April 10, 2006


Once-foe McCain makes a friend of Bush dynasty (Jill Lawrence, 4/9/2006, USA TODAY)

Cut to a week ago at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum here in this Texas college town. McCain and former president George H.W. Bush sat in the elder Bush's office, talking of long-ago wars and baseball stars. Later, McCain gave a lecture sponsored by the library, and George and Barbara Bush hosted him at a dinner salted with top Texas Republicans.

As McCain prepares for a second presidential run, it is no surprise to find the onetime upstart in the heart of the Bush dynasty. McCain and prominent Republicans are embracing each other in ways unimaginable during his brutal 2000 contest with George W. Bush.

McCain has grown closer to the current president and his family. He has voted to extend some Bush tax cuts he once opposed. He has reconciled with the Rev. Jerry Falwell, whom he once called an "agent of intolerance."

And he's provoked a chorus of denunciations and lamentations from liberals who once were smitten with him. Where, they ask, is the principled maverick of 2000?

That man was on display at the lecture hall shortly after the chat in Bush's office. He was passionately promoting a plan opposed by most of his party: to let 12 million illegal immigrants in America pay fines and back taxes, learn English and get in line for citizenship.

"I say, let them rise," McCain said of the immigrants. "We have always been a better country for it."

It's complicated being John McCain.

In 2000, McCain adviser John Weaver said the senator and his outsider team "showed up at the prom in Bermuda shorts." McCain's candor and willingness to defy GOP orthodoxy drew glowing media coverage and votes from Democrats and independents in Republican primaries — but didn't go over so well with the GOP base. He won seven primaries to Bush's 11 before dropping out of the race March 9.

Now McCain is a leading prospect for his party's 2008 nomination. He's busily cultivating the Bush family, Bush loyalists, religious conservatives, tax-cut devotees and others who spurned or attacked him in 2000.

"It's almost like he wants to flip-flop grandly and quickly and get it out of the way," says liberal Joshua Micah Marshall, founder of talkingpointsmemo.com. He predicts "a bad breakup between McCain and his middle-of-the-road admirers."

McCain says he's not changing, just trying to build bridges instead of burning them.

No one has ever won a national election by being admired by Mr. Marshall and the rest of the Internet Left.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 10, 2006 7:29 AM

It's amazing how many people on the left and in the media thought McCain was going to continue to be their designated bomb thrower at the Bush Administration right up through the 2008 primaries (and if he lost there, through the general election and on into the outer years of the decade as some sort of southwestern, higher-profile version of Lincoln Chaffee). But then again, for folks that are so utterly convinced of their mental superiority over all Republicans not named William F. Buckley Jr, it never dawned on them that the senator from Ariizona might actually be using them to build up his public image more effectively than they were using him to get under the Bushies' collective skins.

Posted by: John at April 10, 2006 9:52 AM

The list of people admired by Marshall et al. who've been elected in local elections is pretty short, too, especially when you exclude the Hard Left "soda" states. (Check the map, the only area where the correlation really breaks down is the Pacific Northwest.)

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at April 10, 2006 10:12 AM