But many of these relations are so bad that it’ll take a lot more than isolated gestures. He needs to reach out and open meaningful dialogues. Senator McCain should spend time with the leaders of these organizations and movements, and specifically address their concerns, even if it’s only to respectfully disagree on some points. Additionally and perhaps even more importantly, he needs to try bringing more people representing these conservative elements of the Reagan coalition onto his team so that he can represent the broad spectrum of the Republican “big tent.”
Specifically, the one issue where Mr. McCain could benefit immensely by taking a clear stand is judges. Many people misunderstand the senator’s membership in the Gang of 14 to be compromising on judicial appointments, when actually his moves secured the confirmation of some of our finest appellate judges, some of whom could be Supreme Court nominees. Mr. McCain should do what Rudy Giuliani has done, making judges a stump speech issue and putting conservatives at ease on what the number one issue is for many of them.
But Mr. McCain needs more help than just strengthening his stand on judges to energize the base. He needs a running mate who will excite those with reservations. His record on the issues is good enough for pro-lifers, Second Amendment supporters, the Christian Right, and philosophical conservatives to be eager for him if his running mate is an outspoken advocate for conservative social causes.
Enter Mike Huckabee. He is the only major candidate to be a longtime leader on all the social issues of life, marriage, faith, and the Second Amendment. Governor Huckabee has become a phenomenon representing the dreams of millions of social conservatives, and whose presence on the ticket would light a fire in those camps to enthusiastically work for Mr. McCain.
Of course, Mr. Huckabee will vigorously assert that he’s running for president, not vice president. And looking at his current standing in Iowa and the national polls, he may well make that happen. He’ll no doubt say that people should be asking whether he’d be willing to take Senator McCain as his running mate, not the other way around.
The other major candidates are surely still contenders for the nomination, while other conservatives could make good running mates. Mr. Giuliani, especially, could yet recover and take the prize. We’ll know soon enough.
John McCain’s challenges are largely of his own making, as are his strengths. The next couple of weeks will be fascinating.