Every four years, the media try to offer the Republican electorate advice on what they should do to achieve victory. Buyer beware: Those eager to accept the media's conventional "wisdom" ought to recognize that these are blueprints for Republican domination of Washington only if it's a domination by the party's liberal wing. Currently, the simmering stew of conventional "wisdom" suggests that Sen. John McCain is going to emerge as the obvious front-runner for 2008 because his is the winning message for Republicans.
All the recurring media love for McCain -- he's the only candidate who can go on Fox News and call journalists "Trotskyites" and the liberals all laugh -- should remind conservatives why they distrusted him in 2000. His victory in the South Carolina primary warmed the hearts of liberal journalists everywhere. To represent the media giddiness, see Jill Zuckman in the Chicago Tribune. It was "a healthy dose of poetic justice as he beat his Republican rivals and vanquished the ghosts of his 2000 defeat under a barrage of scurrilous smears."
Leftists in the press have always believed that before he stole Florida from Al Gore, George W. Bush had registered his South Carolina victory in 2000 through anonymous phone calls alleging that McCain's dark-skinned adopted daughter, Bridget, from Bangladesh, was his illegitimate black love child, playing on the inherent racism of those South Carolina Republicans. It didn't matter that even four years later, McCain campaign manager Rick Davis couldn't substantiate how many of these scurrilous phone calls were actually made or by whom. The dramatic conventional wisdom had hardened into "fact."
This drama of purging the "ghosts" of 2000 no doubt led to the curious weekend reporting on the Republican contests in South Carolina and Nevada. McCain's narrow victory in South Carolina was highlighted with joy. Mitt Romney's massive margin of victory in Nevada was comparatively ignored. The New York Times highlighted that "McCain and Clinton Capture Tough Wins" but published no story on Romney's Nevada result in the Sunday paper, the same state Hillary won. "All The News That's Fit to Print" and all that.
There are areas where John McCain can inspire the conservative troops: his valiant military service, his public stands against pork-barrel spending and his steadfast support for the Iraq War and the "surge," even when it estranged him from his media suitors for a while. I sympathize with his distaste for how arrogant corporations think they can just buy their way through the Washington policy wars. But his campaign "reform" measure wasn't just aimed at stalling powerful corporations, but at every group or individual that wanted to call out a candidate by name in the last 60 days of an election cycle.
The media won't remind conservatives of the many stands McCain has taken against their cause. They love his "maverick" stands against GOP orthodoxy. But did you notice what the media thinks of "maverick" Democrats? They aren't revered. They're denounced. Ask Joe Lieberman. They wanted him to drop out in 2006 and let fire-breathing leftist Ned Lamont go unchallenged.
Right now, the liberal media and the McCain boosters they've hired for their editorial pages are touting how McCain is the face of a reborn Republican party, one that's tossed aside the oppressive old dogma of Ronald Reagan. They say McCain's the only candidate who can win independent voters, and the rest of the GOP is a pathetic "kingdom of the blind."
But ask yourself this question: Did Ronald Reagan win in landslides by kowtowing to this ageless conventional media wisdom -- or did he win his campaigns going in the exact opposite direction?
The new media have been staunch in defending Reaganism and noting that McCain's recent legislative record wouldn't exactly make Reagan proud. Start with the free-speech-squelching McCain-Feingold bill. Then add the McCain-Ted Kennedy plan to offer widespread amnesty to illegal immigrants. McCain and Lieberman pushed for an onerous new regime of "climate stewardship" to cut energy emissions. Conservatives still remember that the last time he ran for president, John McCain pledged he would apply no litmus test on abortion to his Supreme Court nominees, and his aides whispered to reporters that he wasn't really that opposed to abortion and would "come around" on gay rights. McCain consistently has voted against tax cuts, no matter what he says on the campaign trail.
The Republican race is up for grabs, a real guessing game. Most conservatives looking at the GOP field remain unexcited, doubting these candidates either can win or will govern as conservatives. But whatever Republicans decide, they should not make their decisions by consulting George Stephanopoulos or Chris Matthews or The New York Times for advice about which candidate is the real conservative.