Arizona Sen. John McCain almost bolted from the GOP 16 years ago.
Back then, McCain was seething at the bad treatment he’d received from his party’s establishment during the 2000 primary race. Days after George W. Bush won the election, McCain huddled with then-Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle to discuss leaving the Republican Party.
Philip Shenon of Politico writes:
McCain told Daschle that he was looking for a way out of the GOP, probably by declaring himself an independent—a move that would have thrown control of the otherwise 50-50 Senate to the Democrats. The negotiations got far enough, Daschle later told me, that the two men discussed the logistics of the news conference at which McCain would make the announcement. “We came very close,” Daschle said.
Sixteen years and one critical vote later –namely, the vote last week that defeated the long-promised repeal of Obamacare — Democrat hopes are rising again that McCain could come over to the Dark Side, or at least that he may abandon the GOP:
A sitting Democratic senator, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of upsetting [Senate Democratic leader Chuck] Schumer on such a sensitive issue, said, “I’m just certain Chuck is already thinking about this–reaching out to McCain and [Maine Sen. Susan] Collins and [Alaska Sen. Lisa] Murkowski and others and asking if they really want to stand with the GOP. Do they really want to call themselves Republicans at a time when a Republican President and the party’s leaders in Congress are doing such damage to the party–and to the country?”
“If I were Chuck Schumer, I’d be talking to McCain, Collins, Murkowski—and everybody else,” said Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, the respected congressional historian and analyst. “And I would make not just a modest effort. I would make a deep effort to try to find some common ground” to convince Republicans to cross the aisle.
Collins and Murkowski were the other two Republicans that helped defeat their own party last week, though McCain’s was the decisive vote.
So far, Democratic leaders have been officially mum on whether their party is trying to recruit the three wayward Republicans—and most observers are skeptical that McCain would leave his party at this stage of his career. In 2001, McCain changed plans when Senator Jeffords of Vermont defected instead, giving the Democrats majority control. McCain told the Democrats they didn’t need him anymore.
But Democrats still speak wistfully of McCain’s turncoat romance in 2001.
“He’s my hero,” Daschle said of McCain. “I really mean that. He’s my hero. That’s exactly what somebody needed to do. It was a courageous act.”
And it’s interesting that, before voting on Friday morning, McCain was seen conversing happily with Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and other Democrats — and not with any of the Republicans that he was about to betray.
[This article was written by Joe Vidueira]