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September 19, 2006

What McCain Needs

John McIntyre gets a lot right here:

The political error McCain and his advisors are making, insofar as it relates to 2008, is that this isn't about the specifics of the policy, which will be sorted out in time and which McCain's war record does provide him cover with conservatives. What really hurts him looking toward 2008, as far as the nomination, is his unwillingness to engage in partisanship. As we enter the election season, partisan Republicans see President Bush getting engaged and turning the 2006 debate toward issues that will help Republicans keep Congress - and they see John McCain personally stepping in and halting GOP momentum.

Partisanship is what conservatives want to see from John McCain. One of the reasons the socially liberal Giuliani is acceptable to many conservatives is his willingness to be partisan. If John McCain still wants to be President - and if he wants to win the Presidency running as a Republican - then he pretty quickly needs to start picking fights with Harry Reid, Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer and not President Bush. If McCain is running for President as an Independent, then he's following a perfect strategy.

The story of the past couple years is how fully partisanship has replaced ideology as the relevant metric for bases of the two parties. Dean's a good example, a reasonably moderate, instinctually technocratic governor who became a liberal hero through early and eloquent displays of political aggression. John Edwards, insofar as I hear much bad about him, gets lashed for being insufficiently partisan and nasty. His "niceness" is a liability. Mark Warner, despite his hype, drew a lot of puzzled looks and subdued golf claps for his DailyKos speech extolling the virtues of bipartisan compromise and respectful cross-aisle consultation. The road to victory is littered with imputations of bad faith.

That said, I think McIntyre is also right that McCain's strategy works well for an independent run. So much as the two bases hunger for a fight, the vast middle still thrills to the empty promises of centrism and compromise. I've long thought McCain should just run as an independent, and long-wondered if his early touting of liberal web guru and Unity 08 founder Nicco Mele's support wasn't a signal he was giving up on the soul-selling path through the Republican primaries and gearing up for a third-party run. That he seems to have given up on pleasing the Republican base this close to the 2006 elections is further evidence for the interpretation.

September 19, 2006 | Permalink


While this phenomenon has certainly increased in the past couple years, I'd have to say it really got moving as early as 1994.

Consider the right's attitude towards Clinton after all, not a man known for his strong liberal policies. And the whole impeachment fiasco turned being a Democrat into nothing more than "seriously, you Republicans are crazy" and got us well well off policy debates.

Although I think this summary gives short-shrift to identity politics. On one hand the parties do want rabid partisanship, but on the other hand they really do love appearances at NASCAR or on Wait Wait Don't tell me.

Posted by: Tony v | Sep 19, 2006 10:21:19 AM

Reading the whole McIntyre article, it loses the credibility that the paragraph you quoted gives it. It talks in a lot of absolutes and more about media CW than what actually makes sense.

For instance: "At this stage in the '08 nominating battle McCain, Giuliani and Romney clearly look like the Big 3" Ummm, no. There are plenty of other big name Republicans who are more well known out there, and not nearly so moderate as those guys. Giuliani and Romney as the conservative alternatives to McCain? Seriously.

I don't know how many times I'm going to repeat this over the next year, but the media's tendency to focus on Big Names as the only credible presidential prospects (Hillary, Gore, McCain, Giuliani) is very analytically deficient.

Posted by: Tony v | Sep 19, 2006 10:33:15 AM

I hate to say it, but there is no room for moderation right now. The stakes are too high.

Posted by: Creature | Sep 19, 2006 11:03:14 AM

Is it a given that the right wing is pro-torture, pro-disappearing people? I really don't know are there polls on this? I guess what you are actually saying is that it doesn't matter. The issue is the very public kneecapping of Bush by McCain on this issue. Lockstep is what's required.

As for the Dems - partisanship is required right now so we can get some power! So we can stop the foul fiends from destroying the world. I bet that if Dems get a decent margin of power they will be less partisan because they have real differences on how best to achieve their goals and in fact, even what is best.

However, right now the absolute, imperative task is to stop the dark cloud that has descended upon us. Torture is evil EVIL, not matter who is pulling out the fingernails. Excuse me while I wipe the spittle from my monitor.

Posted by: cathy | Sep 19, 2006 11:03:17 AM

The history of independent bids isn't very good.

There's The Bull Moose, who McCain calls his political hero, who beat the GOP in the vote count, but couldn't pick up enough Democrats and thus threw the election to Woodrow Wilson.

There's Bob LaFollete in '24, but at that point, the Progressives had all migrated to the Democratic Party. But even if you add Progressives and Dems, they'd still get walloped that year.

There's John Anderson, who was so disgusted with the Christian Right's takeover of the GOP that he ran as an independent, and may or may not have thrown the election to Reagan.

There's Perot, who may or may not have thrown the '92 election to Clinton.

McCain is different in that he has such high approval from Democrats at the moment. But I can't see how he picks up enough states from Republicans. Maybe Virginia or North Carolina. He'd still have to win two out of CA, NY, OH, PA, FL, and TX as an independent, and I just don't see that happening.

Shocking as it may sounds, I think McCain is taking a stand here because he thinks torture is wrong. You will notice that McCain is trying as hard as he can to let Warner and Graham take the lead publicly.

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Sep 19, 2006 11:26:56 AM

Nicholas B said what I had in mind. I don't think McCain could win with a Republican running to his right. He won't be liked so much by the Bush base, but he'll appeal to them with the claim that he's the one Republican who could win amongst the ruins Bush will leave the party in.

McCain and the other Republican senators who are opposing Bush on this aren't doing it to gain political points. McCain's statements on this have been very conciliatory and respectful of Bush; he just strongly disagrees with him.

Posted by: Sanpete | Sep 19, 2006 12:03:30 PM

The story of the past couple years is how fully partisanship has replaced ideology as the relevant metric for bases of the two parties.

Is this good for Hillary? I would think Ms. "Vast Right Wing Conspiracy" could cast herself as a vigorous partisan pretty easily.

Posted by: Tom Maguire | Sep 19, 2006 12:36:19 PM

So much as the two bases hunger for a fight, the vast middle still thrills to the empty promises of centrism and compromise.

If there even is a "vast middle," - which I doubt - it doesn't thrill to anything in politics.

That's a big part of this nation's problems.

Posted by: Stephen | Sep 19, 2006 12:40:28 PM

So much as the two bases hunger for a fight, the vast middle still thrills to the empty promises of centrism and compromise.

Why are these empty promises? The increasing polarization of politics has been talked about very much, but even those who think it's a major problem don't seem to be able to gather enough support to make a dent in it. Maybe we still haven't hit bottom with the lack of good will between partisans. Maybe if things get so bad that even the partisans themselves can't stand their own bad will and its bad results, the problem will be taken seriously enough to try to fix it. Or not.

This is an area (not to say anything new here) where the ghettoization of news and blogs and so on along partisan lines is not helpful. Increasingly partisans just live in different worlds.

Posted by: Sanpete | Sep 19, 2006 1:29:49 PM

Edwards can be sufficiently partisan and go on the offensive when it is the smart thing to do. See:

Edwards v Cheney Debate: Edwards Quotes:

"While he was CEO of Halliburton, they paid millions of dollars in fines for providing false information on their company, just like Enron and Ken Lay."

"The facts are the vice president's company that he was CEO of, did business with sworn enemies of the United States [Iran], paid millions of dollars in fines for providing false financial information, it's under investigation for bribing foreign officials."

"We don't just value wealth, which they do. We value work in this country. And it is a fundamental value difference between them and us."

The Transcript

Posted by: philgoblue | Sep 20, 2006 5:04:31 PM

McCain hasn't given up on pleasing the conservative base so much as this issue came up and evoked a rather emotional reaction out of him. Completely understandable, and I'm sure he'll gladly take whatever political consequences come from this stand.

McCain is pretty much your standard "honest" politician. He'll play games when it comes to the small stuff, but on the really important things he'll put politics aside and take a stand for what he thinks is right.

Posted by: Adam Herman | Sep 21, 2006 5:30:56 PM

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