Thursday, January 31, 2008

Imperfect Justice? Defending McCain's Attacks

Steve Kornacki argues that Mitt Romney was on firm ground to claim he's been maliciously attacked by the McCain campaign:

But for all of Romney’s griping, there is a certain justice in his campaign being sullied by such a disingenuous gambit. Romney, after all, has built his entire campaign on disingenuousness, wrapping himself in a language and ideology that he once told Massachusetts voters repulsed him.

More than that, he has shown remarkably little restraint in taking his newfound, base-friendly views and spending millions of dollars to advertise them. His chief target, for nearly a year now, has been McCain.

It was Romney who just two years ago matter-of-factly told the Massachusetts press that McCain’s views on immigration were “reasonable” and that the Arizonan’s call for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers was “not amnesty.” Then he discovered that conservative activists were livid with McCain—the same activists whose support Romney badly wanted for his presidential bid. So he reversed himself, began spouting nativist rhetoric, and slammed McCain—in debates, speeches, interviews and television and radio ads—for supporting “amnesty.”

Meanwhile, it was McCain who stood by his position, at enormous political peril, urging a “humane” solution to the immigration morass and acknowledging that illegal immigrants “are God’s children” too. Right or wrong, McCain handled the issue honorably.

That’s just one example of the shameless opportunism that has defined Romney’s effort. In Massachusetts he brought audiences to tears with the story of a “close family member” who died from a back alley abortion, and how the experience had convinced him that abortion should be a matter of deeply personal choice, and not any business of the government’s. “You will not see me waver on that,” he declared.

But then he decided to run for President and declared himself adamantly pro-life, claiming that he had only been “effectively pro-choice” back in Massachusetts (whatever that means). McCain, meanwhile, has opposed legal abortion throughout his entire public career. Again, right or wrong, he has been consistent.

Gay rights, tax cuts, gun control: Over and over in this campaign, Romney’s convenient changes of heart—whether in his actual policy positions or just in the way he talks about issues—have been well-documented. On literally every subject in which he was vulnerable to criticism from conservatives, Romney shifted his attitudes before entering the campaign, meaning he has never been in position—as McCain has often been—to have to defend an unpopular view.

And he authored a brand new chapter last night, proclaiming that Ronald Reagan would “absolutely” endorse him if the former President were still alive. Of course, when Reagan actually was alive, Romney was running around Massachusetts assuring voters that “I was an independent during the time of Reagan-Bush. I’m not trying to return to Reagan-Bush.”

Which brings us to McCain’s attack over the Iraq war. It marked the first time in the campaign that one of Romney’s rivals decided to give him a taste of his own medicine.

McCain, in last night’s debate, all but admitted that payback was part of his motive.

“Your negative ads, my friend, have set the tone in this campaign,” he told Romney.

In a perfect world, McCain would have taken the high road throughout the entire campaign while Romney slowly collapsed under the weight of his own phoniness.

But the world is hardly perfect, and McCain's unfair attack is one of the reasons he is likely to outlast Romney in this nominating contest. Which is itself a kind of imperfect justice.

Well, politics ain't beanbag, so to argue that McCain's pulled off some "dirty tricks" seems to miss a key essence of politics: the raw demands of winning.

Romney backers were crying foul last week when McCain starting running the Romney "withdrawal" ad.

Folks can quibble with the editing, but the truth is Romney appeared to back the movement toward timetables. Sure, his comments were more complicated, but politics is all about sound bites, and those with political aspirations need to speak carefully (Romney also endorsed a path to legalization for undocumented aliens in an interview with Tim Russert last December).

I laid out Romney's questionable record in an earlier, beefy post, "John McCain and the Irrational Right."

As I said there, I admire Romney, although he's not my first pick for the nomination.

In any case, Mark Levin's written a final, desperate first-person appeal to base conservatives pleading for a last stand against McCain, or else....the apocalypse! AAhhhhhh!!!

See Memeorandum for more, especially Captain Ed; and don't forget the good stuff on McCain Derangement Syndrome, here and here.

Photo Credit: New York Observer

Governor Schwarzenegger Endorses McCain!

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has endorsed frontrunner John McCain for the GOP presidential nomination. The Caucus has the report:

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has forged a moderate record and spoken out against partisanship in Washington, threw his political brawn behind Mr. McCain Thursday after the pair toured a solar energy company here. Calling him “a great American hero and an extraordinary leader.”

This has to be one the most dramatic and significant developments in the GOP race.

While political endorsements don't carry the same weight as they once did - in the days backroom convention deals and big-city party bosses - recall that McCain received a tremendous boost in Florida with the endorsment last weekend of Sunshine State Governor Charlie Crist.

Crist is hugely popular among Florida voters, and has taken a liking to the nickname "Chain-Gang Charlie" - a moniker bestowed on him by thankful Floridians after the governor restored the state's prison chain gang system.

With the Schwarzenegger endorsement, McCain secures a virtual lock on California's GOP convention delegation.

This week's Los Angeles Times poll showed McCain to be holding huge lead California, 39 percent of likely Republican primary participants, compared to 26 for Romney, and Schwarzenegger's formal backing of McCain could well increase the gap.

Schwarzenegger remains very popular among Golden State voters, and the impact of having the support of one of America's cinematic last action heroes will like have national implications.

This is a crucial point.

McCain's already received a national boost in public opinion with his Florida triumph.

Tonight's media coverage - already looking to be dominated by the Democrats' debate in Hollywood - will no doubt include lots of videoclips of Schwarzenegger, McCain, and Rudy Giuliani, who appeared as a team in photo opportunities today.

The Romney campaign has planned a hesitant ad buy for next Tuesday's 22 state primary contests. The steamroller effect of McCain's national momentum is about to become even more crushing.

Campaign Says McCain is "De Facto" Nominee

A top operative in John McCain's presidential team has suggested to Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post that the Arizona Senator is the "de facto" nominee (via Memeorandum):

In an internal memo for Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) presidential bid, campaign manager Rick Davis argued that his candidate stands in extremely strong position to rack up a decisive delegate victory over former governor Mitt Romney (Mass.) on Super Tuesday and, in doing so, lay claim to the GOP nomination.

"Senator McCain is tremendously well positioned to win the nomination of our party and will be the de facto nominee of the party following the February 5th Super Tuesday elections," writes Davis. "Governor Romney has a delegate problem the media will soon figure out."

The memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Fix, was distributed to McCain's national finance team this morning.

McCain's strength (and Romney's weakness), according to Davis, is centered on a series of "winner take all" states where whoever wins the popular vote is awarded all of the state's delegates. Second place in these states gets a candidate no delegates.

In the seven "winner take all" states set to vote next Tuesday -- New York, Missouri Arizona, New Jersey, Utah, Connecticut and Delaware -- McCain holds significant polling leads in five. No recent polling is available in Utah -- almost certainly a Romney state -- or Delaware, a likely McCain win.

Add up the delegates in the five states where McCain currently leads and he nets 279 of the 327 available delegates. Romney takes 33 for winning Utah. Delaware's 15 delegates remain a toss up, according to the McCain memo.

"Senator McCain's 20+ point leads in 'winner take all' states on Super Tuesday give him a tremendous advantage over Mitt Romney in the delegate race," writes Davis.

In states that award delegates either proportional to the total vote or to the winners of each congressional district, McCain also is in good shape, according to Davis.

In California, for example, where 170 delegates are at stake, Davis estimates that McCain will win 63 delegates to 44 for Romney, 22 for Giuliani and 19 for former governor Mike Huckabee (Ark.). In Georgia, the McCain campaign estimates that Huckabee will win the delegate fight with 21 followed by McCain at 12 and Romney at 10.

All told, the memo projects that McCain will walk away with 423 of the 1009 delegates up for grabs on Super Tuesday, while Romney is currently positioned to win only 143. Another 298 delegates are included in a toss up category.
We might be able to take this a media-generating (and self-interested) campaign memo, but the buzz is building that Romney may not spend heavily on advertising for Tuesday's half-national primary:

Mitt Romney plans to buy TV ads in California and other Super Tuesday states, contradicting earlier reports that he was avoiding a costly campaign on Feb. 5, when 21 states hold Republican primaries and caucuses.

As Romney seeks to topple John McCain’s momentum coming out of his win in the Florida primary and a host of big-name endorsements, top aides said Romney’s ad buys will be high-dollar.

The campaign will determine shortly which states it will target beyond California.

Romney’s advisers had given him several options, ranging from spending $1 million for ads to $7 million. It was not immediately clear how much money Romney was willing to spend - or whether the multimillionaire would dip into his own bank account again. He already has poured at least $40 million into his presidential campaign.

McCain aides said he, too, is preparing to run a high volume of commercials on national cable channels and in key states, but Romney will likely be the first GOP candidate on air in the Super Tuesday states, the broadest battleground of the primary season.

As that mega-contest looms, Romney and McCain clashed sharply at the Wednesday night debate in California, trading accusations on topics ranging from taxes to their positions on the Iraq war to conservative credentials.

Romney has been trying to cast himself as more conservative than McCain. He claimed the Arizona senator was outside the mainstream Wednesday night and even accused McCain of “dirty tricks” and old-style Washington politics for repeating a charge that Romney supports a timetable for troop withdrawal in Iraq. Romney insists that is not true.

The debate Wednesday night further defined the contest as a two-man race, but McCain is already leading in the polls in several delegate-rich Feb. 5 states, including California.

Mike Huckabee is also trying to stay competitive in the race. He and Ron Paul participated in Wednesday night’s debate alongside Romney and McCain.

Romney had indicated on Wednesday that his campaign was not trying to purchase television advertising time in any of the states on the Super Tuesday calendar. Instead, his plans called for campaigning in California and other primary states, while making organizational efforts primarily for caucus states.

That still holds, though Romney now will supplement his campaigning with advertising.
Romney may feel the tide's turning against him, especially with Calfornia Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's endorsment of Senator McCain today.

What Will Conservative Pundits Say if McCain Wins?

Jennifer Rubin, over at the New York Observer, asks the $64 thousand question: "What Will Rush, Hugh Say if McCain Wins?":

Certain conservative opinion makers are not pleased.

Rush Limbaugh, Hugh Hewitt, much of the roster at the National Review and many (but certainly not all) of their more conservative talk radio and blogger colleagues are beside themselves at the prospect that one of the Republican contenders they deemed to be “not conservative” might be nominated. As Mike Huckabee won Iowa, John McCain took South Carolina and Fred Thompson bestirred himself to draft a note withdrawing from the race, the fretting has intensified. How could the voters reject their advice?

There are a few explanations the dismayed conservative punditocracy might use to explain their apparent disconnect with Republican voters.

One is that the electorate has not rejected their advice about what constitutes an unacceptable candidate. Voters are simply rejecting the flawed candidates who were poor standard-bearers for conservatism. This scenario seems eminently reasonable given that the pundits’ favored contenders were in fact so terribly hobbled by their own shortcomings.

Mr. Thompson’s ideas were not a problem. His own indifference and lack of organizational prowess were. He had Social Security and national security plans. He unfortunately lacked the energy and the willingness to put up with the indignities of campaigning.

As for Mr. Romney—who may still win, but who has underperformed in the early going—he certainly was a dutiful spokesman for every possible item on the conservative wish list, but perhaps he was a bit too dutiful. His penchant for pandering grew to ludicrous proportions as he not only reversed himself on a long list of policy positions but cooked up a distinctly unconservative proposal for rescuing Michigan’s auto industry just in time for its primary. When he finally reverted to the “real” Mitt Romney—an optimistic businessman with no compunctions about directing an activist government—it was clear that even his newly minted conservative persona was in a Bain-like turnaround.

Who could blame voters for failing to rally to either of these causes?

Another would be that the conservative punditry actually “won.” Mr. McCain has been getting stronger, they would argue, by embracing conservative positions in order to gain the nomination. Mr. McCain confessed that he had learned the lesson about immigration reform, that border control is essential before pursuing any legalization plan for those already here. He promised to retain the Bush tax cuts. He embraced his support of gun rights and touted his pro-life voting record. This, the conservatariat could contend, and not Mr. McCain’s global-warming ruminations or his role in the Gang of 14, is what helped him win.

There is some truth to this. We saw that starting with his South Carolina victory speech; continuing with his Florida ads, Mr. McCain did stress conservative themes and reach out to the base on many of its favored issues. (This explanation does, however, leave open the question as to why the conservative pundits opposed Mr. McCain so vehemently in the first place.)

But it may simply be that the Republican electorate (or at least enough of it to select a nominee) may not be as ideologically pure as the conservative pundits might prefer. Perhaps many Republican voters really do think global warming should be addressed. It could be that lots of Republican voters like tax cuts but want them accompanied by good old-fashioned budget cuts. It may be that when they’re not in the throes of an impassioned immigration debate, many Republican voters wouldn’t mind eventually legalizing millions of immigrants, so long as the border is sealed first. And frankly, G.O.P. primary voters simply may find Mr. McCain’s heretical support for campaign finance reform a lot less significant than personal character traits like honesty, courage and persistence.

Now, nervous pundits may be spared their embarrassment if Mr. Romney can survive Florida and Super Tuesday. However, if he does not, they will have to mull over the choices to explain why their favored sons failed. I suspect that rather than confess that Mr. McCain was not so bad to begin with, or that Republican voters as a whole are less ideologically rigorous than their core listeners and readers, they’ll suggest that the outcome was all due to their endorsees’ personal and tactical shortcomings.

A few may even author rebuttals to their own endorsements. After all, pundits always get the last word.

Hmm, some of the pundits’ favored candidates were likely hobbled by their own shortcomings?

I suggested as much last night, in my post, "McCain Derangement: Protein Wisdom's Reply."

See my additional commentary on the "irrational right," here and here.

Also, check Memeorandum.

Photo Credit: New York Observer

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

McCain Derangement: Protein Wisdom's Reply

This entry updates my previous post, on Roger Simon's "McCain Derangement Syndrome?"

I wondered if there really is such a thing, psychologically speaking. Well,
Karl over at Protein Wisdom tries to get a handle on it (via Memeorandum):

...Simon manages to start from faulty premises and work his way even further into the weeds in his assessment of those opposed to Sen. John McCain. And I write that as someone who — unlike our esteemed host — has not ruled out voting for McCain if he is the GOP nominee.

Initially, while I have also invoked the “derangement syndrome” to describe certain mindsets, there are at least two things wrong with Simon’s use of it in this context. First, it is a phrase generally applied to blind partisan hatred. McCain is the subject of harsh criticism from within his own party, which suggests something quite different is at issue. Second, Simon seems to have forgotten that “Bush Derangement Syndrome” was initially the humorous description for the Post-Election Stress and Trauma Syndrome that plagued Democrats after losses in 2000 and 2004. AFAIK, McCain’s critics are not pouring into the psych ward with their symptoms.

Moreover, Simon is greatly mistaken in his assertion that the criticism of McCain is a recent phenomenon. Simon might want to ask himself why McCain was not the GOP nominee in 2000.

He will quickly find that the main answer is
McCain’s record in the US Senate. Simon presumes to call McCain’s critics deranged while mentioning only his positions on the “surge,” waterboarding and Gitmo. There is obviously far more to McCain’s record than that. Thus, to address only issues within McCain’s strongest issue bloc is fairly disingenuous.

For example, as a blogger and a principal in Pajamas Media, Simon might have considered that he would be spending much less time blogging and collecting ad revenue — and much more time
justifying his existence to the Federal Election Commission — if John McCain had his way. McCain sued the FEC to force the agency to police bloggers. It took a great deal of bipartisan effort on the part of the blogosphere to get the FEC to ultimately exempt most blogging from government regulation, therby ensuring that people like Simon and I are free to blog on the issues of the day (and for Simon to make money from PJM’s ad network).

Beyond McCain’s less-than-stalwart defense of free speech, Simon might want to consider
“John McCain’s Top 10 Class-Warfare Arguments Against Tax Cuts,” all of which were made long before the current campaign. I will give Simon enough credit to recognize that most GOP voters like tax cuts and dislike class warfare.

These are just two of the many substantive reasons people have for opposing McCain. His proposed legislation on greenhouse gases would be another. His proposed “patients’ bill of rights” would be another. The full list goes on and on.

However, the McCain-Kennedy “immigration reform” bill warrants special attention in the context of Simon’s puzzlement (as well as that of
Glenn Reynolds) that McCain’s critics are so much more forgiving of Mitt Romney, whose record as Governor in Massachusetts was admittedly not that of a doctrinaire conservative (his proposals on heathcare and aid to the auto industry in the current campaign are not either, but I digress).

Mitt Romney has shifted his positions on various issues… to positions that are more conservative and in line with those of the GOP since Reagan was nominated in 1980. Republicans — shockingly — are likely to be forgiving of those who agree to join them. There is some history on this point. Reagan shifted his position on
abortion. George H.W. Bush shifted his positions on abortion and taxes.

However, that acceptance has to be accompanied by a certain level of trust in the candidate. McCain has
shifted position on issues like abortion, yet is rarely called on it, primarily because those positions have been conservative and he has since had a track record of sticking with them. Where McCain insists on being a Maverick, his stubborn temperament (exceeding even that of Pres. Bush) leaves many convinced that much of what McCain says now is simply an expediency.
Note first that Karl suggests, grudgingly, that he'll end up voting for McCain if he's the nominee, a possibility that's looking increasingly likely. (Karl could be attempting the convenient tactic, however, of exempting himself from being diagnosed with the very ailment he's attempting to debunk.)

Besides that, I don't think the essay really tackles the problem adequately.

I mean, what Karl tries to do is suggest that McCain bashers don't qualify for the label of "deranged" because as Karl has used it the "phrase generally applied to blind partisan hatred."

Big problem of logic there: One of the biggest attacks by the Malkinites and the Rush-bots is that McCain's not really a Republican, he's
a Democrat-in-sheep's-clothing. Thus, if we flip Karl's argument around, and base conservatives are right that McCain's really a Republican pretender, then the unhinged right-wing of the party is indeed suffering from some sort of "McCain Derangement Syndrome," whatever that might be according to medical science.

Simon's argument, of course, would be confirmed in that case.

Also, Karl suggests that Democrats were flooding the hospitals after the G.W. Bush victories in 2000 and 2004. Now, I don't know if that's true, but from personal - and non-statistically significant - experience, I can see that many conservatives have been apparently traumatized at the loss of their candidates in the early primaries to McCain (see, for example,
here and here).

Why wasn't McCain the nominee in 2000, Karl asked? Well, for one thing he lost in the primaries, and especially in South Carolina, where the Bush campaign-machine flooded the state with mailers alleging McCain fathered an illegitimate black child (the McCains have an adopted daughter who's originally from Bangladesh).

Beyond this, Karl doesn't delve into psychology at all:
The Protein Wisdom (or partial wisdom) post is mostly about policy disagreement.

Sure, some of the stuff I'm not too thrilled about (what blogger wants to be shut down by the FCC?), but we're not talking about an even-handed content-analysis of McCain's legislative record.

The fact is Karl's just adding grease to the anti-McCain fire here (remember
Mark Levin's policy-related attack last week?).

No one can ignore - no thoughtful, reasonable person - that there are real anger issues boiling up in the conservative base of the GOP. These resentments are being fanned by the conservative kings and queens of talk radio, who're relentlessly bitter at the possibility that a candidate who's sought bipartisan progress on issues such as campaign finance and immigration control might actually win the Republican nomination.

Nah, he's not really winning - it's
voter fraud, right? Why do some states allow crossover voting in the primaries? How dare they?!!

I'm no psychologist, but I can guess what's happened to folks: The hopes and prayers of a beloved candidate's victory are dashed by McCain triumphs. This results in emotional and psychological distress. This loss and emotional bereavement affect the complex chemistry of the brain. Psychological adaptations begin.

How does it work? Who knows? People react differently on the basis of background experiences, maturity, or so forth. Still, some folks would naturally show
symptoms of psychological displacement. That is, unable to cope with their candidate's unelectability, they search for scapegoats. Thus, McCain's not one of us. He's a traitor to the party, etc. etc.

I have no evidence that this is what's happening with McCain bashers, so just note that my reflections are the comments of a layman analyst dabbling at the psychological angle.

I can assess, however - from my social science training - when someone's making a rigorously formed argument, based on some process of inductive/deductive reasoning. Some McCain bashers have attempted to do so, but not that many. Even then, when those arguments are disconfirmed by more compelling counter-arguments, the response is vicious putdowns, slurs, and taunts.

This is frankly irrational (lacking reasoned judgment), which is the point I've made in a couple of posts: "
John McCain, the Irrational Right, and the Politics of Immigration Control" and "John McCain and the Irrational Right."

In any case, at least Karl plans to vote for McCain in the end - that's good thinking!


UPDATE: Some anti-McCainiacs are putting their money where there mouths are. The Citizens United for Victory Fund has released a sleazy anti-McCain ad that attempts to paint the Arizona Senator as Hillary Clinton's evil twin (via YouTube):

Is this getting low enough to save Mitt Romney's presidential bid?

McCain Derangement Syndrome?

Well, as readers know, I let off a little steam with my post, "John McCain and the Irrational Right.

The reaction by some has been expected, there, and at my earlier post, "
John McCain, the Irrational Right, and the Politics of Immigration Control."

Folks can differ on whether we're talking about a phenomenon beyond the realm of reason, but something big's been stoked by the rise of McCain.

Roger Simon weighs in with his entry, "
McCain Derangement Syndrome - It's Here!":

What's amusing in one way and horrifying in another, but all-too-human in the final analysis, is how the moment a politician becomes popular and powerful - Bush, Clinton - a sizable percentage of the population starts to hate him. We've seen Clinton reviled. We've had years of Bush Derangement Syndrome. Welcome to McCain Derangement Syndrome - it's happening before he's even elected!

I heard two examples of it this evening - one from my friend Hugh Hewitt, whose rage against McCain today on Wolf Blitzer's CNN show made the hair curl on my bald head and later, on the Larry Elder Show, I listened in as a woman caller excoriated McCain as no war hero even though she knew the Senator had spent five years in a North Vietnamese prison camp, was tortured, had his bones broken yet stayed with the other troops when offered a chance to leave, etc. Even Elder was appalled at the woman, though Larry is no McCain supporter.

I won't psychoanalyze this rage for fear of just stirring more up. But I will make a couple of observations. One of the raps against McCain by traditional conservatives is that he opposes waterboarding and Gitmo. On the other hand, he was one of the earliest, strongest and most influential backers of The Surge. I think by any rational comparison the importance of The Surge vs. waterboarding and Gitmo isn't remotely close. The Surge is responsible for the vastly improved situation in Iraq and for our consequentially improved situation globally. The other two are of marginal importance by comparison. McCain, it would seem to me, has his priorities right (not to mention more experience) on the most important issue of our time - the War on Terror.

One other thing: I have no particular dislike of Romney, other than I find him bland (a very personal reaction, which is not that important.) I followed his career as governor of Massachusetts and thought he did a pretty good job. But, to me, he seemed pretty much of a conventional liberal then, in fact vastly more liberal than I ever regarded John McCain, who I saw and see as more or less of a centrist. I recall Romney running to the left of Ted Kennedy on gay rights (an issue on which I am to the left of both).

Romney claims to have changed and "seen the light" on many issues. I have no idea whether this is true, but I am amazed by all these conservatives who totally and almost slavishly believe this is the real Romney yet equally assuredly distrust McCain when he repeatedly says he would build a security fence. It reminds me of that old shrink's thing about the "need to be right," how it always trips us up. I have seen it happen to me a lot. Anyway, I'm not sure McCain Derangement Syndrome has a cure. People love their anger. It's a security blanket.
I hope there's some cure, or maybe it'll be like a glacial biplor disorder, coming and going at long intervals (thus things might cool down for awhile after McCain secures the nomination).

See the reactions to Simon at Memeorandum.

Great Odds on McCain Winning Nomination

Many conservatives are licking their wounds this morning, thinking about how they'll carry on now that their candidate's been steamrolled by the McCain victory express.

Darrell over at Morning Coffee has checked the Florida exit polls from last night and declared McCain can't win.

Michelle Malkin is attacking the Florida vote, alleging voter fraud in
suggesting that 20 percent of yesterday's votes were cast by non-Republicans.

Well, let's be honest: McCain's so far the most trusted political leader in the race on the leadership question, and he's also the most electable.

As for allegations of fraud, sounds like sour grapes to me, and if there were irregularities, the state will investigate. Whatever happens, the momentum's shifted to McCain.

The Gallup Poll today notes that
McCain's chances of winning the primary are excellent:

All signs look positive for John McCain now. Our Gallup Poll Daily tracking shows that McCain leads the Republican field nationally. Even before his Florida victory, McCain's lead over Mitt Romney was expanding in our interviewing we did on Monday night. Currently, in interviewing that includes Tuesday night -- but still doesn't reflect the full impact of his Florida win -- he is leading Romney by 11 points. Romney remains just slightly ahead of Mike Huckabee in second place.

Given the wide expanse of states voting next week on Super Tuesday, these national numbers are critically important. McCain's strong positioning is bolstered when we look at his leads in USA Today/Gallup polls conducted in both California and New York. Again, we conducted these surveys prior to the Florida vote, and the possible bounce McCain will get from his victory there in the Sunshine State.

Gallup will track the GOP race every day, as it will be important to see what happens when Rudy Giuliani officially drops out the race, as is widely expected, and if he endorses McCain. This would then reduce the field to four players: McCain, Romney, Huckabee, and Ron Paul. It would not be surprising to find McCain further expanding his national lead in Wednesday night's interviewing.
I'll have more updates and analysis going forward.

I was hoping for a little closure to all the intraparty acrimony, but Malkin's not gotten off her anti-McCain platform, and talk radio's up in arms.

Bald-Headed Geek's report, from the comments:

I blogged about the McCain win this morning, and then listened as Glenn Beck AND Laura Ingraham essentially told people to sit at home rather than vote for him. Frankly, I found their position shortsighted, infantile and idiotic.

If they want to GUARANTEE that either Clinton or Obama captures the White House, this is the best way to do it.
We'll see how things develop this week.

Rudy Giuliani endorsed McCain while I was writing this post, and CNN reports that California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger may do so as well.

The momentum is getting prohibitive for Romney.

McCain's Got Baggage, But He Lugs It Himself

Don Surber's got a can't-beat analysis of John McCain, with suggestions for conservatives who oppose him:

Conservatives need to use this as a learning opportunity.

With his decisive win in Florida, following his decisive win in South Carolina, following his decisive win in New Hampshire, perhaps the candidate many of us did not want is about to become the Republican nominee.

Congratulations, John McCain.

The baggage we know well. From the Keating Five scandal to campaign finance deform to immigration amnesty, McCain has a lot of baggage. But he also carries his own luggage, does he not?

There is a lot to be said for humility and he’s been knocked down a few times. I see he has regained his legs each time.

Many conservatives no doubt will freak.

I decided last summer to leave the decision up to the Republican Party, and then back the candidate.

My wise counsel in this is the philosopher who pens under the pseudonym Basil.

Bush was not his first choice in 2000. Dole was not his choice in 1996. Reagan was not his first choice in 1980.

I can do him one better: I voted for Carter. Maybe I should wear a T-shirt: “What do I know? I voted for Carter.”

Basil advises people keep their options open: “So, now that Fred’s out, it looks like I’m going to end up voting for someone who wasn’t my first choice.”

Makes sense.

That’s how the game is played. You try your best, you lose, you shake the winner’s hand, and you play again.

You do not take your ball and go home.

That’s for sure.

You do so for your own sanity.

Look at Al Gore. Rather than gracefully accept a close defeat in 2000 and come back later, he got all angry and sued. Look at him now. He has all these awards but he knows he’s a fraud. He knows global warming is a myth. If he really believed that crap, he would not burn up 20 times the electricity of mortal men.

But hey, what do I know? I voted for Carter.

America does not govern from its extremes. Compromise. At 54, I realize it is not how good you are, it is how well you work with others, as my kindergarten report card read. “Needs work” was the grade, if I recall correctly.

Conservatives need to ask ourselves: Why have we not produced a viable candidate? Are we too picky? Has time passed this version of conservatism?

History may provide some guidance. In 1932, FDR was all the rage. But 28 years later, JFK did not run as an FDR Democrat. He said it was time for a new generation.

It has been 28 years since Reagan was nominated.

What he stood for as president included being pro-life, pro-gun, limit the government, cut taxes, cut spending, help the truly needed, and stand up to communism. At various times in his life, Ronald Reagan stood at the opposite ends of some of those positions. As governor of California, he signed into law the legalization of abortion.

But he learned. And by age 70, Ronald Reagan was finally a Reagan Republican.

Now about Mitt Romney, he made a good CEO but in politics the rules are different. What I like about political fund-raising is that it forces politicians to interact among successful people. Hopefully, some of their success rubs off. Self-financing does not do that.

Of more importance is that McCain has been vetted by the electorates of 3 states and he has proved his mettle.

He has baggage, true, but he has proved himself able to carry his own baggage.

You win some, you lose some. You keep playing the game.

Now is a time of wound licking and soul searching for most Republicans. McCain did not win a majority of the vote. He is not the first choice for most among Republicans. But neither was Lincoln.
Jules Crittenden's got a roundup of additional conservative commentary on McCain's win:

Jawa: McRudy

Not if you want the social cons.

McCain, clear choice of conservatives?

Ace, channeling Hewitt:
Frontrunner <>.

Who the heck was voting, anyway?

Immigration is the fool’s gold of American politics. We’ll know who the best GOP standard bearer is in a week.
My morning analysis is here.

Can McCain Unify the GOP?

John McCain, on the heels of his decisive Florida victory, could unify the Republican Party in a new conservative coalition, argues the Los Angeles Times:

John McCain now has a pathway to the Republican presidential nomination. The question is whether he can put his fractured party back together.

The Arizona senator, long the bane of the GOP establishment, showed in Florida that he could begin cobbling together a new Republican coalition -- attracting enough support from all corners of the party base to give him a plurality in the biggest and most diverse state to vote so far in the 2008 campaign.

He took about a quarter of conservatives, secured nearly a third of evangelicals, dominated among his typical base of self-described moderates, and won easily among voters who care about authenticity, experience and electability.

In winning Florida, McCain threw off a major critique of his candidacy: He prevailed in an all-Republican primary that excluded the more moderate independents who had ensured McCain's wins in New Hampshire and South Carolina.

And in a state plagued by insurance woes, falling home prices and a rising number of foreclosures, he defeated a rival, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who had portrayed himself as the best-equipped to fix the economy.

Still, exit polls and voter interviews here showed that McCain had far to go before he could claim the party mantle.

He won about 1 in 5 voters who called themselves "very conservative." An even smaller share of GOP voters said McCain "shares my values." He benefited from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, whose presence on the ballot drew support from many conservatives in the Orlando, Tampa Bay and Jacksonville areas that Romney needed to win.

McCain, a moderate on immigration issues, dominated among Cuban Americans and other Latino voters who make up a far greater share of the Republican electorate than in other states.

Tuesday's results set up a dramatic face-off over the next six days as McCain and Romney compete in more than 20 states. Each man aims to prove that only he can build the elusive GOP coalition.

Let's address the last point first: Can McCain vanquish Romney on Super Tuesday, when 22 primary states are in play?

The odds are heavily in McCain's favor.

Florida will create so much momentum for McCain - in the earned-media exposure of week-long television coverage, the bump in poll standings nationwide, and the surge in cash contributions, and in the mantle of GOP frontrunner - that Romney may never recover, even with his huge personal fortune.

The longer-term issue is if, when, and how McCain can win over the conservative base of the party - including members of the "irrational right" who've staked their reputations on destroying the Arizona Senator, the strength of the GOP in Novemberbe damned?

I'm frankly pessimistic that many base conservatives will forgive McCain for his apostasies, especially on immigration.

Military veterans will be inclined to support McCain, out of martial loyalty and a clear understanding of McCain's ability to handle international conflict.

Other conservatives, dismissive of McCain's hero reputation, will continue to vilify him out of spite. They'll constantly harp on McCain's efforts bipartisanship as a GOP sellout campaign. He'll be pilloried as no better than Hillary Clinton, a pretender to the mantle of the next great GOP presdident.

This is a big mistake.

Both effective political development over the long-term and conducive political mobilization and consensus on the front-end require a pragmatism in outlook, a willingness to clip the elements of fanciful - fanatical - ideology, to carve out a workable governing program. At issue is the need for a new, robust governing vision that drives the GOP as the leading party for a diverse, 21st-century America.

McCain's the one for this job. I've said so all along. I confident that he'll reach out to the base. Frankly, deep conservative will have to move toward him, to heal the party and build a winning coalition.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

McCain Wins Decisively in Florida!

John McCain prevailed over Mitt Romney in Florida's hard-fought Republican presidential primary. The New York Times has the story:

Senator John McCain won a closely contested Florida primary on Tuesday night, capturing the biggest delegate prize of the primary season so far and adding a crucial jolt of momentum to his campaign as the nominating fight expands into a national race next Tuesday.

The Arizona senator, who was outspent by his competitors in the state, drew on the support of moderate and socially liberal voters to beat out Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and his chief rival for the nomination.

Lagging far behind was Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York, who had virtually staked his campaign on a strong showing in the Florida race. Mr. Giuliani, who spent weeks campaigning across the Florida peninsula, is fighting for third place with former Gov. Mike Huckabee, a potentially fatal performance on a do-or-die night for the former mayor.

Mr. McCain had 36 percent of the vote and Mr. Romney had 32 percent with more than three-quarters of the precincts reporting. Mr. Giuliani had 15 percent of the vote, while Mr. Huckabee had 14 percent.

“Our victory might not have reached landslide proportions but it is sweet nonetheless,” Mr. McCain said to supporters. He described himself as a “Republican conservative,” though Mr. Romney attracted more support from Florida voters who called themselves as “very” conservative.

Mr. Giuliani, speaking to supporters in Orlando, Fla., broadcast a large smile even as his candidacy appeared to be coming to a close. “You don’t always win,” he said. “You can always try to do it right.”

He referred to his campaign several times in the past tense. “I’m proud that we chose to stay positive and to run a campaign of ideas in an era of personal attacks, negative ad and cynical spin,” he said. “We ran a campaign that was uplifting.”
McCain, thanking his supporters during his victory speech, stressed his campaign's victory in the season's first all-Republican primary.

The Arizona Senator relied on the support of moderates and socially liberal Republicans, but McCain's win puts to rest his opponents' attacks that his campaign appealed primarily to voters outside the GOP.

The Republican race has taken a dramatic turn with tonight's results.

Rudy Giuliani's presidential bid has completely collapsed, with the former New York City Mayor's withrawal from the race expected tomorrow (combined with a McCain endorsement).

Mitt Romney remains McCain's top challenger for the nomination, and while the race is far from over, the Republican primaries this year have clearly demonstrated the irresistable power of momentum.

McCain won both the major contested primaries following his New Hampshire win, in South Carolina and Florida tonight.

Analysts - such as David Gergen on CNN's election coverage - are referring to McCain as a presumptive nominee - folks are identifying the challenges McCain faces in unifying the Republican Party as a prerequisite to effectively taking on the Democrats in November.

Polls have trended McCain's way since his victory in the Granite State.

Today's Los Angeles Times finds McCain holding a substantial lead in California heading into the Golden State's February 5 primary.

Robert Novak, after the New Hampshire results, predicted that McCain was the likely GOP nominee.

It's sure looking that way now.

McCain, Romney Fight to Finish in Florida

Chris Cillizza offers a late snapshot of the GOP race as it comes down to the wire in Florida:

Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and former governor Mitt Romney (Mass.) spent the last hours of today's Florida primary challenging each other's conservative credentials -- heated rhetoric underscoring the high stakes for each man in the contest.

At stake are 57 delegates to the Republican National Convention and much-coveted momentum heading into Feb. 5 when nearly two dozen states will hold primaries and caucuses. Democrats are also voting today, but the Democratic National Committee has said it will not seat the state's delegation at the party's convention in August because Florida Democrats moved their primary into January in violation of party rules.

McCain hopes to consolidate his front-runner status after important victories in New Hampshire and South Carolina, while Romney, the victor in Michigan, Wyoming and Nevada, is determined to make the GOP nomination fight into a two-way contest. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, meanwhile, trail far behind in the polls.

McCain stumped with Florida Republican Gov. Charlie Crist this morning, making a stop at a polling place in St. Petersburg where he insisted that national security concerns would be the key issue on the minds of Florida voters. Throughout the day, McCain blasted Romney as a flip-flopper on matters of importance to the party base and a liberal masquerading as a conservative.

Romney is counting on his career in business and finance to attract voters concerned about the troubled economy, and sharply criticized McCain's stands on immigration, energy policy and campaign finance reforms. "Those [stands] are not the kind of leadership that we need as we go forward," Romney declared.

Even as McCain and Romney battled in television commercials and automated phone calls, Giuliani seemed resigned to a third-place finish and perhaps a quick exit from the field. Giuliani skipped the early primaries and caucuses to concentrate his effort and resources on scoring a big victory in Florida, the fourth largest state with a diverse population that includes many transplanted New Yorkers.

Yet Giuliani, who once led the Republican field in the national polls, has steadily lost ground in Florida as McCain and Romney scored victories elsewhere, and late polling seemed to show him relegated to third place, just ahead of Huckabee.

That same data suggested a very close contest for first place between Romney and McCain. A Quinnipiac University survey conducted Jan. 24 to Jan. 27 showed McCain at 32 percent and Romney at 31 percent -- a statistical dead heat. Giuliani, at 14 percent, and Huckabee with 13 percent battled for third place in the Quinnipiac poll.

Given the tightness of the race, neither the McCain or Romney campaign was willing to predict victory today. "It's going to very close," said McCain communications director Jill Hazelbaker. Kevin Madden, national spokesman for Romney, was only slightly more expansive. "Florida will be a close race and I expect the result will help us as we continue to build momentum towards February 5 and the delegates at stake that day," Madden predicted.
I've put up a few quick-posts on the right-wing controversy over McCain/Romney, here, here, here, here, and here.

I'll a have post-election update tonight.

McCain Tops Romney in Florida Ad Buys

The Caucus reports that John McCain's outspent Mitt Romney on Florida campaign ads:

Senator John McCain appears to have slightly outspent Mitt Romney, with Rudolph W. Giuliani lagging significantly behind, in television advertising in Florida in the week leading up to the Republican primary here, according to newly released data from the Campaign Media Advisory Group, which estimates ad spending.
The most recent data available runs up until this past Sunday and shows Mr. McCain spending $1.85 million for the previous week, compared to $1.77 million for Mr. Romney and $1.06 million for Mr. Giuliani. During this period, Mr. McCain’s campaign put up 2,317 spots; Mr. Romney 1,686; Mr. Giuliani 1,174.

The data spotlights how, while Mr. Romney has vastly outspent his rivals in Florida overall because he started advertising in the fall, Mr. McCain has been able to match or even exceed him here as the primary has fast approached. Meanwhile, Mr. Giuliani has had to cut back his advertising spending in recent days as he has struggled in polls and with money.
Well, no matter the final numbers on relative ad buys, it's certainly been an acrimonious campaign weekend.

Thing's could be
just now heating up, as it turns out.

Romney Would Let McCain Self-Immolate on Iraq

In response to Rich Lowry's post on McCain's ("dishonest") attacks on Mitt Romney's apparent endorsement of an withdrawal, Robert Kagan writes:

Everyone who was fighting for the surge in the early months of last year — and that was not a very large number of people back then—was desperately looking around Republican ranks for support. Most Republicans on the Hill were quiet. Most conservative commentators were not working up any enthusiasm, to say the least. And aside from McCain, the leading Republican presidential candidates at the time were being careful. It was clear that both Giuliani and Romney were tempted to let McCain take the issue and self-immolate. But of the two, I remember, Rudy was the one who decided to put himself most clearly on the side of the surge. He began speaking out on the need for more troops in his public appearances. The contrast with Romney is even more striking in this regard. As best I can recall, Giuliani never talked about timetables, withdrawal, or about stationing forces “nearby.” Among the three leading candidates, only Romney took that line.
I have to give credit to Lowry for posting this on the NRO blog.

The NRO crew -
with the exception of Victor Davis Hanson - has it in for McCain.

I have a feeling they're going to
end up on the wrong side of things, but of course the campaign's far from over.

See more
here and here, and especially here.

The Coming GOP Train Wreck?

Victor Hanson published a piece on the conservative controversy at National Review earlier. Here's the introduction:

Ever since I wrote a favorable column about John McCain, I have been swamped with furious e-mail from outraged conservatives, alleging this and that, and going through in systematic fashion the usual litany-McCain-Feingold, illegal immigration, tax cuts, global warming, etc. McCain seems to anger many conservatives as much as, or more than, Hillary.

Collating this anger, and comparing it to the anti-McCain NRO Corner postings the last two weeks — all in the context of McCain winning a conservative state last night, and leading in many of the polls in Florida — reminds me of the train wreck facing the Republican party of whether they might want a 1964 washout or to maintain the White House. I think a growing consensus is that McCain, and perhaps Giuliani, alone have an outside shot of edging out Clinton and/or Obama.
Here's Hanson today:

It is clear that the animus toward McCain shown by Romney supporters is growing far greater than any distaste those who support McCain feel for Romney. I am sympathetic to the McCain effort, but would of course, like most, support Romney should he get the nomination, given his experience, intelligence and positions on the war and the economy. I would worry about his ability to win independents and cross-overs, and note that his present positions are sometimes antithetical to his past ones, but also note that such concerns would be balanced by the recognition that it is hard for conservatives to get elected to anything in Massachusetts, that McCain in turn would have commensurate problems stirring the conservative base, and that McCain too has 'adjusted' on things like immigration et alia.

I am not being wishy-washy or suggesting that there would not be differences in their respective governance, simply that either candidate on the most critical issues-the war, restraining spending, closing the border, appointing judges-would be vastly superior to the Clinton centaur. It is important that the two fight it out, air their differences, and display their tenacity, and experience, so that voters can see in the present cauldron who would be the more effective and tempered party leader later on in the autumn.

But all that said, at some point there should be recognition that some are becoming so polarized-and polarizing-that we are reaching the point that should a McCain win (and there is a good chance he will), and should he grant the necessary concessions to the base (chose someone like Thompson as his VP, take firm pledges on tax cuts, closing the border, etc), go on Limbaugh, Hannity, etc. for some mea culpas, all that still seemingly would not be enough. And if that were true, the result would vastly increase the chances of the Presidents Clinton, under whom there would be a vastly different Supreme Court, some chance of forfeiting what has been achieved in Iraq, and surely greater growth in government and earmarks.

While this strife continues, we forget that the President Bush has a 35% approval rating, that the economy is touchy, that there was a Republican ethics mess in 2005-6-and yet with all that-and given the amazing Cinton-Obama fratricide-there is an outside chance the more conservative candidate can still win in November. Keeping all that in mind seems far more important than tracing down the anonymous source who claims McCain said something to someone at sometime.
In response, Mark Levin cries foul this afternoon:

We’re all adults here, and it is annoying to be lectured by VDH, who clearly likes McCain based on past posts here and elsewhere. Nothing I have posted or read here from others — pro- or con- McCain or Romney — has been out of bounds by anyone. In fact, it has been very civil and edifying. These are flawed candidates, in my view, and some are more flawed than others. The cloakroom post by Ramesh barely touches the surface of what, in fact, is a serious temperament issue with McCain. And there are senators, on the record, complaining about it. You don’t see posts like that about Romney or, for that matter, Bush 41, Bush 43, Bob Dole, Ronald Reagan, etc. The only other prominent figure who appears to have this issue is Bill Clinton.

But what of the McCain attacks on Romney, including some of these robo-phone calls, the Romney withdrawal nonsense (the white flag of surrender and comparison to Hillary Clinton) — which took all Saturday to unravel, and the “management for profit vs. leadership out of patriotism” line, and so forth? Is VDH troubled by any of this? If so, it didn’t prompt him to post, as best as I can tell.

I would encourage folks here to continue to post what they know or learn here. This is the forum for that. Candidates know how to contact NRO through various contacts and post their views and responses, and are doing so. If McCain is nominated, I sure hope he and his supporters grow thicker skins. They’re going to need them. Urging people to suppress their serious and substantive doubts about McCain, which might not be as pronounced to some in Romney’s case, is pointless — as it should be.

As for support for McCain should he get the nomination, he has shown little loyalty to his party. Why does VDH think so many in the party and conservative movement are so alienated by him? It’s a combination of betrayal (as Tom Sowell put it) and issues. Romney may have taken non-conservative positions during his political career in Massachusetts but didn’t build that career on antagonizing the base.

Look, this is a debate that’s going to continue for some time — and that’s the point.
In other words, chief NRO Rush-bot Levin's going down with the ship in the event of a McCain sweep next week on Super Tuesday.

We'll see how long the battle lasts, which may indeed be a while, since anti-McCainiacs have
staked their reputations on winning the fight.

here and here for more on the controversy.


UPDATE: Hanson has responded to Levin:

I rest my case, and suggest most of the subsequent reactions will only prove it further.

A note: I didn't lecture anyone, just made an observation. And, of course, I was referencing the relative degree of animus shown by respective supporters toward their rival candidates, not, as suggested, the inevitable bickering and counter-bickering among the candidates themselves. I couldn't begin to sort out who said what untruth first about the other, or to suggest that in the past McCain hasn't snubbed conservatives gratuitously or that Romney didn't run a lot of early attack ads.

Nor did I suggest that anyone should stop gathering evidence. Again, the point was the need for some perspective-that in the middle of a war, and a presidential race that will promise to be hellish in the fall, there are more important issues than wondering about what someone says a candidate said to someone else.

I offered a simple observation about the here and now, and as one who neither knows anyone running either campaign nor has any influence. I expand on it a last time sine ira et studio:

As of now (who knows by tomorrow?) the race is shaping up in strange fashion: there are a number of Democrats and Independents who are increasingly turned off by the underhanded Clintons, for both right and wrong reasons. They may well vote for McCain, mostly for his perceived character and war record, but also, yes, rightly or wrongly, for his past "moderation." I doubt they will do so for Romney or sit out a Romney-Clinton show-down. (Critics, no doubt, will counter that conservatives of all stripes (if tempers cool) would rally around Romney no matter what, and such unity would outnumber any potential crossover voters lost by his nomination.)

By the same token, there are a number of conservatives who (more on ideology and principle rather than due to anger at character flaws as in the case of the Clinton turn-off) simply will not vote for McCain under any circumstances.

So if the election comes down to a McCain versus the Clintons, as I think is the most likely scenario, it may well be decided by a simple calculus in the fall:

Is the more liberal anti-Clinton group that is willing to vote for a Republican nominee larger or smaller than the latter more conservative anti-McCain block who apparently won't vote for their own Republican nominee?

Lots hinge on the answer.

Conservative Talk Radio Stakes Reputation on McCain Defeat

David Bauder argues that talk radio's right-wing big-shots have staked their reputations on the successful demonization of John McCain:

John McCain heads into Tuesday's Florida primary facing resistance from not only his fellow candidates, but also from the leaders of conservative talk radio, who some suggest have put their reputations on the line, as well.

Talk radio pioneer Rush Limbaugh said that if McCain or Mike Huckabee are nominated, "it's going to destroy the Republican Party." Mark Levin calls the senator "John McLame." On Monday, Laura Ingraham said she was "concerned about the mental stability of the McCain campaign" and had cuckoo-clock sound effects accompany his words.

"Sen. McCain is a great American, a lousy senator and a terrible Republican," Hugh Hewitt told The Associated Press. "He has a legislative record that is not conservative. In fact, it is anti-conservative."

Yet with McCain winning primaries in New Hampshire and South Carolina, and in a virtual tie with Mitt Romney for the lead in polls in Florida, the top radio personalities are facing the possibility that their words are having little effect.

Radio host Michael Medved said that the big loser in South Carolina was talk radio, "a medium that has unmistakably collapsed in terms of impact, influence and credibility because of its hysterical and one-dimensional involvement in the GOP nomination fight."

Its continued resistance to McCain will be ineffective and will hurt both the Republican Party and the radio industry, Medved said.

The long-running hostility toward McCain stems from his failure to follow conservative orthodoxy on issues including immigration, global warming and money in politics, Hewitt said. McCain's endorsement by The New York Times _ the newspaper conservative talkers love to hate _ was just another indignity.

Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers magazine, warned against any conclusion that talk radio hosts would be diminished if McCain were to win the GOP nomination.

"It will give them an opportunity to reposition themselves in a more independent and populist way," Harrison said. Talk show hosts aren't judged on whom they pick as a candidate, any more than the jobs of football announcers are on the line with their Super Bowl predictions, he said.

They're judged on ratings and revenue, and every indication is that the election season will be a boon for talk radio, he said.
I've made similar points in recent entries, here and here.

McCain Gains as Immigration Issue Cools Down

John McCain's controversial relationship to the national immigration debate has been Topic A around here the last couple of days (here and here).

Thus, this morning's Wall Street Journal article, "
McCain Gains as Furor Over Immigration Cools," caught my eye. The piece notes that as tensions over immigration have settled down, McCain's prospects have improved:

Six months ago, when Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign was left for dead at the side of the road to the White House, he seemed to have perished because he was in the wrong place on two important issues: Iraq and immigration.

Today, as Republican voters go to the polls in Florida to determine whether Sen. McCain has become the clear favorite to win the Republican nomination, it is worth considering how things have turned around. On Iraq, the about-face is easy to explain: Things got better on the ground there, and Sen. McCain's support for the war and a new strategy for fighting it now looks more like wisdom than stubbornness.

But what about immigration? There, the answer is more subtle. In fact, immigration is a case study in how changing circumstances can alter the way a hot issue plays in a campaign. Sen. McCain was in trouble because his support for immigration reform, including a guest-worker program and a pathway to legal status for illegal immigrants, appeared out of step with a Republican base that had turned hostile to the immigration overhaul.

Now a combination of factors -- the disappearance of the issue from Washington's legislative agenda; Sen. McCain's own quiet shift in posture; the rise of other concerns -- have helped damp the fires of anger on immigration. Today's vote will show how those forces have worked in Hispanic-heavy Florida, and Sen. McCain's foes may yet choose to turn up the heat on the immigration debate as they try to overtake him. But for now it appears that immigration, while a burning question for some Republicans, isn't the top issue for most of them.
Well, it might not be a top issue for middle-of-the-road GOPers, but don't tell that to Michelle Malkin or Rush Limbaugh.

See also the Florida campaign roundup over at The Caucus, plus Memeorandum.

Monday, January 28, 2008

John McCain and the Irrational Right

In yesterday's post, John McCain, the Irrational Right, and the Politics of Immigration Control, I provided a critical analysis of the McCain campaign's controversial hiring of Dr. Juan Hernandez as Latino Outreach Coordinator.

The entry generated
some emotional remarks and exchanges in the comment thread.

But readers should remember, first and foremost, I disagree with the Hernandez appointment: "McCain's made a big mistake, at least in terms of courting the secure-borders conservative base." I think it's a gamble to rile the party's base, even if the campaign's adopted a strategic perspective of appealing to particular demographic constituencies in the primaries.

That said, none of the commenters has presented sufficient evidence to discount my hypothesis. Indeed, a couple of folks have remarked that the thread itself is evidence of an irrational, even hysterical right-wing echo chamber - and geez, I'm trying to raise the quality of debate!!

In any case, I'm responding here to some of the points raised, particularly the concerns over (1) the notion of "the irrational right" among the conservative base, (2) the candidates' records on immigration and other areas of public policy, and (3) issues of credibility and honesty.

Let me remind folks right off the bat that I'm a neoconservative Republican, and my ultimate goal this year is GOP retention of the White House. I'm just deeply disappointed with the decline in the quality of debate among conservatives, and I've expressed my thoughts to that effect on at least two occasions (
here and here).

Some regular commenters have hammered me personally because of my McCain posts, for example, attacking me as a "Democrat" or "calling me out" with virtual threats for reporting critically on the GOP race.

Truth be told, I'm having a great time!

Since December,
when John McCain began his comeback to the current frontrunner's position, I've been consistently accurate in my analysis, and I've also posted continuously on polling trends throughout.

I have refused to attack any of the candidates, focusing primarily on developments on the McCain trail. As a bonus, my productivity has resulted in a record number of over 130 post this month so far, and I've been frequently linked in national media and by some top conservative bloggers on the web. I must be doing something right, and thanks to all my readers and commenters!

Now, first let me address this issue of the "irrational right." I'm using the term irrational precisely, that is, as the absence of reason or careful analysis. I have most certainly not called anyone a "bigot," although that term came up
in the comments yesterday.

No, many conservative have become blinded by their IDEOLOGICAL PREJUDICES, which has prevented them from thinking clearly. On talk radio, and among popular conservative bloggers, John McCain's been relentlessly demonized. These atttacks are juvenile and shamelessly undignified. I think we are better than that as a movement, and I'm not the only one.

Check the recent discussion of the conservatives' descent over at Opinionnation, "
Conservatives Acting Like Left-Wing Lunatics":
John McCain is a true American hero; a great American. Yet, because his stance on certain issue differ from those of many conservatives, the man is ostracized and childishly attacked. -Almost no different than what the far-left did to senator Lieberman for his opinions in favor of the war in Iraq. It sickens me to be associated with a group of people sharing such a hateful group-think against a prominent republican like senator McCain.

And just like leftist internet blogs, when I visit major conservative websites like Michelle Malkin, Hot Air, or LGF, the comment section is inundated with vile slanders against the character of John McCain. Worse yet, the blogsite owners, as with the case of Daily Kos or Crooks and Liars, are instigating the hatred. All of this simply because the man doesn’t toe every single conservative line. And in that regard, these types of conservatives are no different than far-left liberals.

If you disagree with John McCain on certain issues… fine! Disagree. There’s no problem there. But if conservatives want to act like Left-Wing lunatics… then I’m going to point it out. -But the MDS (McCain Derangement Syndrome) has to stop. The man is a patriot who deserves respect; not a bunch of fuckin’ insults from whiny conservatives!!!
Opinionnation makes a critical point: We on the right have consistently identified and denounced left-wing irrationalism and moonbattery among the wildly radical "nutroots."

I think conservatives are better, frankly, on the issues, and in matters of class.

But others on the right are also speaking out at the descent of the right into irrationality:

This evening when I was watching Brett Baier’s excellent interview with President Bush I suddenly understood what is going on between the lemming conservatives lead by their narcissistic demagogues in talk radio, punditry, and in the blogsphere and John McCain....

No matter how hard our demagogue conservatives have tried to destroy George W. Bush he is still the same Texas Cowboy....

But – the vitriol, the treachery, and the abject cruelty that conservatives, those who claim to be part of his own party have exhibited is disgustingly immoral at best....

They have become increasingly shrill and increasingly cruel in their attacks upon anyone who dares to oppose them....

Somehow reason must be brought into play here. Somehow these individuals must be made to see that their actions are endangering not only a GOP victory in the fall, but the very course our nation is following. If their actions were not so treacherous and so dangerous, they would be almost humorous. Alone, they are nothing but a handful of annoying fleas on the tushie of the Great Elephant. Together, they are an uncompromising swarm of vermin that must be controlled or we will all suffer what could be catastrophic consequences.

The most perfect, beautiful irony here is these narcissistic demagogue talk show hosts are leading us down a path of defeat that will eventually lead to their own demise....

An agenda of hate and vitriol ultimately leads to destruction....

Michelle Malkin has taken vile, vitriolic, cruel, mendacious, prevaricating, hate and slander to a new low. She has evolved into a far right attack maven whose leash is held by her intellectual betters. Unfortunately they are the very worst example of what humanity has to offer, re-acquainting us with scenarios that all moral people everywhere swore would “Never Again” be allowed to happen. Once crossed, she does not stop until the object of her ire is utterly and completely vanquished.

Hugh Hewitt, a once acceptable conservative thinker and writer has turned into a two-bit, manipulative canard spewing hack. Before this election season is over his credibility will be compromised, hopefully forever.

Laura Ingraham, sporting an excellent FOX News make-over is a shrill, unbending, advocate of an extreme version of conservative values that allows no room for human frailty or vulnerability.

Ann Coulter is not worth mentioning aside from that fact that the conservative establishment has so fawned over her completely unacceptable and malicious remarks that now everyone in her little world thinks that it is acceptable to ape her atrocious behavior.

Sean Hannity is all over the place with his conservative ideology. The only center he has is the fact that he really doesn’t consider himself Republican.

Mark Levin is rapacious, petty, and completely lacking logic as he completely defames John McCain while building up the false resume of Mitt Romney.

I think that is the real problem. The conservatives we are dealing with, those who follow Rush Limbaugh and lack the courage to speak out against his increasingly irrational hatred of John McCain and Lindsey Graham. Once against hard-line immigration, Limbaugh has done an about face, and has adopted Michelle Malkin’s increasingly cruel and vindictive methods. Anyone who disagrees with NumbersUSA and FAIR must be destroyed to the point of abject annihilation. Only those who have pure conservative ideology must be allowed to survive.

I have also called to account (here and here) the "Malkinites" and the "Rush-bots" for their unprincipled, intemperate attacks. I've suggested that those who now hold themselves as purists of the movement are indeed working for the death of the GOP. (I hope I'm wrong, but so far this election season I've been accurate in my analysis. Check back here in November for an update in case of a GOP collapse.)

The irrational right's backlash against McCain seeks more than winning the nomination for a favorite candidate: We're see nothing less than an attempt at the complete and utter destruction of the Arizona Senator (see
Malkin's new, foaming attack on the GOP frontrunner).

Now, I must say that Mike, from
Mike's America, made a decent stab at analysis in the comments. I appreciate the feedback, although I take exception (as noted) to the idea that the notion of the "irrational right" is tantamount to calling McCain critics bigots. This I have not done, so it's an unfair attack.

Besides that, with all due respect, Mike makes an emotional case that illegal alien families with anchor babies are making out better than most legal Americans. Who knows if they are - all Mike's offered are anecdotes? Besides, such questions are better focused not on John McCain but the federal government and the state legislatures, who determine the rules for WIC recipient payouts.

Mike also, unfortunately, resorts to the common - but lazy - tactic of calling the Bush immigration reform "amnesty." If there was ever a term designed to incite the irrational right's talk radio audiences, this is it. But it's not analysis, frankly.

The bill contained three main elements: a workable visa program for immigrant laborers, increased border and workplace enforcement, and a large-scale earned legalization program for illegal aliens already in the U.S.

Immigration experts consider a feasible combination of these measures a prerequisite for reform, although last year's debate showed that border enforcement must come first politically. Tamar Jacoby, one of the country's top immigration experts, in residence at the neoconservative Manhattan Institute, discussed the imperative of legalization in
the November/December issue of Foreign Affairs:

The third leg of the comprehensive vision - legalizing the illegal immigrants already here - is the most controversial, and without it, reform legislation would undoubtedly pass much more easily. But this, too, is an essential ingredient. It makes no sense to build a new immigration policy on an illegal foundation; neither new quotas nor new enforcement will stick as long as there are 12 million illegal immigrants living and working in the country.

Some opponents of reform insist that the government deport these unauthorized residents. Others maintain that more strenuous law enforcement would persuade them to leave voluntarily, by making it difficult or impossible for them to work, secure loans, attend school, or obtain driver's licenses. In fact, neither of these approaches is likely to succeed. Many of these people have lived in the United States for years, if not decades. Many own homes and businesses and have given birth to children who, because they were born in the United States, are U.S. citizens. A drive to deport them would cost billions and strike much of the public as unacceptably draconian. As for an attrition strategy, it would only drive immigrants further underground, deeper into the arms of smugglers and document forgers.

The only practical solution is to give these unauthorized workers and their families a way to earn their way onto the right side of the law. This should be done not just for their sake but also because it is the only way to restore the integrity of the immigration code, bring the underground economy onto the tax rolls, and eliminate the potential security threat posed by millions of illegal immigrants whose real names no one knows and who have never undergone security checks.
Michael Medved also offered a powerful takedown of the amnesty slur in a recent column.

Jacoby and Medved, of course, will be attacked hysterically as immigration sellouts by the Rush-bots. But, as I've said, emotional appeals on the neighborhood dislocation from unchecked immigration do not disconfirm the facts of the 2007 reform bill's earned legalization particulars.

Finally, one of the main charges raised in the comments is that McCain's a liar and can't be trusted. Yet, unsurprisingly, no one's provided hard evidence or substantiation on that point.

I consider McCain a man of virtue. He'll play political hardball, sure, but his record in Congress is one of principled stands on the issues - indeed, his "maverick" reputation's one of the main charges against him as not being a true conservative.

Not only that, McCain opponents suffer from a serious double-standard. Take supporters of Mitt Romney, for example. At least one Romney backer here as called me to account for McCain's alleged lies, with no evidence, of course. But what about Romney? Is he beyond reproach?

In an interview on Meet the Press, December 16, 2007, Romney argued in favor of the Bush administration's immigration reform bill: view is that those 12 million who've come here illegally should be given the opportunity to sign up to stay here...
Read the whole passage.

Clearly Romney indicates support for some measure of legalization. Thus, it's drastically hypocritical to pillory John McCain for working to amend the nation's failed immigration system while backing an illegal alien-enabling governor who supported the very same program!

But what about honesty? Is Romney more truthful a candidate than John McCain?

A McCain ad currently running in Florida media markets shows Romney not only flip-flopping on his record, but patently denying he's ever switched position on the issues. Isn't that lying? Where's the outrage among the Romney backers? Talk about the unprincipled (irrational) right?

Not only that, a look at Romney's tenure of Governor of Massachusetts reveals a record of - honestly - sheer hypocrisy. This is a man who
employed illegal immigration landscapers for over a decade. Let's stress that: OVER A DECADE.

One can argue that he hired the firm, not the workers, right? But this is a ten-year pattern of lawbreaking by a man who claims to have the experience and integrity to run the executive branch of the United States!

American business leaders
see Romney as pushing a fundamentally dishonest record on taxes during his Massachusetts administration:

Mitt Romney's Harvard MBA and gold-plated resume convinced many business leaders he would follow in the tradition of corporate-friendly Republicans when he was elected governor of Massachusetts in 2002.

Within three years, some had a vastly different opinion, after Romney's efforts raised the tax bill on businesses by $300 million as part of a multifaceted plan to eliminate a state budget deficit estimated from $2.5 billion to $3 billion.

Romney, who is now running for president declaring he never raised taxes as governor, says he merely closed "loopholes" in the tax code. Business leaders see things differently.

"These certainly were tax increases and a new source of revenue for the commonwealth," said Brian Gilmore, executive vice president of Associated Industries of Massachusetts, the state's largest business lobbying group.

"His indicating that he balanced a budget without raising taxes is misleading at best," Gilmore added. "We respectfully disagree."
In the GOP primary race in Florida, a major state business association has graded the candidates on business friendliness, assigning Romney a grade of "D-":

The Republican Primary Endorsement of the South Florida Newsletter for Business Growth goes to Sen. John McCain. It is his program that best serves South Florida businesses and American businesses in general....

John McCain A+

Based on his 25 year consistent record of fighting wasteful spending, the fact that his economic program is innovative and hits on all major economic issues facing America and the fact that he is uniquely able to achieve passage of his program through Congress. The other candidates may have some good ideas, but if they have no realistic way of seeing them enacted their programs become of little value....

Mitt Romney D-

If Gov. Romney were to have championed a conservative economic course, we would have examined the merits of the program and graded it accordingly. Likewise, if Romney had championed a liberal economic course, we would have examined the merits of the program and graded it accordingly.

Instead the Gov. has been all over the place. The same man who just last year proposed criminalization of refusal to carry health insurance in his own state has now campaigned as a nouveau economic conservative. Of course, that was until he went to Michigan, where he again switched back to an economically liberal position, one that involved bailouts that seem unlikely to be sustainable.

His economic “positions” seem to change from state to state and from one debate to the next. This kind of grandstanding is simply not worthy of comment and certainly cannot be analyzed.

It also must be noted that the economic experience he touts does not work in his favor. Romney has a record of merging companies, something that may benefit a particular corporation, but that generally involves laying off workers. In any case, it has nothing to do with promotion of general economic growth.

It is not my goal to take down any candidate.

But the information is available to make an accurate and fair comparison between the current GOP frontrunners. As the Boston Herald pointed out a few weeks back...

John McCain has over 25 years of conservative experience in Congress; Romney served four years as governor of one of the country's most liberal states.

McCain's a war hero. He volunteered for combat duty. He was held prisoner of war in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” for 6 years. He refused to cave on his principles for early release; Romney saved the Olympics.

McCain received a 90 percent rating from the Americans for Tax Reform in 2005, and and 80 percent rating in 2006; Romney raised the state's gas tax and got a C grade from the libertarian Cato Institute.

Read the whole thing.

In closing, I want to remind readers that I deeply admire Mitt Romney - and I'll back him eagerly and forcefully should he win the primary.

In the interest of maintaining a unified party, that's the least I should do. More importantly, I will not demonize any candidate - we have no enemies on the right (excepting Ron Paul, of course, who's not genuinely Republican).

I would expect - out of fairness and principle - McCain opponents to do the same.