The Corner

McCain Agonistes

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.

Some observations:

1. McCain is starting to show a certain attraction to many bedrock conservatives that must be based on his war record and service, and this trumps their worries about his less than conservative fides — or at least allows them to accept McCain’s won’t-make-that-mistake-again changed views on closing the border, tax cuts, etc. Privately many conservative voters have looked at the polls and know McCain does best against the Democrats.

2. While those conservatives who support either McCain or Giuliani would probably vote for a Republican ticket headed by Romney or Thompson (not sure entirely about Huckabee), the inverse is not necessary true at this point. In these angry emails I receive, there are the usual threats that if McCain is nominated, they will sit out. I doubt that, but right now that seems to be the braggadacio.

3. It seems that Romney, Thompson, and Huckabee supporters might at least consider that there is a chance that McCain will be nominated and these “I’ll sit it out” conservatives should begin thinking of the consequences of Presidents Hillary and Bill. My guess is that McCain could still unify the party, if he (1) offers some informal assurances about illegal immigration and taxes, and does an “inoperative” on McCain-Feingold; (2) has frank discussions with the conservative media such as Limbaugh, Hannity, etc. and takes his medicine without losing his temper; (3) promises a hard conservative as VP. McCain’s conservative ratings, after all, are in the 80s, he is rock solid on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he wants a balanced budget, and is now against blanket amnesty and “comprehensive” reform — and looks like he is the leader to gain the nomination and simultaneously infuriate base conservatives.

Otherwise, we are about 1/3 the way through a Greek tragedy, in which the fated catastrophic denouement is known, but can’t be prevented.

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