What was John McCain thinking?
Did the Republican who would be president really think that by goading Democrat Barack Obama into visiting Afghanistan and Iraq — countries the senator from Illinois was going to have to visit as part of an image-building international tour — he would somehow trip-up his November rival?
Was McCain under some delusion that international leaders would subtly undermine the Obama tour and thus confirm that the Republican ally of discredited lame-duck President George Bush was the only real choice to lead the United States toward a more realistic role in the world?
If that was the case, then McCain really is too foolish to be president — not merely of the U.S. but of his stamp club.
As Obama goes from strength to strength — sinking baskets, drawing cheers from the troops, forging a plan to extract most U.S. forces from Iraq that everyone who matters seems to agree with — McCain is scrambling.
Of course, it is true that Obama is too open to a wider U.S. commitment in Afghanistan and too closed to a wider U.S. commitment to seeking peace in the Middle East. But, in each case, he appears moderate when compared to the bombastic McCain.
Of course, it is true that Obama may be making commitments that he cannot keep. But the Democrat’s overreach does not begin to rival that of the Republican — a fact that is coming across to the American people who, if tracking polls are correct, are warming to Obama with each passing day of an international journal that looks less like a listening tour than a victory lap.
What’s a McCain to do?
The Republican appears to be thinking about trying to trump Obama, not with some foreign-policy masterstroke but with some old-fashioned politics.
McCain has been meeting on an almost daily basis with Republican vice presidential prospects — former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was with the candidate Sunday, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal will be with him Wednesday. There have been lengthy conversations with long-shot Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, and with the man whose name many believe is at the top of the list of likely suspects: former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.
Syndicated columnist Robert Novak claims that McCain will make a vice presidential pick quickly. “Sources close to Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign are suggesting he will reveal the name of his vice presidential selection this week while Sen. Barack Obama is getting the headlines on his foreign trip,” argues Novak.
Is it really possible that McCain would use a vice presidential designation to grab some cheap headlines away from Obama? Possible, yes. The Republican contender is desperate; he’s falling behind in state-by-state surveys and there is every reason to believe Obama will enjoy a big bump from his global positioning.
But the key word here is “possible.” McCain’s aides are torn about whether making a vice presidential pick now is the best idea. While such a move would counter Obama’s surge, picking a running-mate now would require the Republican contender to play the best card he’s got early in the game. McCain would own the news cycle, but once the excitement fades — as it surely would if someone like Romney was the pick — he has very little with which to compete with Obama for attention.
That could make for a long, hot August for McCain, culminating with Obama’s rock-star finish to the Democratic nominating convention in Denver.
Still, July is turning into a miserable month for McCain. And misery loves company.