Kerry-McCain Turns Vicious Over Iraq

Indeed, Mr. McCain’s present-day claims, uttered as a he faces a G.O.P. primary electorate to whom the name Kerry is a curse word, that he never considered the idea ring hollow. Beyond whatever communications there were between the McCain and Kerry camps, there was ample media speculation throughout the spring of ’04 about a possible pairing. Mr. McCain could have shot it down then as emphatically as he now seeks to—but for months he refused to do so, keeping the chatter alive (to the detriment of President Bush) until shortly before the Democratic convention. Only then did finally he offer a firm public denial, which he followed with a head-long dive into the Bush re-election effort.

Among other things, that meant offering only the most perfunctory—and belated—disapproval when his old friend John Kerry was Swift Boated. The McCain-Kerry relationship hasn’t been the same since.

But what if Mr. McCain had said yes three years ago, and he and Mr. Kerry had gone on to win the election? Sunday’s “Meet the Press” suggested it might have been a disaster, given their fundamental disagreement on the nature and purpose of the Iraq war their administration would have inherited.

Mr. Kerry calls for changing the mission and bringing troops home to give the U.S. “leverage.” Mr. McCain says this amounts to a surrender to al-Qaeda and that the implications of a troop drawdown would be catastrophic. And so on.

The real question is why no one – not Mr. Kerry and his advisors, not Mr. McCain, and not many political observers—seemed to appreciate this in 2004. Just like now, Iraq was the preeminent issue. And Mr. McCain and Mr. Kerry were just as far apart as they are now.

It may simply be that these distinctions meant nothing until earlier this year, when President Bush responded to his party’s repudiation at the polls with an escalation of the war, and Mr. McCain loudly went along with it.

Maybe Mr. Kerry could have won in 2004 with Mr. McCain at his side. But he can take consolation in at least one aspect of the partnership that never happened: it would have been a disaster.