Karl Rove apparently phoned Joe Lieberman last week and demanded that he withdraw his name from consideration as John McCain’s running mate, a request that the Connecticut senator ignored. (For what it’s worth, Rove – as is his wont – denies this.) This prompts the question: If McCain ultimately decides not to pick Mitt Romney for VP, might Rove’s intervention be the reason?
Rove has made no secret of his support for Romney as McCain’s VP. He is not alone in this among powerful Republican establishment figures, many of whom (whether openly or quietly) preferred Romney back in the primary season.
But why are they so adamant? A logical explanation: More than usual, this year’s Republican VP nomination is seen as a stepping stone to the 2012 nod – especially if the nod goes to Romney, who already laid a solid groundwork for a ’12 campaign this year. The thinking is that even if McCain wins this fall, he will ultimately opt (at 76 years old) not to seek a second term, potentially handing the ’12 nomination to his vice president. Romney, with his looks, his style, his money and his utterly malleable ideology, is the perfect candidate for Rove and other pragmatic power players.
But what does McCain think when he sees this? Obviously, he knows that Romney hungers for the presidency and has become such a helpful surrogate these past few months because he sees an opportunity for himself. Granted, this kind of calculating is standard in politics, but at what point does this become too much for McCain? With powerful figures like Rove so committed to advancing Romney’s political future, would McCain be able to work with, or even trust, his vice president?
It’s a good bet that, all things being equal, McCain would prefer to run and govern with Lieberman. Perhaps the push-back from conservative leaders has scared him off this idea, but he still likes and trusts Lieberman more than just about anyone else – and surely he heard all about the Rove call from Lieberman. It’s enough to make you wonder: If Rove and company have made it impossible for him to pick Lieberman, might McCain’s response be to snub Romney, maybe for Tim Pawlenty?