ARC's 1st Law: As a "progressive" online discussion grows longer, the probability of a nefarious reference to Karl Rove approaches one

Thursday, January 31, 2008

How McCain Can Win My Support

the Wall Street Journal provides an excellent analysis on the problems that McCain has with conservatives and how he could repair the breech.

McCain's Apostasies
January 31, 2008; Page A16

John McCain's hard-fought victory over Mitt Romney in Florida on Tuesday, combined with Rudy Giuliani's exit, has made the Arizona Senator the clear favorite. Now that the nomination is within Mr. McCain's grasp, he can close out Mr. Romney and help his prospects in November by showing he intends to repair the breach with all parts of the GOP coalition.

Mr. McCain's great political strength has also long been his main weakness, which is that his political convictions are more personal than ideological. He believes in duty, honor and country more than he does in any specific ideas.

These personal qualities are genuine political assets, and they are part of his appeal as a potential Commander in Chief. Among other things, they help explain why he held firm on Iraq when the fair-weather hawks lost their resolve. But he is now on the cusp of leading a coalition that also believes in certain principles, and its "footsoldiers" (to borrow a favorite McCain word) need to be convinced that the Senator is enough on their side to warrant enthusiastic support.

Mr. McCain's sense of honor in particular can sometimes veer into a righteousness that has alienated many who should be his natural supporters. Campaign finance reform is the best example. He adopted it as a way to cleanse what he thought was the dishonor of the Keating Five scandal, where he played only a bit part. Yet he has too often turned the cause into a morality play, accusing opponents of "corruption" when their belief in free political speech is at least as principled as his call for cleaner campaigns.

Mr. McCain could heal some of the wounds merely by acknowledging the obvious, which is that McCain-Feingold has had unintended consequences, such as making money in politics less accountable. Saying he'll appoint conservative judges, even if they might find McCain-Feingold unconstitutional, would also help reassure many of those who have voted for his opponents in this primary season. Mr. Giuliani's team of conservative legal advisers led by Ted Olson is now available, and Mr. McCain ought to recruit them.

On taxes, too, the Arizonan still has reassuring work to do. We've long thought the Senator's opposition to the Bush tax cuts was as much personal as ideological -- a rebuke to the antitax conservatives who opposed him in 2000. He's come a long way since then, and Mr. McCain now says the Bush tax cuts should be made permanent. He's also endorsed a cut in the corporate tax rate to 25% from 35%, among other tax reforms. This progress is welcome, but he'll need to make a more vigorous, articulate case for why the tax cuts are essential to growth than he has so far. Especially going into the fall campaign, taxes and the economy are going to be major, maybe even decisive, issues.

The former prisoner of war has a natural advantage on national security, as the primaries have demonstrated. And he might conclude he can defeat any Democrat on those credentials alone. But the primaries have also demonstrated that even Republicans are less sure of Mr. McCain on domestic issues. To pick one example, his health-care reform proposal has many good parts -- including an emphasis on tax equity and competition to reduce costs. But his articulation of it so far is nothing short of terrible and would get him mauled against Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.

Mr. McCain has already moved to accommodate his many critics on immigration with his talk of "sealing the borders first." And judging by the primary results, this has neutralized immigration as a voting issue. The restrictionists will never be satisfied until he vows to deport every illegal immigrant in the country, and that position is a loser in the fall. After months of immigrant bashing by most of the GOP field, Mr. McCain is the one Republican who might be able to retain his party's Bush-era gains among Hispanic voters.

Senator McCain can take pride in his remarkable political comeback, and it will now be tempting for him to think that he can ignore the conservatives in the party who have opposed him. The press corps will goad him to do so, and some of his own advisers still haven't figured out that this is no longer the 2000 primary. Perhaps he might even be able to defeat Mr. Romney playing that game.

But to win in the fall, he will need the active support of a broad, motivated coalition. The Democrats are energized like they haven't been in a generation, and they will rally around any nominee. If Mr. McCain wants to prevail in November, he'll show with his policies and magnanimity that he wants to be the leader of the entire Reagan coalition.

Your Co-Conspirator,
ARC: St Wendeler