McCain Done Before Primaries?

John McCain will be forced to withdraw from the race before the first primary unless fundraising and poll numbers reverse themselves in a hurry, the Sunday Times claims.

The speculation, vigorously denied by McCain’s camp, is sweeping Republican circles after a disastrous few weeks in which the principled Arizona senator has clashed with the party’s conservative base on immigration and also alienated independent voters by backing President George W Bush’s troop surge in Iraq.

Randy Pullen, chairman of the Arizona Republican party, said: “He’s a battler, so I’d expect him to carry on, but everyone is waiting to see what his new fundraising totals are. That’s pretty critical. If he doesn’t have the money, he won’t be able to run.” The second fundraising quarter for candidates closes at the end of June and McCain’s results should be known by mid-July.

Dan Schnur, McCain’s communications director during the 2000 presidential campaign, said it was “possible” that he could drop out: “There are all sorts of challenges McCain is facing, from fundraising to Fred Thompson and the Iraq war, but the biggest single boulder in his path is the immigration issue.”

One veteran Republican consultant put the odds of McCain remaining in the race beyond the autumn at 3-1 against. “He’ll be gone by September,” predicted Tom Edmonds, who is not affiliated with any campaign. “The wheels are coming off his wagon and it’s hard to see how he can recover. He won’t be able to pay all the good talent he has hired and they’ll want to drift away from a loser.”

A poll by Rasmussen Reports last week showed McCain lying joint third with Mitt Romney, the Mormon former governor of Massachussetts, with the support of just 10% of Republican voters. This compared with 28% for Fred Thompson, the former Tennessee senator, and 27% for Rudy Giuliani, New York’s mayor at the time of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Another poll in Iowa, a crucial early voting state, put McCain in fifth place behind Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, with only 6%.

McCain has long been distrusted by the base but he at least had the support of independents, who thought of him as a “maverick” and a “straight talker.” Unfortunately for him, he is bucking the tide by backing the president on the two least popular issues, the war and illegal immigration. I just don’t see how he turns around the numbers given that.

The irony is that many of the people who hate McCain because he’s “not conservative enough” and who are angry at him for McCain-Feingold are enthusiastically rallying behind Fred Thompson, who voted for that bill and is less conservative than McCain on most key issues.

UPDATE: Elsewhere:

Steven Taylor sees a self-fulfilling prophecy at work: “If it becomes the accepted wisdom in fund raising circles that McCain has no shot, then that perception will become reality.”

While McCain clearly has lost most, if not all, of his 2000 mojo, I still wonder if he chances are as dire as the conventional wisdom makes it out to be. I still maintain that Giuliani is going to face real problems over his social policy views when the voters actually come out to the primaries and Thompson is currently popular at least in part because no one knows all that much about him. As such, there is still space for McCain to surge back to some degree. However, his support for immigration reform may be enough to kill his candidacy this year all by itself, given the anger rampant in the base on that issue.

Ed Morrissey observes,

[S]even Republican candidates would kill for McCain’s position in the race at the moment. None of the second-tier candidates have dropped out yet, nor have they given any indication of doing so. Why would McCain drop out when he’s still outpolling and outraising Duncan Hunter and Mike Huckabee, let alone lesser lights such as Tom Tancredo, Jim Gilmore, Tommy Thompson, Ron Paul, and Sam Brownback — combined?

Joe Gandelman believes McCain sealed his fate by cozzying up to the Religious Right and by, quite literally, embracing President Bush.

Rob Bluey thinks it’s immigration, pure and simple.

FILED UNDER: 2008 Election, Public Opinion Polls, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. legion says:

    The irony is that many of the people who hate McCain because he’s “not conservative enough” and who are angry at him for McCain-Feingold are enthusiastically rallying behind Fred Thompson, who voted for that bill and is less conservative than McCain on most key issues.

    Indeed, McCain is still light-years ahead in terms of overall electability than other big names in the primary race, like Mitt and Rudy. At this rate, the GOP will have to choose between nominating someone who’ll make Dem oppo researchers’ lives easy (Mitt & Rudy), someone who might be conservative & somewhat charismatic, but doesn’t actually line up with many Americans’ actual opinions (Fred), a complete lunatic (Brownback, Tancredo), or some no-name-recognition-having third-stringer (pretty much everyone else). This could rapidly become a train-wreck that’ll make the Dukakis campaign look masterful in comparison.

  2. ken says:

    The big problem with McCain is that after a quarter century as a US Senator he never once found anything that our government did that was worthy of his support so that he was willing to pay for it.

    He has nothing but utter contempt for the US government and he is a coward to boot. He took plenty of pay hikes for himself over the years but never once had the guts to face his constituents and ask them to pay for any of it.

    He is beneath contempt.

  3. Beldar says:

    I don’t think you’re right that Thompson is “is less conservative than McCain on most key issues.” Are you thinking, maybe, of Tommy Thompson?

    Seriously, though (because I know you didn’t mean Tommy): There’s no significant daylight between Bush and either McCain or Thompson on Iraq, GWOT, or other foreign policy issues. Thompson’s a strong Federalist, which has led him to oppose over-federalization (e.g., on some tort reform legislation), but that’s not un-conservative. His pro-life votes in Congress have been consistent, although there too he’s favored individual states having the right to legislate as a legal position. The odds are that he’s going to swear off McCain-Feingold as a failed experiment. What “most key issues” were you possibly thinking of?