Well, Super Tuesday is over, and now we have two major party presidential nominees. That's the lead sentence I thought five weeks ago I'd be writing for this column. But the 33-day round of caucuses and primaries that seemed likely to produce decisions after 23 states voted on Super Tuesday have failed to deliver.
True, John McCain appears to have a relatively clear flight path to the Republican nomination. The invaluable realclearpolitics.com Website, as I write, credits him with 697 delegates to 244 for Mitt Romney and 187 for Mike Huckabee.
But the McCain aircraft can expect some turbulence before it gets its wheels down. Vocal conservatives, led by talk show hosts Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, insist that McCain isn't a proper conservative and isn't much of a Republican.
They have something of a point. McCain opposed most in his party on campaign finance and the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts. He opposes it now on climate change legislation and the future of the Guantanamo Bay detention center. But McCain has his arguments, too. No one has been a stauncher supporter of the war on Islamist terrorists (and he calls them by their rightful name). He not only supported the successful surge strategy in 2007, he has been urging something like it since the summer of 2003.
The best argument McCain can make to disgruntled conservatives is that he is a fighter. He has sometimes fought them, and after the 2000 primary campaign he never really stopped fighting George W. Bush until, some time in 2003 and 2004, it became clear to him that the Democrats with whom he was sometimes making common cause were determined to produce defeat in Iraq.
He should look ahead and tell conservatives that he will be fighting with them -- for victory in Iraq and against Islamist terrorists everywhere, to prevent the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, to install conservative judges on the Supreme Court, to keep the Democrats from snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. He can argue that he is like a United States Marine -- no better friend, no worse enemy -- and in the years ahead he is determined there will be no better friend for the causes they hold dearest.
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