Monday, January 21, 2008

Let McCain be McCain

This election cycle has the undertone of a real-life soap opera, lots of sound and fury, signifying nothing (very frustrating, btw). So why do I still care about the Presidential race, especially on the Republican side? Frankly, there is no real great answer for that, let's just say that the liberal/Democratic establishment represents very bad things for the future of America, and it's very likely that by this time next year they will control the entire federal government unless a Republican wins the Presidency.

Ok, so in the latest episode, John McCain won South Carolina and has to be figured as the favorite for the nomination at this point. At the same time, this is likely to be an uneasy marriage built upon mutual distrust. Jonah Goldberg suggests that McCain ought to give a speech reassuring the base about this or that, cooling the misgivings and ill will towards McCain.

I see his point, and ordinarily that would be the right move, but this isn't an ordinary election season. Let's note that a substantial part of McCain's support comes from his "maverickness," but the actual constituents of his independence aren't necessarily that popular. In particular, McCain is known for support for the war, campaign finance reform, liberalized immigration, and is quite shaky on taxes besides. Those really don't get McCain anywhere.

Instead, there widespread perception that Washington politics are way too cozy for the common good. In particular, that George W Bush has had stupid ideas and done stupid things, and people who should have fought the good fight against the President went into the tank instead. For good or ill, John McCain is an exception. This point of view applies to liberal Democrats obviously, but also marginal Republicans, independents, liberatarians, green-eyeshade beancounters, and former-Republicans-turned-independent-or-Democrat. For these people, the fact that McCain is a professional pain in the ass doesn't disqualify him as a potential President, it's the best thing about him.

The idea that the base is going to bring McCain to heel, like Lieberman in 2000, doesn't work on two counts. First of all, he likely won't do it, or if he does there will be all sorts of finger-crossing and under-his-breath snickering. And to the extent he will do it, it will come at the expense of support from voters who want in independent-minded guy in charge.

Instead, the GOP and McCain need to negotiate some kind of peace treaty. And the key item that the Republicans need to get is the ability to maintain an independent voice under the McCain Administration. Sometimes we (the GOP base) will agree with President McCain, sometimes we won't, but we can't afford to take responsibility for policies that we don't believe in. It's hurt us too much under President Bush.

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