The Dems should count themselves lucky that the Bush team is devoid imagination or wit, native and otherwise. Under normal circumstances, the incumbent would be seeking to anoint his successor. Replacing the irascible and ailing veep is not possible this time, however (leaving aside the question of who'd be running the country if Cheney stepped down), because the desired candidate is the president's brother Jeb. Even the Republicans know it would be unseemly to run siblings simultaneously for the top jobs.

Senator John McCain offers the perfect solution. Extremely popular with the independent voter who has been chosen to decide this election, he would enhance the GOP's likelihood of being returned to office; too old to run himself in 2008, he wouldn't get in the way of restoring primogeniture as a factor in succession at the next turn of the election wheel. John Edwards' most obvious advantages would be neutralized if he wound up debating Grandpa Walton instead of Darth Vader.

Fortunately for Kerry and Edwards (and the nation), the Bush Leaguers are too mired in their ways to contemplate a Bush-McCain ticket. Even if it becomes necessary to replace Cheney, whether for health reasons (it's damp and drafty down in that bunker) or because he is indicted in one Halliburton mess -- Iran, Nigeria -- or another, and even if the royalists follow the same logic pursuant to Jeb's inheritance, they'll necessarily elevate some presentable but undistinguished backbencher -- Orin Hatch would fit the bill nicely -- to keep the seat warm.

We'll be told that Bush and McCain don't like each other. But personal enmity rarely stands in the path of victory. Did Jack like Lyndon? Did Dick want to hang with Spiro? Did Ford (what the heck was his first name anyway) care for Nelson? Did Ronnie have any respect for George? Nah. But McCain is another story. The senator won't be selected not because he and Junior don't get along but because he is perceived by the Bush team as outside the box, and outside the box is not a place they like to be.

The country dodged one bullet when McCain turned down Kerry's offer of the vice presidency, a move that had it succeeded might have reassured a few independents but would have further irritated many in his already itchy base. It will dodge another when the Republicans reject an opportunity to make their ticket stronger by picking McCain.

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