I just had a chance to do a quick interview with McCain advisor John Weaver and long-time Chief of Staff Mark Salter -- about the recent allegations regarding John McCain’s supposed interest in joining the Democrat Party.
But Weaver and Salter both describe the situation as a desperate attempt to lure John McCain into switching parties, back in 2003. According to both men, Kerry ultimately offered McCain the Vice Presidency and de facto Secretary of State authority to join ticket. What is more, the offer did not involve McCain switching parties.
According to Salter, “The idea that McCain approached Kerry is a fantasy.” Out of respect for Senator Kerry (they worked together on the POW MIA issue), McCain allowed Kerry to talk with him on three occasions (sometimes this was on the floor of the Senate and sometimes it was over coffee).
According to Weaver, the first overture in August or 2003, when Kerry scheduled a breakfast. At the time, neither Weaver, Salter, nor McCain knew what it was about. Weaver adds: “We laughed it off then,”
By the end, Salter says there was a discussion about how "empowered" McCain would be. In essence, they were offering McCain the chance to be Vice President, remain a Republican, as well as a “functional Secretary of Defense.”
According to Weaver and Salter, each time, McCain rejected the offers, and each time, the offer got sweeter.
As Salter told me, “In our minds (the offer to run the Defense Department and be VP) was constitutionally dubious.” Weaver described it as “beyond the pale.”
According to Weaver, Kerry personally called him, begging for McCain to change parties, saying it would, “change the country.” Weaver noted that it would be ridiculous for McCain to join the Kerry campaign because they disagreed on foreign policy.”
Kerry’s overtures did not end with approaching McCain. According to Salter, one night: “Kerry woke me up from bed, pleading with me to get McCain to change his mind.” Salter says that Kerry told him: ‘Everything is hypothetical, so that if I’m ever asked about this, I’ll have plausible deniability.” Salter says he answered: “Well then hypothetically, I don’t think it will work.”
Salter explained to me that neither he, nor McCain advisor John Weaver ever spent 10 seconds discussing the issue with McCain. From their perspective, McCain’s only mistake was in humoring his old friend by allowing him to continually mention the topic.
“At no point did John consider it. Not for a nanosecond,” said Weaver.
Kerry was too cautious, too set in his ways, to fundamentally change his speech patterns and delivery. But in one important area, he was willing—even desperate—to try something bold. He badly wanted Sen. John McCain to be his running mate. As far back as August 2003, Kerry had taken McCain to breakfast to sound him out: would the maverick Republican run on a unity ticket with Kerry?
... McCain batted away the idea as not serious. But Kerry was intent, and after he wrapped up the nomination in March, he went back after McCain a half-dozen more times. "I can't say this is an offer because I've got to be able to deny it," Kerry told his friend. "But you've got to do this." To show just how sincere he was, he made an outlandish offer. If McCain said yes, he would expand the role of vice president to include secretary of Defense and the overall control of foreign policy. (The deal was reminiscent of the so-called co-presidency offered to Gerald Ford by Ronald Reagan at the 1980 Republican convention; the suggestion fell apart of its own weight.) McCain exclaimed, "You're out of your mind. I don't even know if it's constitutional, and it certainly wouldn't sell."Of course, Kerry's purpose was to try to woo Sen. McCain into accepting a Vice President position on his campaign.
So why is this story resurfacing? Salter mentioned that Tom Daschle recently made a similar accusation and wonders if there might not be some concerned effort.
When I asked John Weaver about it, he said: “I’m not a big conspiracy person, but I’m also not big on coincidences, either.”