McCain Running Different Race than in 2000

Jonathan Martin observes that John McCain is a much different man on the campaign stump than he during his 2000 run.

In 2000, McCain lost the Republican presidential nomination but established himself as perhaps the most arresting politician of his generation with a rollicking campaign style that mingled startling candor with towel-snapping humor and nearly inexhaustible high spirits.

This weekend in Iowa, McCain’s old ebullience was replaced by a mood that seemed to fluctuate between sober and downright morose as he and the voters he met kept returning to a single topic: Iraq.

This isn’t particularly surprising. We are now in the midst of a shooting war. In 2000, despite al Qaeda having declared war on us four years earlier, we thought we were at peace.

Further, McCain is now a clear frontrunner in a party that tends to give its nomination to the guy whose “turn” it is. As in sports, being ahead tends to lead to a much more conservative play-not-to-lose style. That’s boring and even frustrating from a fan’s standpoint–and anybody paying attention to the 2008 race at this point is essentially a fan–but perfectly understandable strategically. If you’re trying to make up ground, then playing free and loose can garner attention and enthusiasm. But it’s high risk, high reward. Ask Joe Biden.

Finally, McCain is eight years older than he was eight years ago. (You can look it up.) The man turned 70 last August. And he’s not a young 70, thanks to seven years of torture at the hands of the Viet Cong. It’s going to be hard to be energetic for a long campaign.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bithead says:

    And one question that needs to be asked, is after all of that, is he going to have anything to offer in the role of POTUS..

  2. Nick says:

    It looks like McCain is losing ground… The man from New York is gaining strength.. While Newt will come in late…

    The Republican race is getting interesting..

  3. McCain’s a good guy, but his move to the right is simply not convincing. I doubt that he can win the nomination, but who knows?

  4. Jim Henley says:

    Wasn’t it McCain’s “turn” in 2000?

    Furthermore, aren’t all six top Presidential candidates (Dem and Repub) so far implosions waiting to happen? McCain’s a thin-skinned and increasingly insincere martinet; Giuliani’s twisted psyche makes Nixon’s look disarmingly simple; Romney belongs to what most Americans consider a fringe religion and finished his gubernatorial career passing a fiscal EFP of a program that should be detonating just as his campaign rolls into the big primaries; Hillary is dragging her Iraq AUMF vote along like Jacob Marley; Obama is African-American in a country that has elected a grand total of three black senators in its (post-reconstruction) history; and John Edwards appears to have all the gravitas of a pot that hasn’t had its turn in the kiln yet.

    I’m having a hard time believing that any of these clowns are going to be nominated by either party. But God help us, I suppose it could happen.

  5. TheHat says:

    When McCain doesn’t get the Republican nomination he will probably look to the Democrats. Maybe he can be Hillarys running mate. Once a traitor always a traitor.

  6. I don’t think the republican voters see this as “McCain’s turn”.

    In a head to head match up, taking the other guy by 21 points and only having 13 points saying neither is a pretty clear acceptance of Rudy vs. McCain.

    That’s not to say things won’t change over the next year, but if McCain is ‘sitting’ on a lead then he either doesn’t understand the situation or he knows something the rest of us don’t.

    I think another possibility is he knows this is his last hurrah for running for president. If he doesn’t make it this time, hes not like to be up for it the next round given his age. So maybe his lack of enthusiasm is showing more insight into reality than Kerry ever has.

  7. Patrick McGuire says:

    I predicted in May of last year that the Democratic ticket for 2008 will be McCain/Clinton. It solves the problem of the Democrats needing a real war hero and with Clinton’s support he would win easily. McCain for his part would agree with Clinton to resign before then end of his first term (by then he will have achieved his goal of becoming president and he will be of retirement age anyway) which would allow her to run for “re-election” as an incumbent in 2012.

    It would be a perfect political marriage. It’s the ONLY chance either of them will become president.

  8. Bryan says:

    HEY check out this new political website. It has tons of political message boards and soon will have news updates.

  9. Fersboo says:

    Further, McCain is now a clear frontrunner in a party that tends to give its nomination to the guy whose “turn” it is.

    Would you care to share where you came to this opinion?

  10. James Joyner says:

    Would you care to share where you came to this opinion?

    It’s largely conventional wisdom at this point. When was the last time the GOP nominee was a maverick who came out of nowhere? Barry Goldwater is the only one in the last half century that could even conceivably qualify.

      2004: Sitting president
      2000: Popular big state governor, establishment favorite, son of former president
      1996: Senate Majority Leader, failed 1980 candidate, failed 1976 VP nominee
      1992: Sitting president
      1988: Sitting vice president
      1984: Sitting president
      1980: 1976 runner-up
      1976: Sitting president
      1972: Sitting president
      1968: Failed 1960 nominee, two-term former VP
      1964: Barry Goldwater. Arguably, not the Establishment guy.
      1960: Sitting vice president
      1956: Sitting president
      1952: WWII hero, could have been either party’s nominee.

    The Democrats, by contrast, have nominated non-early-frontrunners many times: Clinton in 1992, Dukakis in 1988, and Carter in 1976 come readily to mind.

  11. Fersboo says:

    The polls I’ve seen show Rudy on top more often than not, with McCain in close second. This is probably part of the reason I see Rudy as the front-runner as opposed to McCain.

    “I do not support Roe versus Wade. It should be overturned,” the Arizona senator told about 800 people in South Carolina, one of the early voting states.

    McCain also vowed that if elected, he would appoint judges who “strictly interpret the Constitution of the United States and do not legislate from the bench.”

    The above excerpt from Siser Toldjah’s lends me to think that McCain will either lose his support of the media and/or moderates or he will have provided further evidence of his hypocrisy.