McCainEndorseRomney

After being caught by Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney leans on John McCain

Jan 4, 2012

McCainEndorseRomney After being caught by Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney leans on John McCain
Mitt Romney’s Iowa caucus results predictions were clearly wrong. The former Massachusetts governor expected a huge, walloping win over his rivals yesterday, but ended claiming the top slot by only 8 votes: 30,015 (24.6%) to Rick Santorum’s 30,007 (24.5%). Ron Paul, meanwhile, came in third with 26,219 votes, or 21.4% of the caucuses’ 122,000 participants.

Though Romney said this morning he’s “delighted” by the Iowa caucus results, the numbers make his life much harder as he heads into New Hampshire. Santorum’s win shows Romney, currently ahead in the Granite State, and the rest of the field the battle for the soul of the Republican party is just getting started. The GOP has split between moderates, social conservatives and libertarians, creating what amounts to a family feud for ultimate ideological control. So, hoping to cement his status with the moderates that comprise his base, Romney will today announce Senator John McCain’s endorsement.

This makes perfect sense, especially since McCain remains fairly popular among this voting bloc, the core of Romney’s base. But McCain’s endorsement also runs the risk of rehashing the politicos’ 2008 rivalries — and, potentially more damaging, brings with it rumors of political pettiness.

Romney ultimately endorsed former rival McCain in 2008, but not until after the men engaged in very public spats. Romney, for example, blasted McCain’s immigration plan as “amnesty” and criticized the Arizona senator for voting against Bush’s tax cuts. Now that he’s running for president, Romney’s taking aim at those very cuts.

But it’s McCain’s 2008 attacks on Romney that provide the most meat here. Like so many before him, McCain regularly accused Romney of being weak on national security and pandering to voters, a theme that ran thick in McCain’s comments about Romney’s abortion flip-flopping. One video sent around by the McCain team includes Romney’s 2005 support for the procedure.

“I have indicated that as governor, I am absolutely committed to my promise to maintain the status quo with regards to laws relating to abortion,” he said at the time.

Romney tried, condescendingly, to brush of then-trailing McCain’s remarks: “I guess politics can get a little testy if you’re having a difficult time yourself.” Then McCain ended up winning the nomination and Romney basically had no choice but to back his victorious foe.

“I disagree with Sen. McCain on a number of issues,” Romney said at the time. “But I agree with him on doing whatever it takes to be successful in Iraq, on finding and executing Osama bin Laden, and I agree with him on eliminating al Qaeda and terror worldwide.” Obviously he never could have known that then-Senator Barack Obama would ultimately become president and accomplish many of those goals.

But reports from the time claim winning Romney’s support took a lot of backroom wrangling from McCain’s team.

CNN learned the negotiations that led to the Romney endorsement included a prominent role by John Weaver, who was McCain’s top political strategist until he was forced out in a campaign shakeup last summer.

According to several sources familiar with the talks, Weaver got involved with the blessing — indeed at the urging — of two current top McCain advisers, Charlie Black and Steve Schmidt.

Both were aware of Weaver’s friendship and past working relationship with Romney campaign manager Beth Myers. Weaver and Myers worked together on a Texas campaign and at the Texas Republican party back in the 1980s and have remained good friends.

According to sources in both the Romney and McCain camps, Weaver made contact with Myers last week to initiate talks aimed at winning Romney’s endorsement and an urging from him that his delegates rally to McCain’s candidacy.

Now there are reports that McCain’s endorsement, while perhaps not as shadowy as the 2008 Romney/McCain alliance, may be more than just political expediency. It may be a form of revenge against Rick Santorum.

The New York Times points out that Santorum said this week he backed current rival Mitt Romney in 2008 simply to hinder McCain’s campaign. “My focus in the 2008 election was on making sure we had someone other than John McCain,” he said.

“That might have been enough to push Mr. McCain into the Romney camp,” muses Michael D. Shear. It is worth noting, though, that McCain has been tweeting support for Romney for a few months now.

Unlike Romney’s other high-profile endorsement — New Jersey Governor Chris Christie — news of McCain’s backing won’t have voters nodding, “Yes, we understand this alliance.” It will have many of them scratching their heads, thinking, “Well, that’s convenient.” And that’s precisely what Santorum’s hoping will happen.

Speaking with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer this morning, he described McCain’s Romney endorsement as predictable.

“I’m actually surprised he hasn’t done it earlier,” said Santorum, who then cleverly tried to smear Romney as a moderate like Newt Gingrich. “John is a more moderate member of the Republican team, and I think he fits in more with Newt’s — excuse me, with Mitt’s — view of the world.”

It seems like this presidential election has been going on forever — candidates began forming their exploratory committees last January and Newt Gingrich made the first formal announcement in May — but yesterday’s Iowa caucuses and their aftermath guarantee Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and the rest have a long road ahead of them. And the rest of us have little choice but to go along for the bumpy ride.

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