Kristol fuels the speculation on McCain-Lieberman ticket
By Ben Harris
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NEW YORK (JTA)—With John McCain’s big wins on Super Tuesday, speculation is likely to increase about his running mate. Could it be Joe Lieberman, who was flanking the GOP frontrunner last night during his victory speech in Arizona?
The latest prominent figure to raise the possibility was Weekly Standard editor William Kristol at an AIPAC gathering Jan. 31 in New York. Kristol told the pro-Israel crowd that Lieberman, an independent U.S. senator from Connecticut, was McCain’s preferred running mate, according to one attendee.
In December, the prospect of the former Democratic vice presidential candidate joining a ticket led by the Arizona Republican was all the buzz at an Orthodox Union convention in Los Angeles.
Lieberman, who caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate, but endorsed McCain for president, has said he’s not interested. Still, support for the idea exists among some of McCain’s Jewish backers.
“Nothing would make me happier than to see Joe Lieberman as vice president of the United States,” said Fred Zeidman, a top fund-raiser for the McCain campaign and President Bush’s choice to serve as chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council. “I don’t know how that happens, but stranger things can happen.”
Political observers from across the political spectrum agree that the chances are minimal that Lieberman, who was re-elected to the Senate as an independent but still caucuses with the Democrats, will join a McCain ticket.
McCain already is extremely unpopular with segments of the GOP’s conservative base, and joining forces with a former Democrat would only make things worse. Besides, while the two men are close friends and broadly agree on a range of foreign policy issues, they are far apart on many domestic questions, from abortion to judicial appointments.
“I have had the privilege of speaking to both senators, who are very dear friends and think the world of each other, but they understand, as I think all of us must, this kind of ticket would be almost inconceivable in the current political situation,” said conservative talk radio host Michael Medved.
It was Medved at the O.U. convention late last year who said that McCain-Lieberman would be “a very strong ticket,” but in speaking with both lawmakers he concludes the possibility is “very unlikely.” Still, Medved wouldn’t entirely write off the possibility.
“One thing about McCain, and it’s a thing that drives people crazy, is he kind of likes to stick it to people, which is one of the reasons this Lieberman thing isn’t entirely dead,” Medved said.
Medved went on to imagine the reaction in the Muslim world to McCain announcing there would be no negotiations conducted on Saturdays in deference to the Shabbat observance of Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew.
“I love it,” Medved said. “You can see the reporting on Al-Jazeera on it.”
Ira Forman, the director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, told JTA that while Lieberman still has many friends in the Democratic Party and could probably persuade some to vote for McCain, many are “mad, angry and don’t understand what he’s doing.”
“The vast majority of Democratic Jews are pretty mad at Joe,” Forman said.
And then there is the rest of the party, much of which is furious at Lieberman over his support for the Iraq war, his decision to run as an independent after losing in Connecticut’s Democratic primary in 2006 and his endorsement of McCain for president.
“Since 2000, Joe Lieberman has gone from being a figure that rank-and-file Dems were mildly suspicious of to one who is the poster boy for almost every political sin that matters to them,” wrote Joshua Micah Marshall, editor and publisher of the liberal blog Talkingpointsmemo.com. “Far from attracting core Democratic votes it would probably heighten Democratic suspicions of McCain. And that’s saying something.”
And what of Lieberman himself?
Last month, between Florida campaign appearances for McCain, Lieberman told JTA he wasn’t interested in joining a McCain administration, either as vice president or as a Cabinet member.
“I like the Senate, as you’ve heard me say,” Lieberman said, “particularly having gone through all I did to have the privilege of serving, being a senior senator. You know, I think I’ve learned a lot about how to make the place work. And for me that’s all I’m interested in for the remainder of my public service.”
Though it is tempting to dismiss that as a textbook campaign denial, some observers say there is reason to believe Lieberman on this one.
“Maybe some politicians do that, but I don’t think Joe Lieberman does that,” Forman said. “I think he’s justifiably proud of keeping his word on things like this. He’s not a normal politician.”