One of the little reported developments in the national brouhaha over the Florida recount has been the surprising non-involvement of Arizona Senator John McCain -- arguably one of the two or three most important politicians in the United States. A few days after November 7th, McCain made an appearance on Face the Nation and made some vague, not-so-specific, statesmanlike comments. But that was it. He didn't go down to Florida. He didn't even say word one about the whole question of military overseas absentee ballots. And don't you think he would have had a lot more credibility making that argument than Bush's dad's best friend James Baker and George W.'s new best friend Marc Racicot? Yep, so do I.
Since Katherine Harris certified Bush as the winner on Sunday evening, McCain has made a number of public statements -- first in Arizona on Monday and then later on Wednesday on Larry King Live. But even though he now says it's time for Gore to concede, his statements remained eminently mild. Here's one example from Larry King Live:
And I'm not -- not -- I am in sympathy with the vice president and Joe Lieberman. They won the majority of the popular vote. I can understand why they would be unhappy. But if -- there is so much on both sides, I've become confused at the number of lawsuits. I don't know what a pregnant chad is. I think that Americans -- this is great fodder for the late shows and the comedians -- but at a certain point it gets serious. We're looking at the
date of December 12, when the electors will meet, and I'm afraid that litigation will not resolve this issue by that time.
Those are not part of the Bush Talking Points.
And why hasn't McCain spoken out earlier? On Monday in Arizona, McCain said
he hadn't spoken out because no one had asked him to.
Now, with all due respect to the senator, this has to be a case where the straight shooter ain't quite shooting straight. If the Bush folks didn't ask him to speak out -- which is very unlikely -- they didn't because he made it clear they wouldn't like the answer.
Another interesting factor has been the response of Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, who is closely aligned with McCain and bears a marked political resemblance to McCain in many ways. He came forward and said the only fair way to settle the mess in Florida was to do a complete statewide recount. Again, that's really not part of the Bush campaign talking points.
What gives this whole matter significance -- and makes it not just a matter of pique or personalities -- is the closeness of the Senate in the 107th Congress and the new factions building up within the GOP. What you're seeing here, I think, is a preview of the McCainite faction in the Senate, which may hold the balance of power in the Senate and perhaps the House as well. McCain and Hagel (who's rumored to want Trent Lott's job) aren't liberals certainly, but they do have a strong reformist impulse (particularly on issues like campaign finance reform) and just don't quite get along or see eye-to-eye with the Bush-Lott-Mitch McConnell wing of their party.
This will be worth watching.