Sunday, February 24, 2008

Republicans Rallying to McCain?

The spin on the post-NYT smear campaign against John McCain is that the GOP pre-nomination rift is healed.

Sure, the
Politico reports that the right's rallied only eluctantly behind the Arizona Senator; and I've noted previously that some of the far-right's talk radio mandarins exploited the McCain blow-up to their own advantage.

Still, I do think we're seeing the GOP starting to finally pull together behind the party's nominee-in-waiting.
Steve Chapman makes the case that the Times' hit piece episode marks the turning point in the Republican race:

Those who had been angered by McCain's gentle treatment by liberal journalists were angered to see him handled roughly by the same scribes. They quit attacking McCain and began blasting The New York Times, which had given them plenty of ammunition. Note to the Times: When Sean Hannity sounds like the voice of responsible journalism, you've done something wrong.

And with that, the great Republican civil war was pretty much over. Conservatives will never embrace McCain for his views on immigration, campaign finance or global warming. But they may come to echo what was said about Grover Cleveland when he was nominated for president in 1884: "We love him most for the enemies he has made."

The closing of the rift should come as no surprise. After eight years in which they were about the only people to stick with the Republican president, conservatives have gotten used to thinking of the GOP as a wholly owned subsidiary of the right. In reality, though, they have never gained full control of the party, and as the pending McCain nomination suggests, they probably never will.

The party has long consisted of two groups, who might be called Eisenhower Republicans and Goldwater Republicans. In their narrative, conservatives relate a straight line of succession from Barry Goldwater to Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush. In fact, the party took some major detours on the way.

After Goldwater in 1964, it veered toward the center, settling on Richard Nixon and then Gerald Ford. When Reagan neared the end of his presidency, GOP voters could have elevated any of several conservative candidates, including Jack Kemp, Paul Laxalt and Pat Robertson. Instead, they chose George H.W. Bush, long considered the embodiment of bland, moderate, East Coast Republicanism.

In 1996, the party faithful passed up Pat Buchanan, Steve Forbes, Phil Gramm and Dan Quayle in favor of Bob Dole, whom Reaganites once branded the "tax collector for the welfare state." Even in 2000, George W. Bush raised some suspicions on the right, due to his centrist pedigree and his habit of calling himself a "compassionate conservative," lest anyone mistake him for that other kind.

In the end, Bush won over conservatives, partly thanks to opposition from their nemesis, John McCain. But polls then showed that most Republicans, far from embracing Bush's support of tax cuts, preferred to concentrate on reducing the national debt. Theirs was, and is, a conservative party, but not that conservative. Hence, McCain.

The experience of the last 40 years shows two things. One is that conservatives can never be sure of getting their kind of presidential nominee. The other is that, as far as the fortunes of the party are concerned, it doesn't matter. Once the nomination is assured, the Republican candidate will always embrace conservative themes, and conservatives will close ranks behind him.
Some Malkin-tents are still getting in their digs, but overall we're seeing a recession of McCain Derangement Syndrome: Conservatives do seem to be closing ranks, although I'm not holding my breath for the likes of Coulter, Ingraham, Limbaugh, or Malkin.

If these contingents really vote Hillary or sit out the election, purity will indeed have prevailed over reason.