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February 02, 2008

It Would Be Wrong For McCain To Go Right

The same talking heads who unanimously declared Senator John McCain to be on a campaign bus to nowhere a few months ago, now unanimously bob that, as the frontrunner, he “MUST” reach out to the Republican right. They’re wrong again. Fortunately stubborn McCain doesn’t tailor his positions to the latest poll or the talking heads nearly as much as most other politicians. Could well be one of the secrets of his success.

“McCain is winning without the support of the Republican right,” the pollsters say in gloomy warning. Hey, that’s the good news. If he doesn’t owe his win to the religious right (which is what the commentators are really talking about), then he doesn’t owe the religious right anything – except respect as fellow Americans. That’s great news for those – Democrats and Republicans (including me) – who are alarmed by the growing influence of that bloc on the GOP.

Tactically, if he can win Republican primaries in states like Florida where independents aren’t allowed to vote, then he doesn’t have to swerve right to get the nomination. The great dance of American elections is a swerve to the left or right to get the party nomination, then a quick rush back to the center where most Americans are for the general election. Candidates who have to go too far to the extremes to win their primaries lose the general election. McCain has an enormous advantage if he can stay in the center.

His wins in states like New Hampshire where independents do vote in primaries and people are free to cross party lines are also impressive. There McCain managed to get these non Republican votes even given a spirited primary on the other side. He may have appealed to enough liberals to cost Obama the Granite State. That’s a good augury for McCain in the general election. It would be a terrible mistake – which I don’t think he’ll make – to throw away that independent vote in order to “reach out to the Republican right.”

It certainly didn’t look like McCain was making a very good political decision when he opposed a timetable for US withdrawal from Iraq and, instead, supported the surge of additional troops. He said at the time that America’s safety was more important than his candidacy and pretty well proved that by taking the position he did. Certainly it has helped him that the surge seems to be effective – but, even more, it’s helped that people believe that he’s driven by more than political calculus. (It also seems that opposition to war in Iraq may have been over-estimated; there was huge opposition to the hapless prosecution of the war and, apparently, much less deep-rooted opposition to the war itself as American casualties go down and al Qaeda seems to be suffering from having overplayed its own hand in Iraq).

I don’t agree with McCain on lots of issues; but I think I know where he stands (and I know he has bent politically some on immigration and some other issues). I don’t think he knows a lot about the economy (which may be a good thing given the conventional wisdom of economists). Six months ago I didn’t think there was snowball’s chance in hell that the next president would be a Republican – wasn’t all that sure I’d be voting Republican either. It’s hardly over until it’s over and it ain’t. But the current ascendancy of John McCain is a good thing. Doing it without help from the right, priceless.

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