John McCain is destined to be the next nominee for the presidency on behalf of the Republican Party. Many Republicans don’t agree with him leading the pack, but votes are votes and all things being equal, McCain has decisively won most of the states during the Republican primary. And there are a number of traits and advantages that will help McCain in his fight against Barack Obama, or Hillary Clinton. But there is also a very strong case against McCain; like Clinton, he carries a lot of negatives. And no, his age isn’t one of them.
One of the negatives is so glaringly obvious that it hurts the eyes: McCain is no Stetson-totin’, card-carrying member of the god-fearing Conservative movement. The people whom George W. Bush has been calling his Base for almost 8 years straight.
They are the people who make up approximately 15% of the American electorate that, in continuous polls, still backs Bush. Despite all his drawbacks, that 15% stands tall in the overall 30-35% of the electorate that staunchly stands behind the current occupant of the White House, and they are the very people McCain needs to court if he wants to stand a living chance in hell of winning come November.
That’s why McCain has shown himself to be remarkably elastic these past two years. He got trounced in the most hideous way during the Republican primaries in 2000 by Bush and McCain has been a staunch opponent of almost every decision Bush has taken in the 2000-2006 years. But McCain knows that he needs a large chunk of the Bush Base as well as the president’s well-greased fundraising machine by his side.
And so he has been pandering to the political demands of the Bush Base, which has in turn already started to anger the McCainiacs; the virulently independent, errr, Independents who want nothing to do with what they consider to be the Fundamentalist Nutcase Wing of the Republican Party.
These Republican-leaning independents are generally fed up with two things: the war in Iraq, Bushonomics, and the christian-fundamentalist new laws of the past 8 years. And they don’t want McCain to embrace neither.
So this poses a problem for the 71 year old candidate. He can’t move too much to the right or he’ll estrange the McCainiacs. But he also can’t move too far to the left, or he’ll estrange the Fundamentalist Nutcases.
Unfortunately for McCain, his Democratic opponent – Obama or Clinton – will have a pretty solidified Democratic base, including a lot of left-leaning independents. The latter group especially will be very receptive to Democratic arguments that McCain is in fact Bush-Lite. The hatred against George W. Bush’s politics is red hot among the people in this group and anything McCain does to appease the Fundamentalists will only serve as proof that the Democrats are right.
So with the left-leaning independents safely leaning over to the left and the McCainiacs left in doubt, unless something dramatic happens – to which I’ll get in a sec – my prediction is that it is going to be a very close election once again. (As I already wrote here.) Democrats and the independent voters leaning towards the Democrats will rally to Obama or Clinton, and a lot of Republicans will rally to McCain’s flag. George W. Bush has already voiced his support for McCain so unless that dramatic thing happens, I’m convinced that a fair number of the Bush Base will back McCain. Reluctantly, sure, but they will; “Anyone But Obama / Clinton / a Democrat in the White House”, will be their motto.
But about that dramatic thing… The Fundamentalist Fringe has grown very smart over the years. The banner organisations acting as unofficial leaders of the pack – like the Focus on the Family sect – have already said publicly that they will not endorse McCain. They’re playing hard to get, for the moment. But the question is what they are really after.
Conventional wisdom among the right had it that after Super Tuesday, organisations like Focus on the Family would come out and bless the Republican candidate, whoever he is. But they haven’t so far, and it seems unlikely that they will, no matter what Bush says or does, as long as Mike Huckabee stays in the race. But even if he doesn’t withdraw, he will have to concede defeat – and then what?
Well, then it will come down to the test. The Fundamentalist Fringe will force McCain to convincingly and very publicly embrace their values and ideas, and basically adopt their platform. They will want such a litmus test because of their absolute distrust of McCain, who has been quite blasphemic over the years. Bush had it easy; McCain will have to go the distance to earn the Fundamentalist’s trust.
But it is a trap, a step McCain knows he cannot take. And he will refrain from doing so. As a result, the leading Fundamentalist organisations will not formally endorse him, leaving the door open for a right-wing third party candidate to step in. Possibly Huckabee, or maybe some other fringe-nut. This is McCain’s all too real worst case scenario.
So even if the election will once again be 49 to 49%, with the election decided once again by just one football stadium in either Pennsylvania, Ohio or Florida, it is very likely that the crowd in that stadium won’t be in McCain’s column.
Unless he shows that he is the best politician in the field by being able to unite all Republicans behind him, which would be a feat of such monumental proportions that he should be made president just to honour him.