Heartbreak Ridge

Matt Lewis
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Posted: Aug 18, 2008 8:44 AM
The assassination of Benazir Bhutto was a wake-up call, which many believe helped John McCain (I said so at the time).  Bhutto was killed on December 27, just prior to the early primary season, and it arguably shocked Americans into putting a premium on experience and foreign policy credentials.  To what degree this benefited McCain is unclear.  He, of course, went on to win the nomination. 

As Russian tanks lumbered deeper into Georgia last week, some began speculating that McCain might once again benefit from this reminder to voters that we do, in fact, live in a dangerous world. 

But while this revelation may be good news for Republicans, it could also be bad news for conservatives, as the timing could impact McCain's vice presidential decision.

Yesterday, on Fox News Sunday, Bill Kristol argued that this international crisis increases the likelihood McCain might select either Sen. Joe Lieberman or former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge.  Granted, Kristol is probably wrong at least as often as he is correct.  Still, it is an interesting and disturbing analysis, which comes on the heels of McCain's recent statement that, "... Tom Ridge is one of the great leaders, and he happens to be pro-choice. And I don't think that that would necessarily rule Tom Ridge out."

Every vice president is a heartbeat away from the presidency, but I have long argued that McCain’s vice presidential pick is perhaps even more significant than usual.  Leadership guru John Maxwell often says that without a successor there is no success.  In this regard, George W. Bush has failed (though his failure to provide a successor may be a good thing).  But it is unlikely this will happen again.  Historically, vice presidents often do go on to become president.  They tend to be the heir apparent.  But a bad successor is worse than no successor at all.  And when you take into consideration McCain's age, it is likely that the person who is selected by McCain will someday become the GOP nominee.

This is where the Ridge speculation concerns me (the Lieberman speculation does not concern me, as it is perhaps too far fetched). 

Since 1973, when Roe vs. Wade became the law of the land, the Republican Party has enjoyed unparalleled success.  The GOP's pro-life position activated Evangelicals, and also brought many Catholics -- traditionally a strong Democratic constituency -- into the conservative coalition.  The first rule of selecting a veep is to "do no harm," and Ridge's selection would certainly violate that maxim.  Ridge's selection would be an unprecedented step backward for the Republican Party, which has become the home of pro-life voters.  In essence, this would absolutely destroy what is left of the brand. 

But aside from the strategic reasons a Ridge selection would be an unwise move, Ridge's consideration should be of great philosophical concern for anyone who values the right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."  The right to life is obviously the first right endowed by our Creator, and anyone who fails to appreciate this fundamental concept clearly has a "world view" -- to use a term that Rick Warren might be more comfortable with -- that is anathema to classical liberal values.

On Fox News Sunday yesterday, Ridge argued that his positions on the life issue are irrelevant, as any vice president would obviously defer to the judgment of the president.  Here's how he put it:

"The last time I checked, the vice president is not an independent voice. He echoes the position of the president of the United States," Ridge said. "I think it's the responsibility of the vice president. If you're unwilling or unable to do that, then I think you should defer to someone else."

This is a dubious argument, as it applies only so long as the vice president is the vice president.  Once a veep becomes president, all bets are off. 

In 1980, Ronald Reagan selected George H.W. Bush.  Bush had previously been pro-choice, but had -- on his own -- converted to the pro-life cause.  Reagan's selection of Bush would be tantamount to McCain's selection of Mitt Romney -- a pro-life convert (still, many conservatives believe Bush's selection as veep -- as opposed to picking Kemp or Laxalt -- doomed the Reagan Revolution). But Ridge has no plans to convert to the pro-Life cause, and so any Reagan/Bush analogy/argument that anyone might make is a patently false one.

My guess is this is Much Ado about Nothing.  McCain's floating of Ridge's name as being under "consideration" is probably a political move.  Just as floating the names of Sarah Palin and Bobby Jindal demonstrates the diversity of the GOP, the mere idea that McCain is considering a pro-choicer might make him more palatable to some former Hillary Clinton supporters.

So why make a fuss about this now?  Suppose McCain does select Ridge, and conservatives -- believing he would never do such a thing -- were silent leading up to the pick ...