Why the Right is Embracing McCain
Byron York tries to explain, “Why the right is embracing McCain” as a presidential contender for 2008.
There are several reasons why GOP establishment types are warming to the man they once rejected–and who rejected them. First is the loyalty McCain showed toward Bush in the last election. Second is his stand on the war in Iraq. Third is his hard line on federal spending. And the fourth reason is not an issue, but the absence of one: In 2008, McCain, having won his fight for campaign finance reform, will no longer be showcasing a cause that most Democrats loved but most Republicans hated.
More than any other issue, the war is the reason why Republicans thank McCain for standing by Bush. As the level of public approval for the war goes down, and some Republicans worry that they have to accommodate Democratic calls for withdrawal, McCain’s hawkishness looks better and better to those in the GOP–still a majority–who want to stay the course. McCain is their man; he has a way of talking about the war that simply sounds right to Republican ears: stronger, clearer, and more direct than Bush himself. “We cannot afford to lose it,” he tells me. “Just read Zarqawi. We lose it, and they’re coming after us.”
With his war hero credibility, McCain is able to dismiss the calls of some of his fellow lawmakers–and fellow veterans–who want to get out of Iraq. John Kerry, McCain says, doesn’t have “the strength to see it through.” And John Murtha is “a lovable guy,” but “he’s never been a big thinker; he’s an appropriator.” Using language that Bush never could, McCain tells me that Murtha has become too emotional about the human cost of the war. “As we get older, we get more sentimental,” McCain says. “And [Murtha] has been very, very affected by the funerals and the families. But you cannot let that affect the way you decide policy.”
The other reason McCain seems so “popular,” though, is that he’s not actually running for anything. Abortion and other hot button domestic issues largely on the sidelines at the moment. The war is the foremost issue right now but that likely will not be the case during the 2008 primaries.
Remember, too, that McCain did “well” in 2000 mostly because a sitting vice president ran away with the Democratic nomination early and Democrats were free to cross over and vote for McCain either out of mischief, to tweak the GOP establishment, or because of genuine affection. The Democratic field in 2008 will likely be stronger and more competitive.
Further, the “Republican Establishment” and the Republican nominating electorate are not necessarily the same people. While McCain has scored points with his fealty on the war, his constant grandstanding at the expense of his party has earned him undying enmity among many of the faithful. Probably not enough so to keep them home if it’s a McCain-Hillary Clinton election in November. But for that to happen, McCain will have to win with primary voters against other Republicans first.