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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

One Term Pledges and Veep Surprises

In his efforts to help along the sorta-kinda revival of John McCain’s presidential campaign, National Review‘s Ramesh Ponnuru came up with an interesting proposal: McCain should announce that if elected, he would serve only one term.
Ponnuru doesn’t exactly explain why this would work magic for McCain, other than attracting some buzz, and perhaps (if he followed Ramesh’s advice and said his one term would be devoted to a few big goals) reviving his tarnished rep as a principled pol among power-mad opportunists. If McCain were in better political shape, a one-term pledge might assuage concerns about his age and health, but those aren’t really his problem at present. Theoretically, knowing a President McCain would leave office in 2013 might appeal to current or potential Republican rivals, but that won’t turn many real votes. If things started looking really, really bad for GOPers in 2008, I suppose McCain could fulfill his old buddy Marshall Wittmann’s dream by announcing Joe Lieberman as a running-mate and propose some sort of four-year Government of National Salvation. But it’s hard to imagine that series of events congealing in time to crucially affect the nominating contest, and as Ponnuru says, the time for a big bold move is now.
But there is one Republican candidate for whom the strategy of a one-term pledge coupled with a strategic, announced-in-advance running-mate could make some sense: Rudy Giuliani. Rudy’s appeal to many Republicans is that he may be the only choice who could thwart the likelihood of a Democratic president working with a Democratic Congress, perhaps breaking the partisan gridlock of the last decade or so, and taking the Supreme Court out of reach of those whose raison d’etre is the overturning of Roe v. Wade. But many of the same people are terrified that a President Giuliani would reshape the GOP itself in his image. Limiting himself in advance to one term, and at the same time choosing in advance a culturally conservative running-mate who would be the Heir to the Throne, might produce a small but crucial breakthrough for Rudy in the GOP ranks.
While we are on the subject, the use of the vice-presidential nomination as a strategic device is an idea that doesn’t get discussed much these days, thanks to the abundant evidence that it usually doesn’t change many votes. But a well-timed and dramatic running-mate announcement is a proposition that’s rarely been tested. What if John Kerry had actually secured McCain as his running-mate in 2004 (which I’m pretty sure was a much livelier possibility than a lot of people realized then or now)? And while the Reagan-Ford ticket that nearly materialized at the GOP Convention of 1980 would probably not have affected the outcome of that election, it certainly might have affected world history by sparing us all the Bush Dynasty.
Then there’s the ever-lurking idea of a candidate announcing a running-mate before winning the nomination. It’s happened just once: in 1976, when Ronald Reagan stunned Republicans by choosing Sen. Richard Schweiker of PA as his putative Veep shortly before the convention. The move was narrowly tactical, aimed at prying loose some delegates from PA, and it failed, because Schweiker’s relatively liberal voting record produced a backlash that lost Reagan the previously uncommitted Mississippi delegation and thus the nomination.
But it’s a strategem eminently available to any candidate who wants to create a large buzz, signal a grand coalition, or attract a key voter bloc. And at some point, if not this year then before too long, it will be tried.

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