McCain Planned to Join Democratic Party in 2001
The Hill breaks the story that John McCain was planning to leave the Republican Party in 2001. Reporter Bob Cusack got Tom Daschle and lobbyist Tom Downey on-record about meetings McCain had with Democrats to plan his departure from the GOP. McCain was sour about losing to Bush and the direction his party was going in.
Democrats didn't approach McCain. His chief political strategist John Weaver did; as a go-between man.
At the end of their March 31, 2001 lunch at a Chinese restaurant in Bethesda, Md., Downey said Weaver asked why Democrats hadn’t asked McCain to switch parties.
Downey, a well-connected lobbyist, said he was stunned.
“You’re really wondering?” Downey said he told Weaver. “What do you mean you’re wondering?”
“Well, if the right people asked him,” Weaver said, according to Downey, adding that he responded, “The calls will be made. Who do you want?” Weaver this week said he did have lunch with Downey that spring, pointing out that he and Downey “are very good friends.”
Downey then called Daschle.
“Within seconds” of arriving home from his lunch with Weaver, Downey said he was on the phone to the most powerful Democrats in town. One of the first calls he made was to then-Senate Minority Leader Daschle.
“I did take the call from Tom [Downey],” Daschle said in an interview. “It was Weaver’s comment” to Downey that started the McCain talks, he added.
Weaver caved and admitted that McCain talked to Democrats about joining the party. Weaver points out that McCain quickly rebuffed the offers. That differs from Daschle's story.
"Both Sen. Reid and I talked to [McCain] both individually and together," said Daschle.
John Edwards talked to McCain about joining the Democrats. An aide on the Edwards' campaign confirmed the story.
Michael Crowley of the New Republic said a source confirmed McCain's intention to defect is true. What's hysterical is the reason he changed his mind was Jim Jeffords left the GOP first and McCain knew his defection wouldn't make as big a news splash. What an ego.
McCain is fucked if this story gains traction. I'm not talking about the nomination. He never had a chance. He will have a hard enough time staying in politics. Retirement is looking good.
Update: Count on Power Line to find the silver lining in a damaging story about a Republican.
My guess is that after the 2000 election, McCain was understandably at odds with President Bush; like most Senators, he has friends on the other side of the aisle and probably did grumble to them about the Bush administration. In early 2001, the Democrats were desperate to convince a Republican to change parties, and McCain, as the loser to Bush in the 2000 primaries, was a natural choice.
With hindsight, the thought of McCain in the Democratic Party is ludicrous. Imagine a pro-life Joe Lieberman, and you're still only part way there. Given the way the Democrats have abandoned the war effort both in Iraq and globally, whatever grievances McCain has had against the Bush administration over the years are relatiely insignificant.
Will these reports hurt McCain with the Republican party's base? Probably not much. The base already doesn't consider him a very loyal Republican; that's the price you pay if you want the media to praise you as a "maverick." But the marginal impact of this story is no doubt small.
Democrats went after Lincoln Chafee and Jeffords. McCain's aide came to them. Ed Morrissey is skeptical about the story's validity, but adds:
If true, this would effectively end McCain's presidential bid. He already has trust issues with Republicans, and this will do nothing but cause them to reject him entirely. However, the people who sourced this story have plenty of motivation to derail McCain, including Edwards, who thinks he may run against McCain in the general election. The principals tell completely conflicting stories, and the nature of the issue almost ensures that no independent proof one way or the other could exist. I'm betting this is nonsense.
UPDATE: Allahpundit puts more credence in it than I do, making the good point that if it were just a smear, they would have waited until the general election to use it. However, the same would be true if the story is on the level. Why talk about this now in either case? It almost seems like someone couldn't wait to spill the beans -- and that does give some weight to the story.
Allahpundit correctly points out Romney's and Giuliani's people are going to work the phones and use this against McCain. The sooner the Maverick is out the faster they can grab his fundraisers and campaign staffers. How Power Line thinks this story won't have much of an impact on McCain is beyond me.