This has been a great week for Senator John McCain. Being endorsed by major newspapers, as well as 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee Senator Joe Lieberman, John McCain has reasserted himself as someone who could win it all.
There are reasons for this success. His continued push on ending the disgrace of earmarks, balancing the budget, expanding the military and transforming entitlements still resonates. And the Iraq turnaround has turned around Mr. McCain’s chances.
The fact is that Senator McCain’s credentials to be commander-in-chief are the strongest of anyone running in either party. Only Rep. Duncan Hunter of California comes close to Mr. McCain’s military expertise. After all, the president’s primary duty is to protect the American people.
Many originally thought that the GOP nomination was Mr. McCain’s for the asking, motivating liberal activists to attack him early on in the campaign season.
Then the senator ran into two challenges. The first was his connection to the Iraq War. Deriding the Iraq troop surge as the Bush-McCain surge, Democrats tied the frustrations from Iraq around the senator’s neck. Now the incredible progress on the ground in Iraq has made that association an asset. Mr. McCain long pushed for what has now become a winning military strategy.
But the biggest challenge Mr. McCain faced — and continues to face — is that frankly, some Republicans just don’t trust him. It goes deeper than policy disagreements on issues like campaign-finance and immigration. Many Republicans believe that Mr. McCain does not share their values or priorities. Some conservative leaders believe Mr. McCain’s team has been dismissive, or even contemptuous.
Early in this cycle Senator McCain and his strategy team clearly underestimated just how deep the distrust and disconnect ran in many circles. Even if he wins the nomination in a divided field without these people, he cannot win the general election without getting their support. Those on his team who thought all these people would simply “come around” don’t understand large segments of the base who would rather stay home than vote for someone they consider hostile to what they hold most dear.
John McCain needs to solidify that base.
Politics is about relationships. The senator has done some work to build or repair these relationships. While the late Reverend Jerry Falwell was only one influential leader among the Christian Right, the fact that Mr. McCain reached out to him was seen as an olive branch by some. And the Senator’s appearance before an NRA gathering was a positive move toward another major bloc that he often antagonized.