News & Politics

McCain Tries to Cover Up His Flirtations with Becoming a Democrat

Far from showing McCain to be open-minded, I find these events to be a reminder of just how shallow McCain's principles really are.

A couple of weeks ago, the NYT’s Elisabeth Bumiller asked John McCain about his contradictory stories regarding joining John Kerry’s 2004 Democratic ticket. McCain claimed he "never even considered such a thing," which is clearly false. When Bumiller pressed him on the issue, McCain’s infamous temper didn’t exactly erupt, but he certainly made his displeasure clear.

The incident seems to have prompted Bumiller to take a closer look at the two major flirtations McCain has had with the Democratic Party, neither of which has generated much attention during this year’s campaign.
Senator John McCain never fails to call himself a conservative Republican as he campaigns as his party’s presumptive presidential nominee. He often adds that he was a “foot soldier” in the Reagan revolution and that he believes in the bedrock conservative principles of small government, low taxes and the rights of the unborn.
What Mr. McCain almost never mentions are two extraordinary moments in his political past that are at odds with the candidate of the present: His discussions in 2001 with Democrats about leaving the Republican Party, and his conversations in 2004 with Senator John Kerry about becoming Mr. Kerry’s running mate on the Democratic presidential ticket.

Regular readers may recall that I’ve followed both stories with great interest, in part because I (wrongly) believed McCain’s on-again, off-again romance with Democrats would become a problem for the senator in the Republican primaries. That didn’t exactly work out — McCain’s rivals never pushed the matter, and reporters didn’t bring it up.

But in light of McCain’s mini-tantrum on his campaign plane earlier this month, Bumiller does a good job summarizing what transpired. The questions now are, does this matter, and if so, how?

On the possible 2001 switch…
Democrats were stunned one Saturday in late March when, by their account, John Weaver, Mr. McCain’s longtime political strategist, reached out to Thomas J. Downey, a former Democratic congressman from Long Island who had become a lobbyist with powerful connections on Capitol Hill. In Mr. Downey’s telling, Mr. Weaver posed a question to him over lunch that left him stunned.
“He says, ‘John McCain is wondering why nobody’s ever approached him about switching parties, or becoming an independent and allying himself with the Democrats,’ ” Mr. Downey said in a recent interview. “My reaction was, ‘When I leave this lunch, your boss will be called by anybody you want him to be called by in the United States Senate.’ “

…and on the 2004 Democratic ticket.
Steve Benen is a freelance writer/researcher and creator of The Carpetbagger Report. In addition, he is the lead editor of's Blog Report, and has been a contributor to Talking Points Memo, Washington Monthly, Crooks & Liars, The American Prospect, and the Guardian.