News that Mitt Romney has joined John McCain on the campaign trail is fueling speculation that the Arizona Senator may tap his defeated rival for the Republican VP slot. Which would make perfect sense. Back by the Bush braintrust and conservative chattering classes, Romney claims to know something about the economy, a topic on which John McCain admits to knowing little. Both men conflate all Muslims worldwide into a single, unified terrorist threat while sharing a common desire to follow Osama Bin Laden to the "gates of hell." And that hatred is exceeded only by their disdain for each other.
As the AP reported this morning, Romney will accompany McCain on a series of campaign events over the next two days. The two will attend a Salt Lake City fundraiser before traveling to Denver together.
Despite his transparent intent to launch another bid for the White House in 2012, Mitt Romney is putting his contempt for McCain aside in the hopes of locking up the #2 spot on the ticket. And to be sure, the disdain is mutual.
That became abundantly clear during the run-up to the decisive Florida primary in late January. As Time detailed ("The 'I Hate Romney' Club"), all of the GOP candidates detested Romney for his sharp attacks and bottomless pockets. An aide to one of the GOP candidates said their dislike of Romney "cannot be underestimated." A Giuliani staffer told a McCain counterpart, "Just tell us what [you] want us to do - we've got to stop him."
Over the next several days, the gloves came off. Before the Florida vote, Romney and McCain argued bitterly over the issue of a deadline for withdrawal from Iraq. McCain blasted Romney, even resorting to the dreaded H world:
"If we surrender and wave a white flag, like Senator Clinton wants to do, and withdraw, as Governor Romney wanted to do, then there will be chaos, genocide, and the cost of American blood and treasure would be dramatically higher."
Romney, insisting that any U.S. timelines would never be discussed publicly, fired back:
"That's simply wrong and it's dishonest, and he should apologize."
Their bitterness exploded on stage during a California debate just days before the Super Tuesday primaries that ended Romney's campaign. In addition to the simmering Iraq feud, McCain lambasted Romney's business background while Mitt dismissed Mr. Straigt Talk's conservative credentials. As CNN detailed:
"I think he managed companies and he bought and he sold and sometimes people lost their jobs," McCain said. "That's the nature of that business."
"He's a good Republican; I wouldn't question those credentials at all," Romney said of McCain. "But there are a number of pieces of legislation where his views are out of the mainstream, at least in my view, of conservative Republican thought."
Still, in Republican and conservative movement leadership circles, pressure has been building for a McCain/Romney ticket. Jeb Bush and much of the Bush machinery have waged a none-too-subtle campaign for Romney. Mouthpieces of the right, including Fred Barnes and Bill Kristol, have extolled Romney's vice presidential virtues. And despite his born-again adoption of hard right positions on many social issues, Romney has enjoyed the backing of many Christian conservatives.
On one issue, there is no disagreement between the two. As his smarmy February 14 press conference endorsing John McCain, Mitt Romney made it clear that he would love to tag along as President McCain followed Osama Bin Laden to the "gates of hell:"
"I disagree with Senator McCain on a number of issues, as you know. But I agree with him on doing whatever it takes to be successful in Iraq, on finding and executing Osama bin Laden, and on eliminating Al Qaeda and terror."
The McCain/Romney worldview features a shared ignorance of friend and foe, the guilty and the innocent, ally and adversary within the global Muslim community. Senator McCain, after all, confused Al Qaeda-Iranian enmity for an alliance four times in under a month. For his part, Mitt Romney has been conflating all Muslims in speeches, debates and ads for the past year. Ignoring national rivalries and the Sunni-Shiite schism, Romney has warned "their goal is to unite the world under a single jihadist caliphate."
More than helping John McCain cement his support among the suspicious Republican base, businessman Romney might be the perfect complement when it comes to the sputtering American economy. Over the past two years, John McCain has repeatedly acknowledged his glaring weakness on the economy. In November 2005, McCain owned up:
"I'm going to be honest: I know a lot less about economics than I do about military and foreign policy issues. I still need to be educated."
Two years later, McCain admitted making little progress in grasping Economics 101:
"The issue of economics is not something I've understood as well as I should. I've got Greenspan's book."
Given the near meltdown of the American financial system and the deep crisis of the housing market manufactured during the former Fed chairman's tenure, McCain's reliance on Alan Greenspan's crib notes will hardly be reassuring to American voters.
In contrast, Mitt Romney ran for the White House by proclaiming his experience as an venture capitalist and executive. Hoping to succeed George W. Bush in becoming America's second MBA president, Romney repeatedly announced, "I've spent my life, 25 years...in the world of business. I know why jobs come and go." (Especially why jobs go, as his company's record of slash and burn acquisitions shows.)
Despite their differences, a John McCain/Mitt Romney pairing would be a dream ticket for many Republicans. And while Romney may not have had McCain at hello, it wouldn't be the first time the "Maverick" reversed course and swallowed his pride on the way to the White House.