CBS News asks the tough questions

Senator McCain gave his buddies in the press (at left: CBS News asks the hard questions in what you’d have to call a fair and balanced way) a hook to hang some free media off of this Memorial Day weekend* with another one of his famous Arizona barbecues. This one was for politicians he’d like various constituencies to see him considering for Vice President.

A guest reports on the festivities

Sen. GRAHAM: Well, singing was last night, dancing’s this morning. But it was a lot of fun. John is like a kid at Christmas showing off his ranch up here. John and Cindy and the Harpers invited us all up. Joe Lieberman was here, Sam Brownback. He barbecued ribs all night last night. There’s 67 bird–species of birds on the ranch. I know, I’ve seen them all twice. It was a lot of fun. It’s a chance for John to relax with some friends and supporters from the politics and business, and we had a good time.

SCHIEFFER: Well, was this the beginning of a selection process to decide who is going to be on the ticket? Or where is he on that?

Sen. GRAHAM: There is some vetting going on. John’s going to head up that process. No, this was purely social. If you know anything about John McCain, he is like a kid at Christmas when it comes to showing off his ranch up here, and it’s people who’ve helped John. His friends in the business world, some of this friends in politics. And I wish it was more, but it’s not. I’m sorry. That’s all it is.

Message: "purely" social (in which "purely" that nice Mr. Black concurs, as does that nice Mr. Salter. His press secretary ups the ante with "social, purely social").

It maybe was a little less casual than that, as the Senator put his guests on display like two-headed cattle at a freak show braved the press to grab some lunch:

Many weekends, Sen. John McCain takes advantage of the prolonged battle for the Democratic nomination between Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama by heading to his home in Arizona to relax and get away from the glare of the media.

But not this weekend. Reporters set up camp outside the presumptive nominee’s Sedona ranch to catch a glimpse of the potential running mates McCain invited over to celebrate the Memorial Day weekend.

Saturday afternoon, McCain and his high profile guests piled into vans and SUVs for a short drive to lunch at the nearby hilltop Jerome Grand Hotel.

Joining McCain and wife Cindy for lunch were former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida, Sen. Sam Brownback, Sen. Lindsey Graham, FedEx founder Fred Smith, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, and senior McCain adviser Charlie Black.

Sen. Joe Lieberman is also visiting the ranch but didn’t appear at the lunch. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota were invited along for the weekend but had scheduling conflicts.

So why’s he starting so early (at least, Mr. Broder says he is)? This pick is a big deal for McCain, not least because an awful lot of people in his own party hate his guts, and they’re looking for a signal that he’s going to play ball.

Some positives and negatives of the guests:

Candidate: frmr Gov. Willard "Mitt" Romney (R-MA)

Positives: Really, really, really rich; willing to pretend to be as conservative as he has to be to get the job; willing to pay for what he wants; willing to call McCain "the big dog" in public

Supported by: (reportedly) GHW Bush and Rove (also Rove by way of Novak); according to the Weakly Standard, Our Fearless Leader; Pat Buchanan; Ann Coulter; Rush Limbaugh

Has to get past: McCain, everyone else who ran, all of whom reportedly can’t stand him; the fact that voters don’t particularly like him or his supporters; possible disinclination to have tidy little girltalks about the strength of her first marriage with Ann Romney on the part of Cindy McCain

Candidate: Gov. Piyush "Bobby" Jindal (R-LA)

Selling points: Young, smart, ivy league prodigy, wonk, southern, extremely socially conservative Roman Catholic (teen convert, raised Hindu), one of the few Republican success stories since ’04

Supported by: Reverend Moon’s Washington Times, some random dude at The American Spectator

Has to get past: Might confuse overtrained e-mail list opposed to presumptive Democratic nominee on the basis of youth, inexperience, ivy league wonkiness, non-european name, suspicions of non-christianity and extra-european ancestry; Limbaugh calls him the next Reagan but tells him to wait; says he doesn’t want it

Candidate: Gov. Charlie Crist (R-FL)

Positives: Governor of must-have Florida; moderate, which could make a difference in the fall with crossover voters and independents; McCain supporter when it mattered

Supported by: People who have done the math

Has to get past: Social and corporate conservatives (pro-gay marriage, or at least insufficiently anti-gay marriage); "No Jeb Bush" (yes, that’s meant to be a disadvantage); RedState; the Bush family ("Undoing Jeb"). Also, Foley rumors and rumors about his sexual orientation, which aren’t as interesting as the source is (Republicans)

Candidate: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

Positives: southern, McCain really likes him, and go figure:

If anyone else called him “little jerk,” Sen. Lindsey Graham might be offended.

But the jab comes from Sen. John McCain, so he wears it like a badge of honor.

“If John’s not belittling you, you’re in trouble,” Graham said. “He calls me lots of other names, too, but they’re not appropriate for the newspaper.”

They also like to play dress-up together

Supported by: nobody in particular, unless you count the "little jerk" thing

Has to get past: Rush Limbaugh

Limbaugh was ranting against Sen. John McCain on his radio show this week when a caller asked whether he thought McCain would pick Sen. Lindsey Graham as his running mate. Limbaugh doubted it, though he admitted: "I may be wrong … Lindsey Graham is certainly close enough to [McCain] to die of anal poisoning."

Candidate: Sen. Joe Lieberman (neither fish nor fowl nor good red meat-CT)

Positives: the New Republic and the Weakly Standard kinda like him

Supported by: Jonah Goldberg (in principle), William Kristol, some random guy at NRO

Has to get past: the fact that the voting public has strenuously resisted voting for him in the past two presidential elections and show no signs of wanting him now; says he doesn’t want it.

Candidate: Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS)

Positives: Reportedly a nice guy who everyone likes, social conservative, Catholic

Supported by: Nobody in particular with a say, at least not anyone who’s talking in public

Has to get past: anti-Catholic evangelicals, not-terribly-useful contribution to the delegate count, crowded field in the religious social conservative category

Floated, not present

Candidate: frmr Gov. Michael Dale "Mike" Huckabee (R-AR)

Positives: Social conservative, seen as populist, still getting protest votes from evangelicals months after he dropped out of the race and endorsed McCain

Supported by: some guy at US News; the Washington Note

Has to get past: the aforementioned Rush Limbaugh (I’m here to tell you, if either of these two guys [McCain or Huckabee] get the nomination, it’s going to destroy the Republican Party); the Weakly Standard (The last thing McCain needs to do at this point — or in July, when these discussions are more appropriate — is willingly acquire liberal baggage. And despite Huckabee’s embrace of the Fair Tax, which has its virtues, he is a class-warfare liberal on economic policy); said he didn’t want it back when he was trying to win. Thinks assassination jokes are funny.

Candidate: Carly Fiorina, frmr head of HP

Positives: Woman. Ran company(s). Opines for Fox.

Supported by: people who think the Republicans can get Hillary’s voters by nominating Gordon Gekko in a skirt; RNC Deputy Chair (and WSJ), for her groundbreaking work in offshoring right shoring jobs and laying off workers

Has to get past: her groundbreaking work in offshoring right shoring jobs and laying off workers; lots of juicy quotes floating around about the virtues of sending jobs overseas; promoted "diversity" for jobs she kept here; powerful woman with stay-at-home husband not a great pick for evangelicals

Admit it. You feel better, don’t you?

*If you were John McCain, would you want to spend Memorial Day talking about why you oppose a GI Bill which would actually pay for an education for the servicemen and -women you’re leading the battle to keep in the desert for 100 years (although apparently your highly-principled opposition was not important enough for you to show up for the vote)? Sure you would, ‘cuz you’re a straight-talking-type maverick brimming with straight talk and mavericity, but your "My family connections got me into Annapolis ahead of someone qualified for a fully-government-sponsored college education and all I got was a notoriously abysmal academic and disciplinary record and a bottom-of-my-class ranking and a commission and a chance to meet wealthy heiresses at parties and a Senate seat" t-shirt is in the wash and it would be disrespectful not to dress properly.**

**per digby, he musta found it. He doesn’t want to educate them because some of them might decide to go to college instead of back to Iraq, or would if they weren’t stoplossed. So there.