Will John McCain be the October Surprise?
Months ago, when the Republican senator who is often dubbed a maverick finally started campaigning with George W. Bush–after news reports noted that John Kerry had delicately discussed with McCain the idea of McCain becoming Kerry’s running mate–the question asked by political commentators (and cable talk show consumers) was, what does McCain want? Did he want to make peace with the GOP establishment so he could run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 (when he would be 72 years old)? Was he looking to be secretary of defense? Was he hoping that Bush would bounce Dick Cheney and put McCain on the ticket?
The obvious answer was that McCain was just yielding to the overwhelming Ds-and-Rs dynamic of Washington’s binary culture. In his case, the issue was whether McCain was a Republican or not. And if he did want to continue being a GOPer in good standing, then he had to do right by the Family. (Think The Sopranos.) That meant putting aside the resentment and anger he must have felt toward the Bush clan, which–take your pick–ran or countenanced an ugly and vicious campaign against McCain in the South Carolina primary in 2000 that included questioning McCain’s commitment to veterans and spreading rumors that McCain had been brainwashed in a Vietnamese prison camp, that his adopted daughter was a love-child he had had with a prostitute, and that his wife was a junkie. So this year McCain sucked it up and hit the trail for Bush, even as the Bush brigade was mounting the same sort of trash-and-slash attack against McCain’s colleague, John Kerry. At least, McCain could point to the war in Iraq as a point of agreement with Bush. Though McCain, according to a McCain adviser, has not accepted the neoconservatives’ argument (adopted by Bush) that the Iraq war is necessary as an initial step in remaking the region, he believed that because Saddam Hussein posed a possible threat and was such a tyrant he needed “to be taken out.”
But maybe there was another reason beyond loyalty to the party and to the commander-in-chief why McCain saddled up with Bush. Perhaps he wanted to get near enough to knife Bush–metaphorically speaking, of course. As in, keep your friends close and your enemies closer. (Think The Godfather.)
Yesterday on Fox News Sunday, McCain whacked Bush on Iraq. He accused Bush of making “serious mistakes after the initial successes by not having enough troops there on the ground, by allowing the looting, by not securing the borders. There was a number of things that we did. Most of it can be traced back to not having sufficient numbers of troops there.” When he said “we,” McCain actually meant Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Condoleezza Rice. He noted that the Bush administration has allowed insurgents to establish sanctuaries–such as in Falluja–where anti-American rebels or terrorists can be trained and harbored. McCain, saying he still supports the US mission in Iraq, was making a serious charge: that Bush and his gang have screwed things up tremendously.