Wielding the conservative veto pen

National Review's John J. Miller strikes four possibilities from McCain's potential veep list as ideologically unsound.

Published July 9, 2008 2:01AM (EDT)

It's no secret that many conservatives aren't crazy about John McCain, and have gone along with his candidacy for lack of a better option, and also because they view him as potentially a one-term placeholder (in victory or defeat) who will soon be displaced as GOP leader.

That's why there's very high interest among conservatives in the identity of McCain's running-mate, and a sense that they should enjoy a veto over the choice, on pain of letting McCain go into November without benefit of an energized "base" or strong support from the conservative noise machine.

For the most part, the veto threat will be communicated privately, unless McCain gives conservatives grounds for fear that he will betray them. That's why it's interesting to read the very explicit list of unacceptable candidates offered by John J. Miller of National Review in a subscription-only article entitled "McCain's Untouchables: Four men who should not be on the ticket."

First on Miller's list is Joe Lieberman, "a pro-war liberal in the mold of the Cold War's Scoop Jackson, but a liberal nonetheless," who would make the country "one heartbeat away from a Democratic administration." Most Democrats would disagree with that judgment, but we don't get a vote here.

Second is former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, known to be a McCain favorite. But to Miller, Ridge is a "pro-abortion Catholic" with an "unexpectedly liberal voting record" as a congressman back in the 80s, and who as a governor in the 90s "wasn't a game-changing conservative reformer in the mold of Michigan's John Engler or Wisconsin's Tommy Thompson."

Miller's third "untouchable" is Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, another McCain buddy, who is "not a conservative, but rather a populist who has assumed conservative positions on a few issues." Miller scores Crist for being an Arnold Schwarzenegger enthusiast, an abortion rights supporter, and (in an unstated nod to rumors about his sexual orientation) a bachelor.

Finally, Miller anathemizes Mike Huckabee, a favorite of both political handicappers and key elements of the Christian Right. Noting Huck's positive media reviews, Miller says: "In the heat of a general election, however, reporters no longer would portray him as colorful, but as crazy." That was not intended as a compliment. Like Crist, Huckabee also gets large demerits for "populism."

Miller is just one conservative, and others might add Tim Pawlenty or Carly Fiorina or Condi Rice to the "untouchable" list. But on Lieberman, Ridge, Crist and Huckabee, he speaks as one with authority. Don't expect McCain to Go There.

By Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is the managing editor of The Democratic Strategist, a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, and an online columnist for The New Republic.

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John Mccain R-ariz.