John McCain’s Catch-22
John McCain is in a terrible Catch-22. He has gotten this far in his political career by punching conservatives in the teeth for the amusement of the mainstream media, which has repaid him for the entertainment by treating him with kid gloves and hyping him as a principled maverick.
But now that McCain has captured the Republican nomination, he desperately needs the backing of the very conservatives he has infuriated time and time again over the last few years — and we’re not talking about tepid support either. John McCain needs conservatives to vote for him, pour money into his campaign, and to rabidly defend him when he’s under attack.
However, in order to patch things up with conservatives, McCain will need to cater to us by making meaningful gestures that show his heart is in the right place and by shifting his positions a bit on key issues to placate our very valid concerns about him.
There is a problem with trying to placate conservatives though; McCain’s appeal to independents and moderate Democrats is based on liberals in the mainstream media saying nice things about him because he DOESN’T try make conservatives happy.
So, McCain has a hellish balancing act to pull off. If conservatives don’t vote for him en masse and fill up his campaign coffers, he is probably going to lose in November. However, if he tries to openly appeal to the conservatives that he needs to win, his real base, the mainstream media, will voice their displeasure, which will turn off the middle-of-the-road voters that McCain hopes will put him in the White House.
Moreover, the situation is further complicated by the fact that McCain’s “honorary Democrat” status, which the mainstream media has bestowed upon him for criticizing other Republicans, has now been removed. That’s why, for the first time in at least a decade, you’re seeing the MSM smear John McCain with the same sort of poorly written, lightly sourced hatchet pieces that are typically aimed at other Republicans. That was very predictable, so much so, that some of us pointed out it would happen if McCain were the nominee almost two years ago — and it makes perfect sense if you think about it. After all, why would the liberals in the press settle for a “Democrat-light” like John McCain when they can have the real thing?
This puts John McCain in an enormous pickle if he ends up going toe to toe with Barack Obama. On paper, McCain would seem to be the superior candidate to Obama in almost every way. He’s incredibly experienced and Obama isn’t even qualified to be President. McCain is a moderate and Obama is the most liberal man in the Senate. While Obama makes empty promises about how he’ll unify the country because he’s such a wonderful guy and everyone loves him so much, McCain has actually forged more significant compromises between Republicans and Democrats than any other five senators combined. You can go on and on with these examples, but Obama has one huge advantage over McCain: Obama inspires enormous enthusiasm on the Left, which means his voters will turn out for him and give him enough money to build a staggering war chest. On the other hand, conservatives were dispirited BEFORE John McCain became the nominee and now, the Right is sliding towards despondency.
How is John McCain going to change that? How can he change that? Heck, given John McCain’s contrarian nature, a better question may be: does he even want to try to change it? If so, there’s not much evidence of it. Since he sewed up the nomination on Super Tuesday, McCain has done very little of significance to reach out to conservatives and as of yet, there are few indications that he intends to do so.
That may lead to what the late, great Milton Friedman referred to as a “wonderful natural experiment.” Reagan has already proven, without a shadow of a doubt, that a strong conservative Republican can pull in independent voters and beat a liberal candidate hands down for the presidency. But, can a strong moderate Republican, one who doesn’t have firm support on his Right, do the same thing in 2008? Despite all of his flaws, conservatives should certainly hope so and if not, well, just remember Adam Smith’s words of wisdom when he was told that Britain would be ruined by an unhappy turn of events, “There is a great deal of ruin in a nation.”
Ben Murnane wrote an article based on an email interview he did with me for a print zine in Ireland
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