Why McCain-Lieberman ’08 wasn’t going to work out

WHY MCCAIN-LIEBERMAN ’08 WASN’T GOING TO WORK OUT…. In August 2008, before Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) had chosen a running mate for the Republicans’ national ticket, there was widespread chatter about McCain asking Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) to come aboard.

We’ve since learned that the GOP nominee really did favor Lieberman, who was touted by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) among others, before going in a very different direction. But Ben Smith had an interesting item yesterday on some of the research that scuttled the idea.

Former McCain veep vetter and Washington power lawyer A.B. Culvahouse made clear in remarks before a Republican lawyers group today that the campaign had investigated the legal issues surrounding putting Democrat-turned-independent Joe Lieberman on the GOP ticket last year and determined it would be a difficult task.

“Five states have sore loser statutes … [making] it very difficult for someone who’s not a member of the Republican Party to become the vice presidential nominee if they only switch parties to become a Republican shortly before the convention,’ Culvahouse said in public remarks at the Republican National Lawyers Association annual meeting aired on C-SPAN.

The lawyer noted that the issue was so legally problematic, it likely would have required a trip to the U.S. Supreme Court, which, in the midst of a competitive presidential election, was “not particularly appetizing.”

Smith added that, independent of the legal difficulties, Republican activists had also “warned of a revolt on the convention floor,” which seemed like a credible threat. Much of the right was already skeptical about McCain, and picking Al Gore’s pro-choice running mate probably would have caused even more widespread problems within the party.

This is just speculation, but I imagine McCain thought the trade-off would have worked in his favor — he’d lose some of the far-right, but make up for it with independents who might have found the bipartisan ticket appealing — but the legal issues Culvahouse explained very likely made the strategy a moot point.

As for the larger takeaway, there are a few related angles to keep in mind. First, this probably means “fusion” tickets are an impossibility for the foreseeable future, unless states start changing their election laws. Second, I find it rather interesting that McCain went from considering a running mate who supports gay rights to becoming one of the Senate’s leading anti-gay members.

And third, if the McCain-Lieberman ticket had worked out, how many Americans outside Alaska would have any idea who Sarah Palin is right now?