While voting no on the marriage amendment will cause McCain's media auxiliary to purr with pleasure at this backhanding of the religious right, how would it have hurt McCain to have voted with his party? He seems more concerned with remaining in the good graces of the Log Cabin club than with the evangelical Christians. To secularists, this is the moral place to stand -- but the GOP is not a secularized institution.
On Iraq, an increasingly unpopular war, McCain remains far more hawkish than Bush and is pushing the president to insult Russia's President Putin by boycotting the July G-8 meeting in St. Petersburg.
Yet one senses Americans are tiring of the endless bellicosity of the Bushites and neoconservatives, which has produced nothing but ill will against us. This was surely not the way of the tough but gracious and genial Ronald Reagan.
But it is the immigration issue that could sink McCain. For it is hard to believe today's GOP and Middle America, which wants the U.S. border sealed with a security fence and troops, will vote for a senator who favors amnesty, voted for welfare benefits for illegal aliens and sponsored with Teddy Kennedy a bill to bring scores of millions of new immigrants in over the next 20 years.
A McCain nomination would sunder the GOP between corporate conservatives and populist conservatives, and might generate a third party movement that could return the country -- to Bill and Hillary.
In Memphis, a month ago, when the Southern and Midwestern GOP parties gathered, a straw poll was held for which McCain was strangely unprepared. To avoid his impending embarrassment, McCain urged the attendees to cast their votes for President Bush. No one was fooled, especially not a political press corps that was out in force.
Since 2000, McCain has seemed the likely successor to George Bush, and to be moving adroitly to address his vulnerabilities as a candidate. Systematically, he repaired his relations with the Bush family, reached out to the Rev. Falwell and the religious right, became the most sought-after speaker at Republican rallies and fund-raisers, has been generous with his time and endorsements, and yet maintained his unique popularity with the media.
But of late, he appears to have re-adopted the persona and re-embraced the sort of ideas that make conservatives feel good about themselves when they vote against him. This thing is wide open.