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.

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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. Mark says:

    No one is embracing McCain. This is a fantasy.

  2. Bithead says:

    Agreement with Mark.
    Pure fantasy.
    People involved had best be careful, they’re setting themselves up for a monumental rejection.

  3. Fersboo says:

    I have noticed quite a few individuals that like that ‘maverick’ senator from Arizona. There happens to be a vocal McCainiac segment over at Redstate.

  4. ICallMasICM says:

    I’m pretty neutral on McCain but compared to Mrs. Clinton he’d be fantastic.

  5. Jerry says:

    Mc Cain is going to have trouble with the conservative Republican elements who favor border control. They do not go for Mc Cain’s guest worker plan.

  6. RJN says:

    Why trust McCain? I think he is sailing under false colors, and has been for some time. Also, he is too old.

  7. RA says:

    McCain is a RINO. Give me the choice of a RINO and Hillary and I will not vote for president. Republicans don’t deserve to win if they pick RINO’s.

  8. Anderson says:

    Given what a conservative voting record McCain has, it’s remarkable that he’s labeled a RINO by anyone.

    What non-Republican things has he done? I mean, besides opposing torture? Is it the campaign finance bill? The one that Bush signed? Is Bush an RINO?

    I would vote for nearly any Democrat over McCain, being a Dem myself, but the man does at least give the impression of having a clue, which puts him far ahead of the Bushes and Cheneys of the world.

  9. Anderson:

    McCain is clearly an enemy of the First Amendment and free speech. He has repeatedly broken his oath of office in that regard. His rationalization and the fact that the courts have let him get away with it do not make him any lass a liar.

    McCain is also an enemy of the rule of law. His failure to call for enforcement of immigration laws sets a very bad example. If he can pick and choose which laws should be enforced, how can he expect other peo[ple to take either him or the law seriously?

  10. DL says:

    Sounds like they’re saying he’s loyal let’s put him in. Didn’t he go and talk with the dems about running on their ticket a while back, loyal my foot-I’ll stay home!

  11. Bithead says:


    Given what a conservative voting record McCain has, it’s remarkable that he’s labeled a RINO by anyone.

    Yes, I’ve heard many Democrats say this.

    But conservative by whose lights? GWB is a centerist, and the DNC keeps trying to cast him as the reincarnation of Hitler.

    I suspect your perspective to be seriously skewed.

  12. Herb says:

    I just don’t trust McCain. Never have and never will. He is two faced and would court anyone and, stoop to any level, to become president, even a democrat.

  13. ICallMasICM says:

    ‘He is two faced and would court anyone and, stoop to any level, to become president, even a democrat.’

    And how does that make him different from any other candidate? Unbridled ambition is a prerequisite for running for Prez.

  14. Anderson says:

    D.C. – Your complaints apply equally to Bush, whom I infer you hold in equally low esteem.

    Bithead – I am indeed repeating a talking point I’ve seen around. Evidently some outfit that grades senators finds McCain very conservative. I haven’t seen anything to contradict this besides McCain-Feingold, which as noted Bush signed.

    As for Bush being a centrist, that’s not absurd, but his riding the Christian Conservative tiger is going to backfire at some points. Were it not for his invading Iraq, screwing up same, and tolerating torture, he would be only a moderately poor president. Those are 3 biggies however.

  15. McGehee says:

    I think if there’s any rallying to McCain it’s out of unwarranted fear of a Hillary nomination by the Dems.

    The McCain-embracers would look pretty foolish if the Deaniac Party rejects Hillary over her refusal to renounce her votes for the Iraq war.