Steve Clemons pointed me to an interesting article by
Howard Fineman about the Winners and Losers in the Abramoff scandal. Fineman fingers the losers as: Members of Congress, the Republican Party, the DeLay-Hastert Crowd, and the Bush-Rove White House. He sees only two winners. Advocates of public integrity now have momemtum for reforms. The other winners?
Third-party reform movement: If Sen. John McCain doesn’t win the Republican presidential nomination, I could see him leading an independent effort to “clean up” the capital as a third-party candidate. Having been seared by his own touch with this type of controversy (the Keating case in the ’80s, which was as important an experience to him as Vietnam), McCain could team up with a Democrat, say, Sen. Joe Lieberman. If they could assemble a cabinet in waiting — perhaps Wes Clark for defense, Russ Feingold for justice, Colin Powell for anything — they could win the 2008 election going away.
It would be amazing if an ultra-Centrist party emerged as a reaction to the excesses of the Bush administration and the rampant corruption of the Republican Congress. I’d be a lot more impressed by a McCain-Feingold ticket than I would be by a McCain-Lieberman ticket. Either way, it would represent a coup by the Washington insiders over the activists of both parties.
In this scenario, we might see something like this:
The GOP activists reject a McCain presidency and nominate Sen. George Allen of Virginia. Propelled by her popularity with minorities, core democrats, Clinton loyalists, and the Establshment, Hillary captures the Democratic nomination. And the McCain-Lieberman joins up in some kind of reform-morality ticket.
My gut tells me that Allen would start out in third place and would have little chance of doing better than second place.
Of course, in this situation progressives are truly screwed. But Hillary could perhaps bring us back into the fold by selecting Russ Feingold as her running mate. That would be a nice nod to the grassroots, and it would allow her to claim a reforming platform to compete with McCain’s.
Who would win in such a showdown?
It’s hard to say. But I think Fineman might be right that one plausible reaction to the current partisan impasse in Washington is the election of the radical-centrism represented by a third-party victory of McCain-Lieberman.
Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.