In last week's column I suggested that John McCain might be given "the (Bob) Dole" treatment by party insiders -- halfhearted support, in other words.
That led to the usual emails from around the country. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but often I don't know where they even come from. But usually I can tell in which newspaper or on which website the email senders have read the column.
On many of the more conservative media outlets, I've noticed for years that readers often describe this Republican official or that as a "RINO." For those who don't eat, breathe and sleep Republican politics, that stands for "Republican in Name Only."
Many of those readers of last week's column who felt my portrayal of McCain was too sympathetic accused the soon-to-be presidential nominee of being a RINO. A handful leveled the same "charge" at me.
For the record, my work as a non-partisan pollster and political analyst requires me to be objective. I'm always having trouble convincing the national media networks of that, but never mind.
To my anti-RINO critics, I can best respond by asking how many of them ever met privately with Ronald Reagan, coordinated Newt Gingrich's campaigns, or had the guts to run statewide as a Republican nominee at a time in the Deep South when that was a sure ticket to the political slag heap.
Then again, my politics don't matter because I'm not the guy running for president. So rather than wax indignant over these emails, I try instead to divine their collective political relevance.
It's plain enough that there's a conservative segment of the GOP that just isn't going to accept John McCain as the Republican presidential nominee, regardless of who the Democratic alternative may be.
Hillary Clinton has effectively been shown the electoral door, thanks in large part to a bum's rush of negative spin by media and Democratic Party elites. So it appears the RINO-haters may be willing to sit on the sidelines and watch as the Democrat -- likely Barack Obama -- wins in November. Wow.
Consider the irony: Most media talk is about how the Obama-Clinton battle may have split the Democratic Party and improved McCain's chances in the fall. But the chances appear at least as great that the Democrats eventually will unite, while some Republicans will take their cues from think-tank whizzes and TV preachers, and not vote for McCain.
So here's a test for all the "real Republicans" -- and for McCain: President Bush is determined to force the Senate to vote on a "free trade" agreement with Colombia. Both Clinton and Obama plan to vote against it; not just because key Democratic constituencies support it, but also because polling shows that with the price of consumer items going up, many Republicans and conservatives aren't wild about "globalism" either.
McCain already has taken the party line on the trade pact, and will undoubtedly support Bush with a vote for it in the Senate. In my opinion, that would endanger his chances of winning the presidential election in November, if for no other reason than he's on the same side as Bush.
So here's my question: If McCain sticks with Bush and appears an economic "globalist," will that make him a RINO or a hero?
I am not allowed to support anyone for president and don't. But that does not mean I have amnesia. If you are a Republican and don't believe that John McCain is "Republican" enough for you, then take note of the GOP bullet he will be taking for you when he casts this upcoming vote.
I suspect that McCain takes being called a RINO the same way I would were I still active in the GOP. Like him, I would think of all the parades I rode in, hands I shook, interviews I gave, bills I supported, stupid political gatherings I attended, and candidates I raised money for so many times in the building of the modern GOP, and I would ask my doubters -- where were you then?
I would also ask those purist Republicans if they've ever heard of the value of a veto pen. While President Bush has hardly touched the thing, you can bet the Democrats, if they ever get to the White House, will use it in a New York (or Illinois) minute.