Tuesday, April 25, 2006

FRONTRUNNER McCAIN

The anointment by the media of a frontrunner in the presidential nominating process can be a blessing or a curse, depending on how well you play the role.

In recent years, we have seen some frontrunners go wire-to-wire, maintaining their frontrunner status almost the whole way. Bob Dole in ’96 and George W. Bush in 2000 grabbed the nomination enduring only minor bumps in New Hampshire. Vice Presidents George H.W. Bush in ’88 and Al Gore in ’00 maintained their frontrunner status pretty much all of the way through, Walter Mondale was the sacrificial lamb from the get-go in ’84 and Ronald Reagan was dominant in 1980.

In very few cases has the man who was proclaimed frontrunner by the media not gone on to receive this party’s nomination for the presidency.

Gary Hart was destroyed by Scandal in ’88, while Mario Cuomo decided against running in ’92. Howard Dean, was the Democratic frontrunner in ’04 until Democrats realized he had no chance of beating President Bush and wisely went with John Kerry instead.

Now, both of the major American political parties are faced with unique situations going into the 2008 elections.

The Democrats have had their frontrunner since the Florida recount ended in 2000. Hillary Clinton has always been the leading contender for the Democratic nomination in 2008 and this only changed once or twice during John Kerry’s candidacy when it seemed as if he might actually pull off a win. Unless Bush was wildly unpopular going into the ’04 elections, Hillary was planning to wait it out, and that’s exactly what she ended up doing.

Chances are, when New Hampshire Democrats go to the polls in ’08, Hillary will have been the Democratic frontrunner for an insanely long period of time. She will lose her frontrunner statusonly if she is challenged by Al Gore who will siphon off far-left voters who are displeased with Hillary’s hawkish stance on the Iraq war, or if she comes down with Dean-Syndrome and the party decides that she simply can’t win a general election.

The GOP is in a position which is almost completely opposite that of its rivals. George W. Bush, for better of for worse has no heir-apparent. Vice President Cheney has shown no interest in running and even if he wanted to, his health problems would likely make him an unsavory choice for the American voter, regardless of his popularity.

Cheney’s absence leaves the door to the GOP nomination wide open and while it has taken quite a while in for the pundits and GOP strategists to come to the realization, the fact of the matter is that the name which has risen to the top in terms of being the most talked about and best known GOP candidate in the field is John McCain. Make no mistake: John McCain is the frontrunner for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.

Accepting this fact is going to be a bittersweet pill for the GOP faithful to swallow. To say that Republicans have mixed feelings about McCain would be a huge understatement, but their qualms about his politics are somewhat countered by the knowledge that if he gets the nomination, chances are that he would win in a landslide.

McCain is wildly popular among independents. Even Democrats like him including John Kerry who practically begged McCain to be his running mate in ’04. As for conservative voters, even those with serious reservations about McCain will pull the lever for him if faced with the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency.

McCain’s challenge will be convincing conservative voters that he is an acceptable successor to Bush, and McCain is well on the way to achieving this goal.

While rank-and-file Republicans don’t like the way McCain crosses the aisle to work on compromise legislation with liberals like Russ Feingold and Ted Kennedy, they saw McCain’s true loyalty on display in his staunch support of President Bush’s re-election in ’04. His impassioned speech at the GOP convention two years ago left no doubt as to where is allegiances were, even after the political bashing he took from Bush in the ’00 primaries, in which many of the attacks leveled against McCain were considered to be below the belt by political analysts and presumably by McCain himself.

On some issues, McCain is not well liked by GOP regulars. On issues such as campaign finance reform and more recently illegal immigration, McCain’s views have not simply been unpopular but have been contrary to long term GOP goals. Fortunately for McCain, his bill with Russ Feingold turned out to have no teeth and there is no chance that there will be any meaningful immigration reform anytime soon, so his tag-team endeavors with liberal Democrats will probably be secondary considerations among GOP primary voters.

A more likely chance of a deep party split lies in the power of the Evangelicals and Christian conservatives who make up the strongest faction of the president’s base. This part of the base will likely question McCain’s dedication to party principles that deal with God and explosive social issues, pointing to McCain’s admirable shots at Pat Robertson which helped destroy McCain’s 2000 campaign, as evidence that he isn’t one of them and therefore can not be a true GOP standard-bearer. However, for Republicans who are learning how to win at the margins in an electorate that is split down the middle, McCain has it where it counts, and is acceptable when faced with the unthinkable Democratic alternatives.

On the terror war, far-and-away the most important issue to Republicans across the board, McCain’s hawkish credentials are untouchable.While he has been critical of administration policy at every turn, he seems to share the current administration's reform policy in regards to the Middle East as well as President Bush’s belief in the power of democracy to change the region, and has maintained his strong support for the President’s decision to invade Iraq despite the public’s misgiving about the ongoing conflict.

McCain’s hellish experiences in Vietnam help bolster his credibility on foreign policy issues in ways that John Kerry can only dream of. His reputation as a straight-shooter as well as the fact that he’s a Republican will work in his favor, if The War on Terror is the central issue in the ’08 election cycle.

Not even the most hawkish Neo-Con would dare attack McCain for not being tough enough on terror.

The real make-or-break issue for GOP primary voters when soul searching on the McCain dilemma will be tax cuts.

McCain did not back any of the Bush tax cuts and in most cases involving Republicans, this would be considered an unforgivable sin. However, McCain’s unwavering, high-profile support of Bush in ’04 gives him a second chance and the ability to take one of two roads in his posturing on the all-important tax cut issue.

First, he can admit that he was wrong. It’s the strategy used by George H.W. Bush in his ’88 campaign to convince Reagan voters that he was truly the heir-apparent.

McCain can eat some crow, point to the indisputable evidence of economic growth spurred on by the three rounds of Bush tax cuts and simply say ‘I was wrong. It won’t happen again.’

This may not be enough for many GOP regulars who may have retained a bad taste in their mouths from Bush 41 going back on his “No new taxes" pledge.
They trusted the heir-apparent to a tax-cut heavy presidency once before and they got burned. Free-market Republicans are not anxious to repeat this experience and may therefore look for an aggressive tax-cut agenda from candidate McCain before agreeing to support him.

This would require more than a simple apology from McCain for his refusal to support pro-growth policies in the past. McCain would instead need to adopt a serious tax-reform agenda during the primaries which includes overhauling the IRS and some kind of flat or fair tax proposal which the base has been salivating over for years, and which the president has been forced to abandon due to his decision to pursue Social Security reform first in early 2005, and his subsequent plummet in the opinion polls.

Ironically, the problems that Bush and the GOP face are the main reason that McCain is so close to cementing frontrunner status if he hasn’t already.

As long as Bush and congressional Republicans are unpopular, the perceived need for the GOP to nominate a more moderate presidential candidate in order to maintain the White House in ’08 is more pronounced.

If Bush was around 65% in the polls and the GOP majority in Congress was not in doubt, the base would feel more confident in nominating an unapologetic conservative in the mold of George Allen or Bill Frist, and that such a candidate could beat an artificially-moderated Hillary in the general election.

But fortunately for McCain, as long as the GOP’s grip on power is perceived as being weak, his candidacy looks more and more appealing.

By the time that Bush and the GOP have worked their way back into the American people’s good graces, McCain will likely have already wrapped up the support he needs from the party machinery and be well on the way to sweeping the early primaries.

McCain has an additional advantage in that he is the most popular topic of conversation among pundits who are discussing the ’08 elections. They have concluded that Hillary is the Democrat’s pick and now they’re trying to figure out who it is that the GOP will coronate. What many of them don’t realize is that simply by talking about McCain, whether their feelings towards him are positive or negative, they are making him the frontrunner simply by mentioning his name more often than the other potential GOP candidates.

McCain has always had a way with the media. In fact, no politician in recent years, even Bill Clinton has been as well regarded among media elites on both sides of the political spectrum.

This will of course change if he receives his party’s nomination for the presidency, as members of the media have a biological instinct embedded in their DNA to tear apart the lives of anyone who receives their parties ultimate political blessing.

Regardless of his inevitable media dissection when the time comes, Democrats should be afraid. Very afraid. If McCain is the frontrunner, chances are very good that he will be the nominee, and if he is the nominee, he will beat almost any Democrat on the roster including Hillary and he will do this despite the fortunes of President Bush or congressional Republicans on that November Tuesday.

If he plays the role of the frontrunner correctly over the next year, there is a good chance that McCain will be elected president in ’08, and we will see what happens to a divided electorate, when presented with a likeable candidate with a tendency to transcend party lines.

I realize that we haven’t even gotten to the ’06 mid-terms yet and already annoying wonks such as myself think they have the race for the ‘08 presidency all figured out.

Obviously, a lot can happen in 2 ½ years and my theories may be disheartening to many conservative Republicans who don’t like to compromise as well as many liberal Democrats who still haven’t gotten used to losing elections. But I think just about everyone, regardless of political affiliation, has to admit that ’08 is shaping up to be one of the most interesting presidential election years in our nation’s history.

GOP frontrunner John McCain. How does that sound?

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16 comments:

Charlie said...

You give an excellent commentary on the front runners. I think we will see some serious action from other candidates on both sides, though.
Personally, I hope that Chuck Hagel runs in 2008.

Falling Panda said...

Glad you liked the post.

I don't think '08 will be Hagel's year. Unfortunatly he seems to have many of McCain's negatives and very few of his positives.

I think his name recognition among Republicans is low, and those that know him aren't very fond of him.

He may run simply to increase his stature.

Like McCain he has made many compromises and taken many shots at Bush.

Unlike McCain however, he has not been capable of giving the high profile kind of support to the president that would make up for it among conservatives. It will be interesting to see what he decides to do, but I think that there is only room for one maverick in this race.

matthew said...

Kudos Dan. An articulate post that kept the liberal bashing to a minimum.

While I don't agree with some of your conclusions, or positions, I enjoy reading civil discourses of your viewpoints.

Anonymous said...

As a 2000 McCainiac, I enjoyed the commentary about JMcC. I thought Condi Rice was a possible contender - especially against Ms. Rodham Clinton.
Very good analysis of the future from this far away point of view

VE said...

This registered Democrat would vote for McCain.
You don't think Rudy's gonna run?
I've been visualizing the great face-off -

Rudy and McCain vs. Hillary and.................... (crickets)

Oh, the poor Democratic Party. The leaders should just disband, start a bunch of new parties and fight it out with sticks. Let's get the Know-Nothings back in the race! The Torries!

Falling Panda said...

Rudy may run Bart, but I believe he made a strategic error by staying out of the news for so long after the '04 election.

He let McCain suck up a lot of the oxygen simply by staying in the news.

Look for Rudy to be on the short list for the VP nomination however, if I'm wrong and a more conservative candidate gets the nomination. But it's gotta balance out politically. Having two moderates on the same ticket simply won't work. That's why a McCain/Gulianni ticket will probably never happen.

Anonymous said...

McCain will falter just as he comes out of the starting gate. His
maverick status played well with the MSM when they wanted it to but not the base he needs to win. John McCain is history.

Anonymous said...

McCain has a lot of baggage from his Naval Aviator days, with many negatives concerning personal ethics. This will come out.

The mental anguish of years of brutal torture as a POW show his fortitude, but I would suggest that the experience impacts his judgement.

I appreciate the service he has rendered to our country, but McCain is not the man for the presidency.

James said...

Just found your your site from another blogger (http://jeffslade.blogspot.com) who linked to you.

I think for the sake of the GOP, it will come down to McCain or Giuliani. Remember, when Reagan ran in 1980, he "conservatised" his ideas and became much more socially conservative than he was previously. If Giuliani makes such a change, he would have a chance to out-duel McCain for the party's nomination. However, given the widespread blogging and information that is available, I'm not sure if Giuliani could successfully do that.

Great article!

Raleigh said...

Well said Dan.

I think McCain has something else you didn't mention. Charisma. Maybe not to the same extent that Bill Clinton (like him or not) has but it's there.

He seems to be more honest and straightforward than most of the would-be candidates from either party. The GOP might not like the fact that he thinks for himself and tends to be very outspoken about his thoughts, but that the people like him is what counts and they know it. I see it as a strength. I also see his ability to compromise and back off when necessary as a strength. The country needs a measure of some political unification so there is some reasonable cooperation between the parties while they are about the work of running the country.

As for Hillary. It would be nice to see a woman run and win a presidential election. But not THAT woman. She would only be riding an election on the shirttails of the Bill Clinton presidency that was very popular among Democrats. I shudder to think of what she would do to the presidency.

Mike Puckett said...

Condi in the Veep spot with McCain could produce an election that further helps realign things in the Republicans favor. She would be a nod both to Civil Rights considerations and the Social Conservative base.

Raleigh said...

Condi would be a great choice for VP, Mike. Hell, she would make a good, strong prez if she could get elected. The polls don't favor her at this point so I don't see that happening in the near future. She's getting even lower numbers than Clinton at the moment. People either love her or hate her and she doesn't have a refined political personality. She may be able to swing it, though, as a VP candidate.

Anonymous said...

What happened at the Joe Wilson talk. I hope you skewered him.

RealRepublicancirca1854 said...

George Bush needs John McCain more than McCain needs Bush. There's a reason the senior Senator from Arizona is the most popular politician in America and has been for years. It is because the American public...not the die-hard blue's of the Northeast or the die-hard red's of the South...but the average guy and gal...the guy and gal who don't surf political blogs, who don't know Rice from Roni, whose only knowledge of the events of the day slowly cascade over them from the 6 o'clock news out of the T.V. in the family room while they're at the dinner table with their families. The guy and gal who are more interested in raising their families, paying their bills, watching Sunday football...these are McCain's people. They don't give two chits about gay marriage, the pledge of allegiance, the United Nations, France, China or global warming. They are conservative on some issues and liberal on others. They are centrists. These people are the reason John McCain is as popular as he is and why he'll be elected President in 2008. The "elitists", the "intellectuals", discard these people as irrelevant...HUGE MISTAKE! They aren't stupid hicks, they aren't ignorant...they just have better things to do than piss and moan about politics.

Bush/Rove are positioning McCain to be the GOP nominee in '08. While their differences and animosity are pretty big...I believe that Bush/Rove feel McCain is the only Republican who can win in '08, and better a Republican (even McCain) gets elected than a Democrat (especially Hillary).

Remember, Mark McKinnon, Bush's PR man out of Texas the last two campaigns and for Governor before that, has hooked up with McCain's "Straight Talk" group and has made it clear that should McCain run, he's going to be working on the Senator's behalf. McKinnon could not make this move without Rove's say so...In addition, Bush barely makes a speech without mentioning McCain in a strong light...Bush is constantly trying to make sure the public believes his administration has the backing of the senior Senator from Arizona. Rove will keep the Religious Right at bay in '08 and make sure they don't get in McCain's way, as he and the President know McCain is the GOP's only hope of keeping the WH.

Who else is there? John McCain is the most popular politician in America across the board. Who else does the GOP have? Mitt Romney? He'll be lucky to get reelected Gov of MA, plus he's a Mormon and that won't fly nationwide. Rudy? Yesterday's news, too much baggage relative to his personal life. George Allen? His dead dad is more popular in Virginia than he is. Brownback? Looks like a televangelist with a bad haircut. Santorum? Makes Reagan look like a Communist. Frist? Outside of Mercy Hospital in Nashville no one knows him. Gingrich? Too controversial. Condi? Countries not ready for that Hagel? I'd go for him, but not well known enough and it's too late in the game for him to get his name out there, plus he’s basically a younger McCain. There aren't any Republican Governors of note, perhaps Owens of Colorado but too conservative for the current electorate and Jeb can’t run this soon after his brother. Rove/Bush realize all of this and that's why they got McKinnon on board with McCain and will be supporting him behind closed doors.

RealRepublicancirca1854 said...

FYI...Trent Lott of all people has publicy stated, on Hannity I heard him, that he supports McCain for President and will be campaigning for him. His reason? He feels he's the only one in the GOP who can win.

Anonymous said...

Here's an intresting article on McCain. In it McCain declares "I haven't changed. My record is the same on all issues, which is that of a conservative Republican. Not a liberal Republican, not a moderate Republican."

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/02/AR2006050201482.html