In almost every poll, the three front-runners for the Republican nomination in 2008 are Rudy Giuliani, Condi Rice and John McCain.
As Condi has ruled it out and Rudy is a Manhattanite on social and moral issues -- gays, guns, affirmative action and abortion -- McCain, as a conservative maverick and media darling, appeared to have the pole position for the nomination. That no charismatic challenger is visible has seemed to add to the aura of inevitability of John McCain.
But the last six weeks have muddled this picture, and McCain now appears out of step with his party and country. Consider the returns from California of Tuesday last.
Brian Bilbray, a lobbyist who had won 15 percent in the primary to 44 percent for Democratic opponent Francine Busby -- to fill the seat of convicted Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham -- came from behind to win 49-45. Busby's failure suggests the "culture-of-corruption" issue is no sure winner for Democrats this fall. Bad news for Rahm Emanuel, who runs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
But worse news for McCain. For Bilbray attributes his comeback to a relentless assault on the McCain amnesty for illegal aliens that passed the Senate in May and his support for a 2,000-mile fence on the U.S. border from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific. So miffed at Bilbray was McCain he canceled a fund-raising appearance.
Not only is McCain the champion of the "indocumentados," he has imputed racist motives to senators who oppose putting illegals on a path to American citizenship. As Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review Online writes, "McCain uttered on the Senate floor what was probably the worst sentence of the entire debate," when he flippantly asked, "What next -- are we going to say work-authorized immigrants are going to have to ride in the back of the bus?"
This language is redolent of the moral superiority liberals often assumed, which helped to make them insufferable to Middle America.
After comparing opponents of his amnesty bill to defenders of Jim Crow, McCain, says Lopez, at an off-the-record event in New York, allegedly called Rush Limbaugh a "nativist." He then joined the liberal Republicans in voting against a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between a man and a woman.
Not needed, says McCain. But if some U.S. judge declares that the 14th Amendment outlaws state discrimination against gays when handing out marriage licenses, how would McCain overturn the ruling? To the Christian base of the party, protection of marriage is an imperative if we are to slow America's slide into decadence.