Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Resurrection of John McCain

I am hardly a fan of anyone in the Republican field for the Presidency, but you have to marvel at the turnaround of John McCain. Only several months ago, it seemed McCain's Presidential ambitions were over. By July, his campaign was fluttering, money dried up, staff mostly laid off, and the Senator relegated to campaigning almost on his own. It is quite an evolution, as he was the assumed front runner when he announced his candidacy in February 2007. With his victory in Florida, and the presumed dropout and coming endorsement of Rudy Giuliani, the Senator has completed an improbable comeback.

The Senator still has his problems. He remains a hated figure among many conservatives, who remember his 2000 campaign (when he sought Democratic and independent voters in open primary states, as well as giving a speech attacking the religious right as "purveyors of hate"). Moreover, many are still upset at McCain now, seeing him as ideologically impure on issues like tax cuts and immigration. In the most ultimate of ironies, many of these conservatives, like Rush Limbaugh, have reduced themselves to supporting a candidate who spent the first 57 years of his life as a pro-choice moderate (Mitt Romney). This is their "true conservative." It is an act that no one buys, not the least those Evangelicals who think the ex-Governor of Massachusetts is a brother of the devil.

To put this another way, eleven weeks ago McCain was fourth in the polls among Republican Presidential hopefuls, more than fifteen points behind Giuliani and even behind John Edwards in the Democratic Party. Today, Giuliani and Edwards are exiting, with Rudy endorsing McCain, who is now the front runner--and this in spite of the fact his campaign lost money this year. In my lifetime, I have never seen this in a Presidential campaign.

Most ominously for Democrats, McCain remains, in spite of his ideological impurity to conservatives, the most electable Republican candidate. In a head-to-head match up, he is ahead of Hillary Clinton (46.8% to 45%) and even slightly ahead of Barack Obama (44.7% to 43.2%). Of course, anything could change, as do the polls, but no other Republican is even close to defeating Senators Clinton and Obama.

None of this changes what John McCain is. To be sure, he is not a fan of President Bush's tax cuts, does not believe Mexicans should be thrown off helicopters into the Pacific Ocean, and even sees Muslim prisoners of war as members of the human race. He is also an unreconstructed imperialist that wanted to expand the "surge" offensive in Iraq and once declared on the Senate floor that we should have "hard hearts" at the sight of Serb civilians being bombed to death during the Kosovo War. If you live in the developing world and your government is not an "ally" of the US or retain a deterrence like nuclear weapons, you should be worried. You could be next on the liberation train. Still, as long as he avoids keeling over or diddles one his interns, he will be the Republican nominee.

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