January 19, 2006

10,000 McCainiacs... - UPDATED

Hatched by Dafydd

...won't be enough.

UPDATE: See below.

"H-Bomb" over at Ankle Biting Pundits considers whether John McCain is "gaining more steam" among conservatives for the presidential nomination (hat tip Paul Mirengoff at Power Line). He (I don't know the gender, so I'll stick with the neutral "he") notes that originally, the only movement towards McCain was among "Beltway conservatives;" but recently, a conservative friend of his from New Hampshire told him he would support McCain -- but asked H-Bomb not to reveal his name.

I find this unconvincing in the extreme (to be fair, H-Bomb seems less than convinced himself). First of all, McCain already won New Hampshire when last he ran in 2000... so it's hardly surprising that some people in New Hampshire support him -- even if they didn't in 2000.

First, some disclosure: I have never been a fan of John McCain; so factor that into your assessment of my assessment of his chances. But let's take a look anyway at McCain's strengths and weaknesses in the 2008 primaries to see if there is anything to this "steam."

McCain's greatest asset in the general election (if he were the nominee) is simultaneously his greatest weakness in the primary: his status as a "maverick" within the Republican Party. Time and again, he has moved against the interests of conservatives... only to turn right around and bite moderates on the ankle.

Being a maverick means McCain has no natural power base within the party.

Republican Moderates

Moderates have several very significant problems with John McCain:

  • Moderates hate the fact that he is strongly anti-abortion, the litmus test among liberal Republicans as it is among all Democrats.
  • He's also pro-Iraq War, going even farther than the administration in calling for hundreds of thousands of additional troops to be sent in to un-Iraqify the fight and turn Iraq once more into a protectorate (would be bring Paul Bremer back to serve as permanent colonial governor of Mesopotamia?)
  • He also supports Bush's attempt to pick judges who would move the federal courts towards judicial conservatism, rather than activism; the Souter wing of the Republican Party, like the Democrats, sees an activist court as the great bulwark against the hated conservatives.

Conservative Republicans

But on the conservative side, McCain fares even worse:

  • He opposes tax cuts.
  • He pushed through the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA), better known as McCain-Feingold in the Senate, which most conservatives see as a terrible assault on freedom of speech.
  • He was the primary organizer of the so-called "Gang of Fourteen," which conservatives see as having thwarted their chance to formally reject judicial filibusters by changing the rules of the Senate.
  • He has attacked, belittled, and smeared George W. Bush many times since 2000, blaming Bush for a scurrilous attack on McCain during the South Carolina primary. Even after campaigning for Bush in 2004, McCain has made it clear in many ways that he still blames Bush for the push-poll.

I have yet to hear from a single conservative who believes Bush himself, rather than some local campaigner operating on his own, was actually responsible for the nasty "push-poll" that implied McCain had fathered a "black child." Bush has never campaigned that way before or since, and it makes no sense that he would do so then, when it was already unlikely that McCain's New Hampshire momentum would carry over into the South -- when running against a popular Southern governor.

  • He reflexively and viciously attacked the Swift Boat Veterans for the Truth when they began to question John Kerry's fabricated heroism in Vietnam; some see this as one Vietnam vet sticking up for another -- but mostly I've heard conservatives seeing this as one senator sticking up for another (McCain is almost fanatical about Senate power and prestige).
  • A lot of conservatives want to see the U.S. begin to withdraw from Iraq, turning over more and more of the responsibility for protecting that country to the Iraqi army... while McCain wants to send massive numbers of troops to retake the country as an American protectorate, canceling all the democratic gains of the last year. There is even the suspicion that McCain has a secret plan to reinstitute the draft in order to get an Army big enough to do so.

To me, at least -- though I'm more of a libertarian from the Right than a conservative -- it seems as though the Democrats want Iraq to be Vietnam so we can lose again... while McCain wants Iraq to be Vietnam so we can win it this time... but in Vietnam style, i.e., to destroy Iraq in order to save it. But I don't want to refight Vietnam on anybody's terms; I want us to fight -- and win -- in Iraq on the terms we have chosen: democratizing Iraq as the first step in democratizing the Middle East. McCain would set foreign policy back thirty years.

"Outsider" Primary Voters

Without a base on either the moderate or conservative side, where can McCain turn for support in the primaries? Certainly not to any huge influx of new voters, as Arnold Schwarzenegger got in California (running as a maverick Republican in the recall of Gray Davis) or as Jesse Ventura got in Minnesota (running as a Perotista). There are several factors working against McCain becoming the sort of "movie-star candidate" who has been elected before (Dwight D. Eisenhower, George Murphy, Ronald Reagan, Sonny Bono, Schwarzenegger, and Ventura):

  • First is McCain's temperment: he is widely seen as one of the biggest hotheads in Washington, which is saying quite a lot. He also holds a grudge, and he comes across as a mean man.
  • One factor rarely mentioned: McCain's age. In 2008, he will be 72 years old. The oldest man ever elected to his first term as president was Ronald Reagan, of course; he was 69, but he looked much younger. (Reagan was 73 when he ran in 1984, but that was for reelection, after a widely successful first term. Different species entirely. Yet even so, his age became an issue in his reelection until he deftly defused it in his first debate with Walter Mondale.) McCain, by contrast, definitely looks his age, with snow-white hair and a skin condition. Folks may argue that this is an unfair criterion... but "politics ain't beanbag," appearance counts, and it will become an issue.

The only person older than McCain to run for his first term was Sen. Bob Dole... and he lost to a scandal-ridden and politically self-destructive Bill Clinton in 1996... not a good precedent for McCain.

  • His status as a four-term senator from Arizona, who will have served nearly twenty-two years in the Senate by the time of the 2008 primaries, forever closes the door to him being considered a "Washington outsider." He is a consummate insider.


Note: McCain is a senator with no experience as an executive at any level of government. Although this makes it very tough to win in the general election, it's not a drawback in gaining the nomination, oddly enough: of the fifteen presidential elections since World War II, six have included a Democratic or Republican nominee whose highest political office was as U.S. senator.

Likewise, it's not particularly a problem that he's already a primary loser; in those same fifteen elections, at least five eventual nominees had previously run and lost in a presidential primary campaign: Al Gore ran for president in 1988 but lost the nomination to Michael Dukakis; Bob Dole ran for president in 1980, as did George H.W. Bush -- both later became nominees (in 1996 and 1988, respectively). Ronald Reagan made a serious play for the nomination in 1976, almost dislodging the incumbent Republican President Gerald Ford. And of course George McGovern ran in 1968, losing the nomination to Hubert Humphrey (also coming in behind Eugene McCarthy).

So let's take those two canards off the table: they're important for the general election -- only one senator (Kennedy) and only two former presidential-primary losers (Reagan and Bush-41) actually won the office... but they don't mean Jack in the primary.

However, I simply cannot see how McCain gets nominated:

  • If primary voters are looking for a Washington outsider, a maverick, a dark horse candidate with a strong emotional appeal, they already have a better one: former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
  • If they're looking for a conservative, they have several to choose from, particularly Sen. and former Gov. George Allen of Virginia and Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota.
  • If they want a moderate, there is always Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts.
  • If it looks as though 2008 will be the Year of the Woman, then perhaps Kay Bailey Hutchison will throw her head into the ring. Besides, McCain probably looks terrible in pumps and a dress.
  • And if, perversely enough, the GOP primary electorate is desperate for a Washington insider and deal-maker... well, there's always Bill Frist of Tennessee.

There simply is no compelling reason to think that McCain can prevail over all these gentlemen, except for the fact that the mainstream media love him; he's their favorite Republican. But that can hardly be considered a mark in the plus column!

UPDATE: In this piece on the 2008 nomintion, I tackled the question "will he be?" My old blogmate Captain Ed asks the other side of the issue: "should he be?"

In Does John McCain Stand For Anything?, the Captain lands in the "No" column with a resounding smackdown. This is a must read!

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, January 19, 2006, at the time of 4:51 PM

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The following hissed in response by: Kathy K

I doubt McCain will get the nomination - for the same reason Leiberman won't get the Dem nomination - the base despises him. (The south-park republican center isn't all that thrilled with him either - McCain-Feingold comes to mind - but the center doesn't get listened to much by nominating committees).

We'll end up a conservative type - and the republicans will once again have to hope the Dems run someone worse so they won't lose the center. Unfortunately, the Democrats willl probably oblige. And I'll hold my nose and vote republican again.

The above hissed in response by: Kathy K [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 19, 2006 5:33 PM

The following hissed in response by: Stephen Macklin

If McCain runs I will do whatever I can - short of supporting Hillary - to keep him out of the White House. I would feel this way if the only thing to hold against him were BCRA.

The ONLY thing John McCain seems to stand for is John McCain.

The above hissed in response by: Stephen Macklin [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 19, 2006 5:38 PM

The following hissed in response by: RBMN

McCain can't even pretend to be conservative when he's trying hard to win a Republican nomination. What would he be like as President? Maybe... Jimmy Carter with a chip on his shoulder? The only question is, how far would McCain set conservatism, the American economy, and Western Civilization back.

The above hissed in response by: RBMN [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 19, 2006 9:21 PM

The following hissed in response by: Mr. Michael

I am forever mystified at the 'assumption' that John McCain is any kind of a frontrunner on the national scale beyond the hopes of the Media. As you say, there are so MANY other choices, all better in their strengths... and with fewer or none of his negatives.

However, he IS the consummate political insider... and in the PowerRooms of the National Republican Party, that means that if the public message can be twisted to show that it is John's "turn" to run then he, like Dole, will be set up as the Republican Candidate.

I will Blog. I will haunt the Comments sections of many blogs. I will campaign. I will volunteer time. I will do anything short of losing my ability to pay my way in life to keep John McCain from setting our Nation back as far as he wants to do. And I am not alone.

Somebody PLEASE put the money men on the clue train: You can pay his way onto the ticket, but we will NEVER vote him into office. We'll focus our money and time on the Congress in order to keep Hillary in check, but the conservative voters just will not accept John McCain.

The above hissed in response by: Mr. Michael [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 19, 2006 10:41 PM

The following hissed in response by: stealthy

McCain didn't lose in SC because of any push poll. He was foolish enough to bash the "religious right" prior to going there. His media sycophants swooned but red state America saw red.

The only way I see him succeeding is if the GOP behave like the left did in 04. Kerry won because of the "he can beat Bush" theory and you already have polls saying that only McCain could beat Hillary.

What will prevent McCain for winning the nomination can be summed up in one word.


The above hissed in response by: stealthy [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 19, 2006 10:43 PM

The following hissed in response by: Angry Dumbo

I'm with you 100% Mr. Micheal.

McCain is a democrats favorite Republican. The MSM praises McCain much in the same way, as Conservatives praise Joe Lieberman. McCains power over the MSM exists only insofar as he is a foil to the Republican party. Therefore, until McCain wakes up to this fact that he is being used like a fat girl, he will never understand why he will forever stand on the sidelines waiting to catch the bouquet.

The above hissed in response by: Angry Dumbo [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 20, 2006 9:09 AM

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