Months after the election, Obama and McCain are squaring off again. Former McCain adviser Mark McKinnon argues that the president must make his former rival a partner—especially on issues like the stimulus. And go easy with the lobbyists.
Grumpy John McCain is back and telling the new kid to get off his lawn.
President Obama has smartly gone out of his way to reach out to Sen. McCain, receiving him in Chicago, holding a bipartisan dinner in his honor, and seeking his counsel on appointments. And Sen. McCain has in-kind demonstrated precisely the sort of bipartisan spirit Obama had hoped for when he pressed for quick confirmation of Hillary Clinton as secretary of State.
McCain revealed that he has no intention of simply serving as a political doormat when he disagrees with the popular new president.
But over the weekend, McCain revealed that he has no intention of simply serving as a political doormat when he disagrees with the popular new president.
Obama only needs a couple of Republicans in the Senate to pass a stimulus bill. But a razor-thin vote would not a mandate make. And this is the one bill he can and should count on Republicans for significant support. Obama certainly would like his first piece of legislation to pass with strong support on both sides of the aisle.
But as it is currently written, the stimulus bill would not get John McCain's vote. McCain wants more evidence that what is in the package will actually stimulate the economy.
The big problem for many Republicans, and what makes this politically tricky, is that many of those who voted for the initial financial rescue (or "bailout," as it was so disastrously branded) feel totally burned by what they believe has turned out to be a lack of transparency and oversight.
Gov. Rick Perry of Texas is already hammering Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who seeks his job, for voting for the federal bailout. And surely others who forecast similar election grenades coming their way will be looking for ways to deflect the shrapnel. One way is to vote against the stimulus bill.
McCain also took issue with Obama's appointment of William Lynn III as deputy Defense secretary. Lynn has lobbied for defense contractor Raytheon. Obama has imposed new policies to limit the influence of lobbyists but declared an exemption for Lynn, a move McCain calls "disingenuous."
McCain was critical as well over Obama's signing of an executive order announcing the closure of Guantanamo, suggesting a plan should have been in place first that determines the fate of the 245 inmates.
There are a lot of Democrats and Republicans in Congress, and many observers like me, who believe that John McCain can and will be a real bridge for President Obama to the GOP.
But, as McCain has demonstrated over the last few days, he's not an easy date. It's going to take a lot more than candlelight dinners to gain his affection. It's going to take real constructive engagement and dialogue on the issues that matter to him.
Meaningful dialogue means soliciting input and, more than just occasionally, acting on it. Make McCain a partner especially on big omnibus bills like the stimulus package and issues he cares about like energy and ethics. And giving McCain a heads up if you know you're going to do something controversial like the Lynn appointment.
If Obama plays McCain right, it's no guarantee he'll pull over more Republicans. But it will help. At the very least McCain will invite Obama over to share a lawn chair.
As vice chairman of Public Strategies and president of Maverick Media, Mark McKinnon has helped meet strategic challenges for candidates, causes, and individuals, including George W. Bush, John McCain, Governor Ann Richards, Charlie Wilson, Lance Armstrong, and Bono. McKinnon is co-chairman of Arts & Labs, a collaboration between technology and creative communities that delivers innovative and creative digital products to consumers.