Running with the McCainiacs

A McCain candidacy throws up quite a few problems - many Republicans loathe him plus there are conce

Sometime late last year, amidst the premature furore over who the candidates for each party would be, someone thought it might be an idea to get the President’s impression.

Ever the diplomat, and in what turned out to an unusually prescient observation, Mr Bush advised that the reporters “not count John McCain out”. Given the lame duck nature of the President, this didn’t resonate very far among a press corps who had long been dancing a jig on Senator McCain’s political grave.

Unfortunately for the pundit class, it turns out there’s a trick or two left in the old dog (and I mean both the Pres and Longtooth McCain). With Mormon-Mitt finally admitting defeat and accepting that he really ought to leave some money to his brood rather than blowing it all on buying friends (according to the Economist, at a rate of a whopping $110,000 per delegate, and the Huckaboob keeping going for reasons known only to him and Chuck Norris, John McCain has managed to assume the mantle of “presumptive nominee” for the Republican party.

But les jeux are most certainly not faits – aside from the fact that Senator McCain is taking over an incumbent party whose popularity is rather low, he also faces an internal dilemma within the Republican party, best exemplified by conservative harpy Ann Coulter’s statement that she would "campaign for [Hillary] over McCain". Taking a maybe less attention grabbing perspective, Conservative radio chatterbox Rush Limbaugh weighed in stating that Senator McCain “is not the choice of conservatives, as opposed to the choice of the Republican establishment — and that distinction is key”.

For Adam Quinn, an American policy specialist at the University of Leicester, these sorts of voices merely represent a “rump of conservative ideologues” whose “definition of liberal is everyone who doesn’t completely agree with them”. These two may indeed be extremes, but the reason we have had such a fractured candidacy on the Republican side is a deep sense of unease that many Republicans had towards all of their offered candidates for various different reasons. Senator McCain’s perceived liberalism on certain core conservative values and his willingness to work with perfidious democrats marked him out for many. As Louise Ford, an active Republican in London put it, “some [in the Republican Party] see him as a turncoat: seems shaky ground for him to become the Republican nominee.”

Quinn defines McCain’s trouble with his base as “an issues thing that has metastasized into something beyond anything that he has actually done.” He groups the “issues” around four main pillars: campaign finance reform, abortion, tax cuts and immigration. On all four, Senator McCain has been against the traditional conservative base, and for Quinn it is through the blending of these issues into the bruising fight between Senator McCain and then nominee-President Bush in the 2000 primaries (where he tarred the leaders of the religious right as Robo-Mitt – chose to endorse the presumptive nominee, apparently ceding to the prevailing winds in the Republican party that decided that a centrist is the safest option if the Republicans want to avoid abject humiliation in the next election.

For this “silent majority” in the party, the prospects of a McCain victory against Hillary are good, and they certainly give him better odds against Obama than any of the others. However, the prospect of an Obama-McCain match-up is worrying for those supporting him for his centrist views. While he may lose some of his far right, who while unlikely to vote against him (no matter what Ann Coulter says) may choose to sit it out uninspired – the question is can he make up this ground in the centre? If he is facing a Senator Obama, it is a tough call – both have done well amongst independents in primaries, whereas against Senator Clinton it seems a safer call (it is almost impossible to gauge the degree to which the “kill the Hilderbeast” factor will play in his favour). But then again, maybe he can appeal to the Hispanic voters who have voted Republican in past (their Catholic values tend to correlate with Republicanism), and who are apparently not choosing Obama in the Democratic primaries.

Beyond this burden of scepticism within his own ranks, Senator McCain has to universally battle the age factor – he may not be far off Ronald Regan in age terms, but he does not really look it and his health issues are widely known. So the “change agenda” that the Democrats are aggressively peddling will have an even sharper focus. And it is here that the vice presidential question becomes so important – rather than the usual choosing a person who appeals to a specific demographic or state, for Senator McCain it has to be a person who could be seen as viable Presidential material (which is what makes the Huckaboob’s plight so pitiful – there ain’t nothing Presidential about a man who doesn’t believe in Darwinism).

The Mack has returned – the question remains as to who has got his back.