March 29, 2006


McCain tweaks maverick image (EJ Dionne, 3/29/06, Seattle Times)

McCain's problem is that political parties very rarely nominate mavericks, and McCain has decided the only way he'll ever be president is as the Republican nominee. So today he cares very much about what hurts him or helps him in his own party.

The most flagrant sign of this was his February vote to continue Bush's dividends and capital-gains tax cuts that he once eloquently opposed.

"It's a big flip-flop," one-time McCain foe Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, told The Washington Times' Donald Lambro, "but I'm happy that he's flopped."

Those of us who defended McCain in the days when the likes of Norquist were attacking him do see the Arizona Republican's new position as a major flop. But so what? Norquist has more power in Republican primaries than McCain's old base among pundits and reporters. Whenever a liberal turns on McCain these days, the senator's supporters gleefully e-mail the criticism to conservative activists as a sign of their man's true faith.

The prevailing view among McCain's lieutenants — it's also the conventional political view — is that since the main obstacle to his nomination in 2008 comes from the right and from Bush partisans, McCain's main task is to appease the right and make nice with Bush on issues (such as Iraq) where McCain actually agrees with the president. Liberal attacks can be ignored since most liberals will eventually vote against McCain anyway. There will be plenty of time after he's nominated for McCain to don his maverick apparel again for the benefit of moderates and independents. [...]

Republican and Democratic friends alike object that this analysis is based on a misunderstanding: McCain's non-conservative, non-Republican sympathizers, they argue, have always overrated his progressive credentials. It's time to face the fact that McCain really is a conservative Republican and stop hoping he's something else.

The Post ought to have his friends write the column instead.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 29, 2006 12:01 AM

Dionee at least has the honesty to admit he's going to turn on McCain -- based on his Good Morning America interview with Charlie Gibson, the TV types are just going to turn on a dime on the Senator and lump him in with all other other evil Republicans without any explanation to viewers (though I honsetly thought they'd wait at least until after the 2006 midterm to do so, in hopes he might still offer up a few more bon mots to horsewhip the president with from a non-partisan angle).

Posted by: John at March 29, 2006 10:14 AM

But if McCain turns on the press, he wins big. GHWB was never more popular with conservatives than when he thrashed Dan Rather for walking off the set, after Rather jumped him on 60 Minutes.

Posted by: jim hamlen at March 29, 2006 10:56 AM

True, though if he can make it obvious to the public he's the aggreived party here (as opposed to turning on the media simply because of one E.J. column or Charlie Gibson interview), it's even better for him in the long run, because he'll have a body of evidence to point to. But that will require him to do a good job in the early stages containing the vanuted McCain temper when Tim, George or Wolf start firing more aversarial questions.

I just thought that the media shift wouldn't start showing up until around the winter of 2007 at the earliest. But the left side of the blog world may be driving the timetable a little faster than planned, since they're always on the lookout for heretics and definitely strike a nerve with the big media when they complain it's too conservative (as opposed to their shaking off conservative claims the media's too liberal like water off a duck's back).

Posted by: John at March 29, 2006 11:15 AM

John: It's far too late. The MSM built McCain up for their own anti-GWB purposes. Now his favorables so far outweigh their own that they can't possibly tear him down. People are convinced McCain is Mr. Straight-Talker, and they aren't going to change their minds.

Posted by: b at March 29, 2006 11:49 AM

b is exactly right. McCain has been consistently sold as the "not-Bush," the "Great Left Hope," and its too late to switch it off now.

Those of us who knew his positions on the issues had always understood this. Watch how the NRA handles him on gun issues, for example. We revile him over CFR, but on gun issues it is another matter.

It has been a brilliant maskirova, as evidenced by the fact that the elite of the other side are only now catching on.

Posted by: Lou Gots at March 29, 2006 4:25 PM

Does anyone think McCain would be as patient (enduring) as Bush has been with the White House press corps?

If the Right wants confrontation from a President (towards Congress, towards Europe, towards the press, towards fools like Cynthia McKinney), then McCain will provide it. He could look at David Gregory, tell him to stop being stuck on stupid, and watch his popularity numbers go to 70%. Reagan and 43 were both too 'polite' to take that route.

Posted by: jim hamlen at March 29, 2006 10:47 PM