COMMENTARY | When Arizona Senator John McCain endorsed Mitt Romney this week, it had me scratching my head. Why would he endorse his bitter rival from 2008? It is likely that Mitt Romney has promised him the Defense Secretary position should the ex-Massachusetts Governor defeat President Barack Obama in 2012.
McCain's endorsement was certainly a surprise. Unlike Bush and Dole, who never faced Romney, McCain and Romney battled each other for the 2008 nomination. In the debates that year, the two repeated clashed over issues, and even personality, as noted by ABC News.
In the TIME Magazine article "The 'I Hate Romney' Club," McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Fred Dalton Thompson were all united against the "phoniness" of the Romney campaign, attacking others for issues he himself once held. For example, Romney bashing McCain for campaign finance reform, even though the two once held nearly identical positions.
Yet here was McCain this week, backing his formal mortal enemy, Romney, according to Yahoo News' The Ticket. The big question is why has McCain has flip-flopped in endorsing the consummate flip-flopper.
Could it be because Mitt Romney endorsed him on Valentine's Day in 2008 after dropping out of the race, as some suggest? After losing Iowa and New Hampshire, and making a dismal showing in South Carolina, Romney's endorsement rang hallow, as McCain had pretty well sewn up the nomination by then. Romney proved he couldn't beat McCain, so he "joined him." And Romney seemed more preoccupied with gearing up his own 2012 run than helping McCain in 2008.
Is it because Romney is the most like McCain in the race? That is possible, but given the strong support Jon Huntsman gave McCain in 2008, according to Bailey, that is unlikely. Several McCain staffers even work for Huntsman, according to her article.
Does Romney need to appeal to moderates like McCain? Poll results from the Iowa Caucuses show that Romney didn't finish in the top three for self-described conservatives. That's the group Romney needs to appeal to. Republicans already think Romney's a moderate. In fact, only 1% of Iowans polled described Romney as a "true conservative."
Romney doesn't have a long military career, or an avalanche of military men endorsing him at this stage, so he needs all of their support. McCain can give it to him, for a price. And that price is likely to be a key appointment: the Secretary of Defense position. McCain certainly doesn't want to back to Arizona for another bruising primary in a few years. So a Pentagon position makes logical sense for McCain, even if he has to hold his nose a little to get it.