Saturday, February 09, 2008

The real reason why McCain is winning the Republican presidential nomination.

In hindsight, the reason is actually perfectly clear. John McCain is winning the Republican nomination because his rivals for the presidency wanted him to win. Deep down in the inner workings of the Republican party, McCain was annointed in advance, and the rest of the party insiders saw "the writing on the wall" and responded accordingly. Of course, nobody in the Republican party could be bothered to tell the main conservative media figures about this, which is why Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, and others have all been acting like idiots for the last month or so. If you suspect that the primary season was something along the lines of a "hit" on the conservative media, you might be on to something.

In his analysis of the Republican nominating contest, Charles Krauthammer puts two and two together and comes up with 3.5; he points the finger at Bush for the McCain victory, but for the wrong reason. Krauthammer notes that:
Both [McCain and Giuliani] aroused deep suspicions among conservatives. Giuliani’s major apostasy is being pro-choice on abortion. McCain’s apostasies are too numerous to count. He’s held the line on abortion, but on just about everything else he could find — tax cuts, immigration, campaign-finance reform, Guantanamo — he not only opposed the conservative consensus but insisted on doing so with ostentatious self-righteousness.

The story of this campaign is how many Republicans didn’t care, and felt that national security trumps social heresy. The problem for Giuliani and McCain, however, was that they were splitting that constituency. Then came Giuliani’s humiliation in Florida. After he withdrew from the race, he threw his support to McCain — and took his followers with him.
Also consider his analysis of the behavior of the other candidates:
The other half of the story behind McCain’s victory is this: There would have been a far smaller Republican constituency for the apostate sheriff had there been a compelling conservative to challenge him. But there never was.

The first messianic sighting was Fred Thompson, who soared in the early polls, then faded because he was too diffident and/or normal to embrace with any enthusiasm the indignities of the modern campaign.

Then, for that brief and shining Iowa moment, there was Huckabee — until conservatives actually looked at his record (on taxes, for example) as governor of Arkansas, and listened to the music of his often unconservative populism.

That left Romney, the final stop in the search for the compelling conservative. I found him to be a fine candidate who would have made a fine president. But until very recently, he was shunned by most conservatives for ideological inauthenticity. Then, as the post-Florida McCain panic grew, conservatives tried to embrace Romney, but the gesture was both too late and as improvised and convenient-looking as Romney’s own many conversions. (So late and so improvised that it could not succeed. On Thursday, Romney withdrew from the race.)
Krauthammer finished the article by blaming Bush for paving the way for McCain in 2008. I think that's undoubtedly right in the ultimate sense, but I think it's also true that Bush pulling a lot more for McCain that Krauthammer thinks. Consider the correlation of forces at work here:

  • There are plenty of real conservative politicians out there, but none of them can be bothered to run. Other than McCain, the only Republicans who jump into the race are the guys building their name recognition (Hunter, Huckabee), the third-party fringer (Paul), the half-conservatives (Huckabee, Romney, Giuliani), and the retiree (Thompson). Conservative pundits obviously didn't get the memo that McCain was pre-selected to win, so they're left scratching their heads wondering why they're stuck with a slate full of losers.

  • Giuliani spends 2007 courting conservatives as the Republican front-runner, but then decides on a dramatically unconventional campaign strategy for the primaries that self-detonates his campaign. The moment he gets blown out of the water in Florida, he immediately promises McCain his full support

  • Thompson enters the race to enthusiastic conservative acclaim, and then throws it all away because he can't be bothered to campaign with it. When Thompson finally does wake up right before the South Carolina primary, he goes on the attack against McCain's chief rival (at the time) Mike Huckabee.

  • Thompson drops out of the race and Huckabee drops to third place after South Carolina. Despite being urged by conservatives to either attack front-runner McCain or to drop out to unify conservative support behind McCain's chief rival (at the time) Mitt Romney, Huckabee nevertheless stays in the race and attacks Romney going into Super Tuesday.

  • Mitt Romney gets demolished by McCain on Super Tuesday. Mitt Romney then gives an amazing speech announcing the suspension of his campaign in order to help McCain unify the party in the general election. Rush Limbaugh is so impressed by this final speech that he openly asks "Where was this during the campaign?"

We have a nominating contest in which a bunch of loser candidates are practially falling over each other in their zeal to stay out of McCain's way. There are all smart men, but as opposition for the nomination, the Marx brothers could have done a better job stopping McCain's triumphal march to the nomination.


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