One has to wonder what the McCain campaign is thinking when they do something like this.
The subject: Former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge as a potential McCain running mate, a trial balloon floated by McCain himself over at the Weekly Standard. Here’s the quote, as reported by Stephen Hayes: “I think that the pro-life position is one of the important aspects or fundamentals of the Republican Party,” McCain said. ” And I also feel that — and I’m not trying to equivocate here — that Americans want us to work together. You know, Tom Ridge is one of the great leaders and he happens to be pro-choice. And I don’t think that would necessarily rule Tom Ridge out.”
Let it be said as a Pennsylvanian who first met then-Congressman Ridge years ago he is a very accomplished guy, and a nice guy to boot. A Vietnam vet, bootstrapped up from Erie with a stop at Harvard. He is smart and talented and a genuine American patriot. None of that is at issue.
What is at issue in any discussion of his vice-presidential prospects is his record as a Congressman and governor of Pennsylvania, as well as his tenure as the first Secretary of Homeland Security. Along with this is the notion being floated in some McCain circles that Ridge’s presence on the ticket would help carry the state.
“This would be the last straw,” snapped one astonished Pennsylvania conservative who had read of McCain’s remarks. There would be “a conservative explosion,” said another.
BUT WHY? What’s the antipathy from Pennsylvania conservatives to a McCain-Ridge ticket? The answers came quickly. Brisk, passionate — and off the record. Tom Ridge is still the home state guy, and he is well liked. Not agreed with, however.
“First and foremost, Ridge is pro-abortion,” said one leader. As McCain acknowledges, this is indeed a big deal. Pennsylvania conservatives, not unlike their counterparts around the country, are all too well aware of the power accorded modern day vice presidents. They are acutely aware that the presence of a Vice President Ridge, replete with West Wing staff and allies he would place throughout a McCain administration, would in fact be in a position to influence the choice of nominees for the federal district and federal appeals courts. To put these selections within a country mile of a well-known pro-choice advocate would ignite a virtual cultural war within the GOP. Yes, they think McCain himself would be involved with any Supreme Court nominations, presumably sending bona fide conservatives in the mold of a Roberts, Scalia, Alito or Thomas to the Court. But the drive to populate the lower ranks of the federal bench with conservative jurists, a project begun by former Attorney General Edwin Meese III in the Reagan-era, could easily come to a screeching halt.
This in turn brought out another acid observation of Ridge’s record as a Congressman during the Reagan years. Ridge, said one heated activist, “cast one of the highest percentage votes against President Reagan of any member of Congress when he was there.” Not to be forgotten were the scathing remarks about what was said to be Ridge’s lack of performance as the state’s chief executive. Complaints poured forth about his “poor fiscal record as governor.” While complaints focused on his support for a legislative pay raise and pension increase, funding for sports stadiums and that his government spending habits were barely different from either his Democratic predecessor (the late Robert P. Casey) or Democratic successor (current Governor Ed Rendell), the heart of the criticism focused on what was said to be Ridge’s decidedly un-Reaganite approach to government in general.
“Tom Ridge is the personification of the status quo in government,” said this incensed young conservative. “In that sense he isn’t even a McCain, who at least can claim he has made serious efforts at reform. Ridge comes back in here from time to time and supports his establishment status quo cronies. He is not even close to being a conservative reformer.” For good measure, Ridge’s performance as the first Secretary of Homeland Security was mentioned. “He’s the guy that was responsible for setting up FEMA before Katrina hit. You don’t think the Democrats have that one all researched?”
Um. OK. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?
WHAT ABOUT THE IDEA that Ridge’s presence on the ticket could help carry Pennsylvania for McCain?
“Yes,” said one leader. “He could. But McCain can carry Pennsylvania without him. And what does his presence say to conservatives in other states? Like Ohio?”
“What will happen, ” said another, “is that it will be a wash. Those who vote for McCain because of Ridge will be canceled out by those who refuse to vote or vote for [Libertarian nominee] Bob Barr.”
All of this, of course, was off the record. Not only is Ridge well liked personally, there is little interest in hurting McCain, particularly as Obama comes more clearly into focus. There were conservative leaders who professed to having stuck with McCain even when his campaign seemed to be imploding in 2007.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
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It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
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