The Corner

Learning from “Chaos”

Post Indiana/N.C. thoughts for “friends”:

Rush was right. Voting for Hillary to extend the Democratic primary was a brilliant strategic move. And, as Sean Hannity might put it, the “Stop Hillary Express” was eventually going to leave the station, anyway. Why not make an impact as it made its way to primary’s end?

There was a second important component to Tuesday’s primaries: In North Carolina, 26 percent of Republicans voted against John McCain; 22 percent voted against him in Indiana. Behold the power of talk radio, John McCain, which could help deliver a Republican victory this year, in spite of party perils and the GOP candidate’s frequent alienation from his base.

As a conservative who is skeptical of the Arizona senator — and who was reminded that McCain cannot always be relied on during the senator’s speech on judges at Wake Forest University — said to me this morning: It’s possible that “OpChaos has provided the only plausible rationale for voting Republican this year.” And as a legitimate arbiter or at least leading interpreter of conservative doctrine, Limbaugh sleeps at night knowing he’s not being a party guy. He’s trying to save the Republican party from itself, while standing athwart those who would allow it to be reshaped in the image of John McCain.

Rush’s problems with McCain reflect legitimate conservative concerns: John McCain has a nagging habit of reminding conservatives that he is not one of them and doesn’t want to be — whether the topic is global warming or Jeremiah Wright or announcing that social issues don’t interest him. The protest votes Tuesday — going to Mike Huckabee, Ron Paul, and Mitt Romney — can probably be partly attributed to John McCain’s protest of a North Carolina GOP ad hitting Barack Obama for his association with Jeremiah Wright. The consensus among conservative talk-radio callers and editorialists was: Wright is legitimate fodder for the Right, and McCain was ridiculous to chastise his fellow Republicans for the commercial.

And so now, as Hillary Clinton scrambles to figure out just how long she can prolong this, with or without Rush’s continued help, John McCain begins to focus on one opponent. And if he does so without an appreciation for the power of Rush Limbaugh, talk radio, and the conservative movement, he does so at his peril. Depending on which poll you look at, the general election looks tight. Even with a wounded Obama, this is not McCain’s election to lose. Cash-strapped, 71, and ideologically uninspiring, McCain is going to have to rally his base. There are ways to do this.

Limbaugh, in fact, has offered advice: Talk about American exceptionalism. The approach promises to be damning to a Democratic nominee whose wife has only become proud of America because her husband is now a presidential candidate. It’s doable for a war hero who has a son enlisted and another at the Naval Academy. Play it, straight, Senator. There is a common enemy that conservatives want to help you to defeat. Don’t blow it by sticking it to your allies.

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