Audio flashbacks: The great Kerry-McCain flirt of 2004

Maverick. Political switch hitter. Flirted with joining a ticket with John Kerry against a sitting Republican president back in 2004? This is old ground, but it’s worth going over as a reminder of who we’re dealing with in John McCain.

Here’s a 2007 clip of John Kerry on how John McCain’s people approached Kerry about a possible 2004 fusion ticket.

JOHN KERRY: His people similarly approached me, to engage in a discussion about his potentially being on the ticket, as vice president. So, his people were active. Let’s put it that way.

Is Kerry lying? Could be, but here’s a story that fleshes this gambit out in more detail. Kerry gave that soundbite in an interview with the liberal blog MyDD, presumably friendly confines for Kerry.

Jonathan Singer: There’s a story in The Hill, I think on Tuesday, by Bob Cusack on the front page of the paper talking about how John McCain’s people — John Weaver — had approached Tom Daschle and a New York Congressman, I don’t remember his name, about switching parties. And I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about what your discussions were with him in 2004, how far it went, who approached whom… if there was any “there” there.

John Kerry: I don’t know all the details of it. I know that Tom, from a conversation with him, was in conversation with a number of Republicans back then. It doesn’t surprise me completely because his people similarly approached me to engage in a discussion about his potentially being on the ticket as Vice President. So his people were active — let’s put it that way.

Singer: Okay. And just to confirm, you said it, but this is something they approached you rather than…

Kerry: Absolutely correct. John Weaver of his shop.

John Weaver certainly did work for John McCain up until the McCain campaign imploded last year.

And here’s John McCain himself on running with Kerry, from March 2004.

CHARLES GIBSON: Let me imagine it. If he asked you, if he came across the aisle and asked you, would you even entertain the idea? Or will you rule it out for good and all and ever right now?
MCCAIN: John Kerry is a very close friend of mine, and we’ve been friends for years. Obviously I would entertain it…

That soundbite finishes with

but there is, I see no scenario, no scenario, no scenario, where, I foresee no scenario where that will happen.”

And he goes on to state that he will campaign for President Bush, not against Sen. Kerry, and that the Democrats would be unlikely to put a hawkish, pro-life Republican on the ticket. Which is true as far as that goes.

In July 2004 after Kerry had picked John Edwards as his running mate, then radio talk show host Tony Snow asked John McCain about whether McCain had considered running with Kerry against Bush. McCain says that Kerry never offered him the slot. But in that interview McCain didn’t say that he never sent his own people to Kerry to check into the possibility.

SNOW: It was never offered. So, it may have been discussed elliptically, but never flat out request.

McCAIN: Never was an offer, no.

SNOW: When you had conversations, did you think it was a little weird that he’d be calling you, even in general terms about this sort of thing?

McCAIN: Well, he and I have been friends for a number of years because of our efforts on POWs and MIAs which was a very hot issue back in the early 90’s, a lot of people have forgotten about it, but it was a- and we worked together to try to resolve that issue and I appreciate the work that he did on it. And, so it’s not unusual for us to have conversations.

SNOW: Right. But, so- I want to just lay to rest once and for all: never approached you, never hinted that he wanted to talk to you about being vice president. All that kind of stuff was made up.

McCAIN: Well, I cannot attest to that. All I can tell you is my conversations with him were private conversations, but he never offered it.

So in March 2004, McCain says he would entertain the unlikely Kerry offer if it came, and in July 2004 he says he was never offered the slot, but that’s after Edwards was already on the ticket. “It was never offered” does not equal “I never sought it or sent out feelers.” So did he? In April 2007 John Weaver flatly denied that McCain ever sought to be on the Kerry ticket, and McCain chief of staff Mark Salter called it a “fantasy” and said that Kerry approached McCain as early as 2003. But in that Snow interview, McCain himself seemed to leave the possibility open that he approached Kerry by how carefully he worded his answers. Someone here isn’t telling the truth. Maybe all involved aren’t. There is history of both Kerry and McCain dissembling, with McCain as recently as this week baldly mischaracterizing Mitt Romney’s position on Iraq.

As the saying goes, where there’s smoke there’s fire, so obviously there was some discussion between Kerry and McCain of creating a fusion ticket against Bush. How far those talks got is hard to say: Kerry says there were feelers, McCain doesn’t answer the question, but the man Kerry named as McCain’s agent in 2004 flatly denies the whole thing. It seems possible to me that Kerry approached McCain in 2003 but it was too early, so McCain put Kerry off. But in 2004 once Kerry became the Democrat front-runner, McCain may have very quietly sought intel on whether Kerry’s 2003 overture was still on the table. It wasn’t. But that’s conjecture. If McCain did approach Kerry and Kerry rejected him, then Maverick is a turncoat and Kerry is a fool, because Edwards brought nothing to that ticket and McCain probably would have made enough of a difference to give us a President Kerry now. One thing we do know that McCain went on in that Snow interview to declare support for President Bush, and that McCain became an energetic campaigner for Bush throughout the rest of that year. But we also know that McCain has been a thorn to Republicans on most other issues ever since he lost to Bush in 2000.

Whatever did happen in 2004, it’s not quite the end of the story. Here’s former House Speaker Dennis Hastert on the Mark Levin Show Friday night. Hastert endorses Mitt Romney and describes what it was like working with the Straight Talkin’ Maverick in Congress. Hastert makes many of the same anti-McCain points that the conservative pundits stress: McCain-Feingold, McCain-Kennedy, etc. But coming from a fellow Republican member of Congress, Hastert’s obvious annoyance at McCain packs a little bit more of a punch.

That’s how hard it was for conservatives to work with Senator McCain. Imagine them having to work with President McCain.