Buyer’s Remorse for Republicans

Posted: Mar 20, 2007 5:21 PM

What happens when voters get buyers’ remorse before they even pick a candidate? The answer lies in the Republican presidential field for 2008.

U.S. Senator and war hero John McCain has been the presumptive front-runner since he backed President Bush in the 2004 campaign. With the ugliness of the 2000 election behind the Arizona senator, it looked like McCain’s deal with Bush would clear the way for his 2008 bid. But the wheels of the Straight Talk Express came off a few weeks back and forced the senator to rush to Iowa.

John McCain has been hurt by three factors.

First, his steadfast support for an increasingly unpopular war has put him at odds with public sentiment. Even if GOP primary voters want their candidates supporting the Commander-in-Chief, recent polls show even they are wary of a long term commitment to a three-sided civil war.

Second, the mainstream media types who fawned over McCain in 2000 because of their contempt of Mr. Bush have abandoned their former golden boy. That title has been passed to Barack Obama, whose anti-war views are a tighter fit with most reporters and talking heads.

Third, and most troubling to McCain, is the sudden emergence of Rudy Giuliani. No one saw the former New York mayor’s meteoric rise in this month’s polls that put Giuliani 20 points ahead of the pack.

John McCain is old news for now. The target has been moved to the back of Rudy Giuliani.

A few minutes after those great polls showing Giuliani’s ascent into first place, the media got Rudy’s boy to say that his dad would be a good president even if he was a lousy dad. Ugly stuff. And more is sure to come.

Conservatives are already crowing about a 1989 clip of Rudy calling for federally funded abortions—a position so liberal that Democratic candidates haven’t even dared broach that topic in recent years. Add to the fact that the mayor is on record supporting abortion rights, gun control and gay marriage and you have a relationship with Republican voters that is sure to get rocky.

Maybe that’s why some conservatives are hoping Newt Gingrich jumps into the presidential race.

Not since Ronald Reagan has a Republican leader been able to articulate the conservative vision of where America needs to go like Gingrich. And you can bet that the former speaker will explain the stakes of America’s war on terror better than any GOP leader including the president.

But like Giuliani, Newt Gingrich has a variety of personal issues that will bog down his march through the GOP primaries. Gingrich admitted to America’s most influential evangelical, James Dobson, that he had been unfaithful to his first two wives. While Dobson appeared to hold off judgment of Newt, conservative Christians and female voters in Iowa may not be so understanding. The fact that Gingrich can come across as cool on the campaign trail makes overcoming past mistakes more difficult. Still, expect the media to build the former speaker up if for no other reason than to say nasty things about him later.

Mitt Romney should also have his fifteen minutes in the sun, but his glow may wear off after votes are counted in Iowa and New Hampshire. Romney is bright, attractive, has one marriage to his name, tons of money and Bush supporters quietly working to get the former governor elected. But it won’t wash with conservative voters, who will ask how a guy in his 50s changed positions on abortion, gun rights and gay marriage. In the end, it will be Romney’s flip-flops, and not his religion, that will turn conservatives against Mitt.

So whom will Republican voters ultimately embrace? John McCain. It may not be a warm hug but conservatives will decide the war hero will be their best bet to beat Hillary Clinton in the general election. (And yes. Hillary will win.)

The fact that Giuliani and Gingrich have enough wives between them to field a basketball team that carries a sixth man will prove too much to overcome in a process still dominated by evangelicals.

Romney’s past positions on gays, guns and abortion will leave McCain the last man standing. And perhaps when GOP voters look past 2000, a few tax votes and McCain-Feingold, they will rediscover a guy who has been a Reagan Republican for the better part of a quarter century.

At some point, Republicans will take a closer look at McCain. The candidate is already taking a closer look at Iowa Republicans and is considering a change in his illegal immigration stance. That’s good news for McCain and the GOP. But before McCain gains the trust of the Republican base, Giuliani, Gingrich and Romney will first have their 15 minutes of fame followed by a nasty case of buyer’s regret.

John McCain can be thankful that his time getting shoved back on the shelf came now instead of next January.