years of Senate tradition, but might also have allowed a future Democratic majority to push through radical reforms.

"The paradox of Mr McCain's politics is that he frequently clashes with conservative activists not because he wants to advance liberal goals, but because he wants to promote conservative ones. Mr McCain is a deeply conservative man by temperament..."

As I said before, I am not sure I buy it completely, but I do think the odds are that if he were elected President, he would drive the left absolutely apoplectic with how conservative he is.

knox said...

If I remember correctly, for much of the 2000 presidential campaign, McCain was the media darling of the republican nominees.

But as soon as it was clear that he was really pulling ahead, it seemed like there was an abrupt shift in focus to allegations that he had "anger issues" and was possibly even mentally unbalanced, presumably from his time as a POW. I remember leaning toward McCain at the time, and feeling like the media had turned against him as soon as he really started to gain momentum.

I could have been wrong, of course. But I do think this would happen again if he were to run. As long as he's a republican and speaks out against what are considered traditionally conservative policies, he is useful. But ultimately, he's perceived as a conservative, and will lose support if ever he seems like he might be a successful contender.

Matt said...

The problem is that if McCain ran for the Republican nomination (a near certainty, IMHO), and got it (a 30-40% chance, depending on various factors that are WAY too unpredictable at this point), there'd almost certainly be a Roy Moore type challenge from the right. While in a straight-up match, McCain could almost certainly beat any Democrat, putting that third-party into play likely puts much of the deep South into a three-way race where the winner of each state may wind up with not much more than 35% of the vote, making it possible to turn a chunk of the South blue. Assuming the Democratic nominee holds the industrial NE and CA, that'd be enough to win.

Mark Daniels said...

I agree with you that McCain is more conservative than the left understands and perhaps that is the most important conclusion I wanted to derive, irrespective of our varied views of Wilson and T. Roosevelt.


TopCat said...

I have always liked McCain, even when I thought he was mistaken, as on campaign finance "reform," but this filibuster deal has broken my spirit. Even if he could show in the long run it worked for our (the repubs) benefit, the glee he took in poking the rest of the conservatives in the eye has bought him an emnity that I have never seen before. I think Rush Limbaugh would vote for Ward Churchill before he'd vote for McCain, and many other party activists feel the same. The best thing he could do now is pass the mantle of reform to Chuck Hegel.

James said...

Mark, thanks for the note on Teddy's public pledge regarding 1908. I was not aware of that and it certainly explains some things.