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Adele Stan Headshot

The Ridge/Lieberman Fake-Out

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Calm yourselves, mes amis! Yes, yes, I understand how exciting all this veep stuff is, and how thrilling it would be to see the religious right-wing beside itself with the selection of a pro-choice vice presidential candidate by John McCain, the Republican heir apparent. I so hate to bust up this party, but do listen up: It ain't gonna happen. No way, no how.

And you diligent righties out there, doing your oppo, reading the HuffPo: Guess what? This is not about you. Hard to believe, I know; but it's really not. It's about that handful of Hillary Clinton supporters who are having a hard time bringing themselves to vote for the black guy. Really.

It was only eight years ago that this game was tried by a guy named George W. Bush, who had vanquished, in a dirty-tricks primary, a guy named John McCain, who was said to be on Bush's short list as a possible vice presidential pick. But the name that had everybody really excited was that of Tom Ridge, the former Pennsylvania governor.

In 2000, the Republican National Convention took place at the end of July in Philadelphia, which served to amplify the speculation over Ridge, who was well-known by local media. Meanwhile, a well-heeled group of Republican pro-choice women were promising trouble, threatening a floor fight at the convention. (They came within three delegate votes of pulling it off -- a terribly under-reported story.)

Bush held his veep card close to his vest while the platform hearings took place in Philly, just ahead of the convention. Keeping Ridge's name in contention, he created a sense of hopefulness among the women of the Republican Pro-Choice Coalition, only to pop their balloon two days before the convention with the announcement of the Cheney pick. Consequently, he had a rather peaceful run-up to the convention. And polling showed that Bush's numbers bumped up among Pennsylvanians when Ridge's name was joined to his.

A day or so after Bush announced his selection of Dick Cheney as his running mate, Tom Ridge revealed that he had privately withdrawn his name from consideration nearly a month before, but agreed to stay quiet while Bush floated it to placate those troublesome ladies.

Here are John Dickerson and James Carney reporting in the August 1, 2000, edition of Time:

Bush was so secretive about the process that he kept even his closest aides in the dark. He would poll them at senior staff meetings--"Give me your top three picks!" he would demand--but he would never play the game. He flirted publicly with "bold" contenders like Tom Ridge, Pennsylvania's pro-choice Governor, but never let on that Ridge had quietly taken himself out of the running in early July, citing family considerations.

John McCain was evidently paying attention. Ridge has shown himself to be an excellent toady to his party's big guns, and he's doubtless playing the same role for McCain that he did for Bush: selling his pro-choice principles to aid the misogynist, anti-choice cause. And the flotation of Sen. Joe Lieberman's name serves much the same cause, with the addition of sending a signal to the portion of the Jewish electorate who ordinarily vote Democratic, but are reluctant to vote for Obama.

Serving a different purpose, McCain is borrowing a technique from the man he has come to hug. Unlike Bush in 2000, McCain's aim is not to appease a segment of his own party, but rather to lure in independents and those Democrats who are having a hard time coming to terms with their prejudices. By floating the names of Ridge and Lieberman as potential running-mates, McCain signals to them, "See, I'm really not so bad. I understand you. I even like people who talk like you, who look like you."

With Lieberman and Ridge appearing to be in the mix, McCain baits the right to respond with its typical mix of threats and victim-consciousness, which will allow him to say in the end, "I'm so sorry, my friends, my base wouldn't let me run with your guy; but you know I'll do you right once I'm elected."

So, let's everybody relax a bit. And will somebody ask Tom Ridge if he's taken his name out of the running yet?

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