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John McCain Can Win (Don’t Laugh)

I was at a fancy dinner last night, seated with notables like NPR's Robert Siegel and Jewcy's own Abe Greenwald, when I said what I always say about election 2008: I'm afraid we're going to end up with John McCain … Read More

By / November 14, 2007

I was at a fancy dinner last night, seated with notables like NPR's Robert Siegel and Jewcy's own Abe Greenwald, when I said what I always say about election 2008: I'm afraid we're going to end up with John McCain as the Republican candidate.

The reaction I got from many around the table proved to me, yet again, that McCain remains the one to watch in the Republican race. There was a multi-person gasp and then someone said "We'd be lucky to get McCain." "He supported the surge when it was extremely unpopular to do so," said another. "He's a war hero." "He's principled." "He could beat Hillary." "He's got cross-over appeal." Oy.

What's happening here is what I imagined would happen when Rudy Giuliani, a man I admire and would love to see be president, became the frontrunner. I've been around Republican primaries in many different states, for many years, and I know that on election day Republican primary voters will not choose the pro-choice, pro-civil unions, ex-mayor of NY who has been married three times. They will pick the candidate they feel is at once most conservative and also most likely to win in the general election. I want to be wrong. I want Republican primary voters to prove me wrong. But I know the people that vote in primaries and they are just not going to choose Rudy. He's got one part of the equation; he's likely the strongest general election candidate against Hillary Clinton. That won't be enough for Republican primary voters.

Republicans who vote in primaries tend to be extremely principled and, can fairly easily be categorized as pro-life and pro-gun (despite what people believe, the gay marriage issue is hardly one at all, as no serious candidate on either side supports gay marriage). Giuliani stands on the other side of both the abortion and gun issue and no amount of "but I'm a federalist" is going to change that. These voters simply don't trust a candidate that disagrees with them so deeply on the two issues that matter most to them.

So, alarmed by Rudy, bored by Romney, suspicious of Huckabee, deflated by Thompson and running in the other direction from Paul, Republicans will begin to look at John McCain as the guy they've known all along, the one who has a "good enough" ACU Lifetime rating of 82%. In short, he'll be the Republican John Kerry. It's easy to forget that John Kerry was all but counted out of the 2004 Democratic primary. It was going to be Howard Dean, and there were no two ways about it. Dean had the "money+poll numbers=win " formula that pundits rely on to make predictions. But then John Kerry mortgaged his house and mounted a comeback. The comeback rested on the idea that Dean gave Democrats the jitters and, Kerry, deadly boring and unprincipled though he may have been, is someone Democrats knew well enough to rely on to be their guy in the general election.

Like I noted in the first paragraph, a McCain candidacy is my own personal nightmare. I am "Anybody But McCain" for the Republican nomination. I don't trust him and my anti-McCain list grows by the day. He can't beat Hillary, and he can't be counted on to support conservative positions when they actually matter. He takes convenient stances and insults the same conservative movement he claims to be a part of when it helps him. He's too in love with being the maverick and, while I like having maverick friends who are unpredictable and drag me to Atlantic City on a Wednesday, I look for stability and consistency in my presidential candidates. I would very much like to be wrong in the predictions I've made here; it will be terrifying to be right.

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