Debra J. Saunders

Wednesday's CNN-YouTube debate began with a ditty by Chris Nandor of Snohomish, Wash., on the eight GOP hopefuls. Sen. John McCain, Nandor sang, "is loved by many, but hated by the rest."

Why do so many Republicans loathe John McCain?

No Republican candidate has been better in pushing to make sure that the sacrifices made by U.S. troops in Iraq are not made in vain -- and there is no issue more important than this war. McCain spent Thanksgiving visiting the front, and he carried back the message he heard from those serving: "Let us win."

McCain has spared no one -- including President Bush and his administration -- in his righteous desire to do right by the troops. "I am the only one on this stage," McCain noted, "that said the Rumsfeld strategy was failing and was doomed to failure. I'm the only one on this stage that said we've got to have a new strategy, and that's the strategy we're employing now."

Maybe that's part of the problem. When I asked Bill Whalen, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and former adviser to ex-Gov. Pete Wilson, why so many Republicans hate McCain, Whalen saw two main reasons: Much of McCain's reputation "has come at George Bush's expense," and, "He's too beloved by the media."

Too bad the media are a fickle crew, who this go-round are smitten with the cuddly conservative, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. It's more than a bit bizarre. When McCain called the Rev. Jerry Falwell an agent of "intolerance" in 2000, the media loved him. When McCain appeared next to Falwell at Liberty University last year, pundits labeled the event -- a savvy political move to reach out to Falwell's values voters -- a sellout to the religious right. So who's their new crush? An ordained Southern Baptist minister. Go figure.

GOP voters resented profligate spending under the now-dethroned Republican leadership in Congress. They should love McCain, who crusaded against earmarks and pork-barrel spending when it didn't win him many friends in power circles.

Perhaps the problem is that McCain is not just talk. When Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist asked the candidates if they would sign the group's pledge not to raise taxes, McCain said no: "My pledge and my record is up to the American people, not up to any organization."

The Norquist exchange may signal a sea change in Republican politics. Huckabee, Mitt Romney and Tom Tancredo of Colorado said they would sign the ATR pledge, and have. Rudy Giuliani said he would, but hasn't. (In October, an aide told me that Giuliani "doesn't sign pledges.")


Debra J. Saunders


 
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