March 12, 2006


McCain Tests New Road to Nomination: 2000's GOP Rebel Incorporates Support for Bush Into Quest for Change (Dan Balzm 3/12/06, Washington Post)

No one stole the show at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference here this weekend, but Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) demonstrated why every other prospective 2008 presidential candidate must figure out how to get around him.

More than any of his potential rivals, McCain found a way to balance embracing a weakened President Bush -- at a time when many Republicans are running away from the president -- while appealing to those in and out of his party who believe Bush and other Washington Republicans have lost their way. No other candidate could claim to offer continuity and change almost simultaneously.

The Arizona senator was full-throated in his support for Bush on Iraq, Iran and even the now-defunct Dubai seaports deal. In doing so, he continued to establish his bona fides as the Republican most likely to defend and extend the president's controversial foreign policy record. [...]

"We've learned from our mistakes," Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) told reporters, "and if John does run, it's clear he's trying to be the leader of a party, not the leader of a movement, and there's a huge difference between being the leader of a movement and a leader of a party. That means you've got to take folks that disagree with you and bring them into the tent and try to broaden the scope of the party. If he does run, I think he feels very comfortable with the idea that this time around will be to lead the party." [...]

Most of the nearly 2,000 delegates from the South and Midwest this weekend came for 2008 window-shopping -- with the exception perhaps of legions of home-state loyalists bused in by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.), who was determined to win a nonbinding straw poll sponsored by the Hotline politics newsletter and avoid embarrassment on his home turf.

The delegates -- many party leaders in their home states and overwhelmingly backers of the president -- were in no mood for Bush-bashing, despite the battering the president has taken in the polls, in the media and from some within his own party. "I want Congress to stick with the president and Republicans to stick with the president," said Judy Batson of Madison, Miss. "We need to stick with the president."

When Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (Ky.) called Bush "one of the great presidents in the history of the United States," the audience rose to applaud and cheer. Former Texas Republican Party chairman Fred Meyer made clear that anyone running for president in 2008 should forget about running against Bush. "Not supporting the president on the high percentage of issues would be a mistake, because people value loyalty."

The GOP is a hierarchical party and he was always going to win because he's next in line. But the dynamic that's in play here is that he doesn't really have a platform of his own to run on and the final plank of the Bush/Rove plan has always been to guarantee the succession, as Clinton failed to do. So their mating dance, which began immediately after 2000, was inevitable. McCain needs Bush's policies, supporters, and machine and Bush needs McCain to adopt the Third Way/compassionate conservatism. Look for McCain to cement the deal by naming Jeb his VP and successor.

McCain looks right for GOP friends (Janet Hook and Mark Z. Barabak, 3/12/06, Los Angeles Times)

Sen. John McCain, who made his name as a Republican maverick, is courting his party's right wing.

Six years after the Arizona Republican emerged as George W. Bush's nemesis in the bitterly fought 2000 Republican presidential primary — and, in the view of some, ran against his party's establishment — McCain is taking a different tack as he prepares for a possible second White House bid.

Even as he has picked high-profile fights with Bush over military-interrogation tactics and with colleagues over pork-barrel spending, McCain has been courting Republican power brokers, emphasizing his loyalty to the president and burnishing his conservative credentials.

McCain was nearly alone on Capitol Hill in defending the ports deal involving a Dubai-owned company. He has eased opposition to tax cuts he once complained were excessive.

He recently met with the Rev. Jerry Falwell, a leading evangelical conservative he previously had attacked as intolerant. To the delight of Republican partisans, he publicly lambasted Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, a rising star among Democrats, over overhauling ethics.

McCain is trying to build bridges to Republican leaders in key states — such as Iowa and South Carolina — that he ignored or lost in 2000. And Friday, he was a featured speaker at a gathering in Memphis of Republican activists from the South, the core of the party's conservative base.

"He's reaching out and trying to repair things," said Charlie Black, a Republican strategist. "He is working very hard at it." [...]

He opposes abortion and has supported big defense budgets, restraints in other government spending and pro-business legislation.

He voted last year for a top priority of the National Rifle Association, a bill to protect gun manufacturers from liability lawsuits. He endorsed teaching theories of intelligent design along with evolution in public schools. He is supporting a state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in Arizona.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 12, 2006 7:18 AM

Drudge is saying he got his head handed to him. Are you both talking about the same event?

Posted by: erp at March 12, 2006 8:23 AM

Pat Robertson specialized in winning GOP straw polls.

Posted by: oj at March 12, 2006 8:39 AM

From erp's Drudge link:

"Romney finished second [in the straw poll] with 14.4%, just under half as many votes as Frist."

While I don't think that Mitt Romney can get the GOP nomination, barring a meltdown by some others, if he were on the ticket I'd vote for the Republicans in '08.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 12, 2006 10:27 AM

He'll do well in NH, the pols from MA always do. In fact, he's likely to be McCain's only competition after NH.

Posted by: oj at March 12, 2006 10:34 AM

Michael, Per your comment, have entertained not voting for the Republican ticket?

Posted by: erp at March 12, 2006 11:45 AM

I'm going to keep saying it like Cato the Elder talking about Carthage: selling McCain as the "Great 'centrist' hope," has been a stroke of surpassing brilliance.

Just because the BDS-afflicted have been praising him as the non-Bush for all these years, he is positioned to pick up all the marbles.

Posted by: Lou Gots at March 12, 2006 1:57 PM

I'm still not sure about McCain as a candidate. But writing him off because he didn't win a meaningless straw poll more than 2 years before the election is stupid. The article notes Frist went all out for the poll - does anyone really beleive Frist, who is ripped apart daily in the conservative blogs, is going to get the nomination?

Posted by: AWW at March 12, 2006 2:12 PM

""and if John does run, it's clear he's trying to be the leader of a party, not the leader of a movement, and there's a huge difference between being the leader of a movement and a leader of a party." Score 1.

"Not supporting the president on the high percentage of issues would be a mistake, because people value loyalty." Another score on that issue, which had been a big one for me.

Posted by: Genecis at March 12, 2006 4:27 PM

First can't lead his own caucus, how can he lead the known world?

Posted by: erp at March 12, 2006 5:05 PM


I'm not a Republican, just a Bush supporter.

In fact, I probably support Bush more than many Republicans do, simply because I don't care what effect Bush's policies and proposals have on the electibility or structure of the Republican Party.

If the choice is Hillary or Condi, I'll vote and campaign for Dr. Rice, but if it's Hillary or McCain/not-Romney, I'll vote and campaign for Hill.

Hillary vs. McCain/Romney I'll have to ponder, but I lean towards the latter ticket.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 13, 2006 3:21 AM

Michael, say it isn't so.

Posted by: erp at March 13, 2006 7:31 AM