McCain's Dilemma: Romney or Palin More Qualified in '08?

Politics makes for strange bedfellows, as we all know. It also makes for rather odd, cold evenings where we find out who’s going to be sleeping on the couch. Such was the case when Politico confronted 2008 GOP presidential candidate Senator John McCain on the subject of why he didn’t select Mitt Romney as his running mate.

Politico chose to posit the idea that Mitt’s tax returns, delivered to McCain during the vetting process, somehow turned up some dirt which disqualified him. Let’s go to the quotes, shall we?

"Of course not," McCain told POLITICO when asked if the contents of Romney's tax returns disqualified him from the selection process. "I don’t know what depths these people won’t reach. Obviously, it’s just outrageous. That’s just outrageous. It shows the – it’s so disgraceful for them to allege something that they have absolutely no knowledge of."

Asked why he chose not to go with Romney, McCain said: "Oh come on, because we thought that Sarah Palin was the better candidate. Why did we not take [Tim] Pawlenty, why did we not take any of the other 10 other people. Why didn’t I? Because we had a better candidate, the same way with all the others. ... Come on, why? That’s a stupid question."

This is one of those stories which pops up during the hazy, lazy, days of mid-summer in an election year and is fun, but will sink off the radar long before the rest of the nation begins to realize that they actually have to vote this year. Senator McCain finds himself placed briefly on the hot seat, tasked as a surrogate for Mitt Romney 2012, while being challenged to defend his failed attempt of four years earlier. What’s a former candidate to do?

Thrust into this unenviable position, McCain has to simultaneously tackle two NFL quality runners while wearing six-inch spiked heels. On the one hand, he has to defend Mitt’s decision not to release more than 1.5 years of tax returns. This is a tough sell at best, given the current nominee’s history of his father setting the standard. But he gamely carried the torch, bolstering Romney’s claim that there was nothing in there which was politically damaging.

But if that’s the case, why not take Mitt along for the ride back in ’08? Here’s where the treacle gets a bit stickier. Given little time to ponder the response, McCain chose to claim that Palin trumped Romney by virtue of being the “better candidate.” In another season, such a remark might well have flown under the radar. But this season sees an impressive online movement to “vet the Prez,” pushing the assumption that President Obama’s pre-election check list wasn’t examined closely enough. Romney himself -- part and parcel of the question at hand -- is open to suggestions that his financial history remains in need of a closer look before we hand over the keys to the White House.