IT DIDN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY. McCain could have gone the way of Bob Dole. In 1988, Dole lost the Republican nomination to George H.W. Bush, a man by all appearances he neither liked nor respected. Given Dole’s age at the time of his 1988 defeat, it seemed like his loss would forever thwart his presidential ambitions. What’s more, just as McCain’s defeat left him seething at George W. Bush, Dole similarly felt a member of the Bush family had dealt with him unfairly and dishonestly. One of the most enduring images of late 1980’s politics is Bob Dole snarling at George H.W. Bush, “Stop lying about my record,” on live TV.
Dole could have followed the same course that McCain did and spent the next several years finding original ways to stick it to the Republican president and the conservatives that helped elect him. Instead, Dole nobly carried out his role in he Senate. Even though he clearly didn’t like George H.W. Bush, he served his administration. As a consequence, Dole was able to get the Republican nomination when it next became his “turn” in 1996. This was in spite of his age and other factors working against him such as his inability to inspire or even basically communicate.
ON JOHN McCAIN’S APPEARANCE with David Letterman this week, there was a revealing moment where McCain discussed the vice presidency. McCain mentioned that he had been considered a possible veep nominee for both parties back in 2004.
Aaah yes, conservatives must have thought – the true McCain legacy. McCain had been such a rotten Republican for so long, the notion that he might run on a ticket with John Kerry was actually a plausible one. For those with long memories regarding that particular incident, they probably recalled McCain allowed the rumor to stay out there as long as possible, so obvious was his pleasure at the discomfort that it brought the White House and people who supported the White House.
That leads us to what McCain least understands – although it’s not true in the media and even not true with the public at large, conservatives and Republicans still support and approve of the administration. When McCain runs about diminishing Donald Rumsfeld as he did last week, one can only marvel at how secluded he’s become in his own cocoon. McCain has apparently concluded that such comments will ingratiate himself with the Republican electorate that he needs to win the nomination.
Perhaps he felt that way from the start of the Bush administration. That would explain why he thought courting the reputation of a “maverick” would offset the hostility he was fomenting in the Republican base.
Can McCain make a comeback? To do so, he’ll have to get the Republican Party to forget his past six years. Since, as he’s shown this week, he’s disinclined to make any effort to do so, for better or worse the John McCain candidacy is likely to be stillborn.
John McCain has spent six years working diligently to offend the conservatives whose support he now needs. Right now he trails Giuliani by 20 points. That may well represent the high point of his campaign.
Dean Barnett blogs almost daily at HughHewitt.com. He has also been a frequent contributor to the Weekly Standard's online edition, The Daily Standard. He can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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