It was at once very much like the last time and also very different. When. Sen. John McCain laid out his vision of conservatism to a small ballroom of loyal Republicans at tonight’s GOPAC dinner there were many familiar trappings from his 2000 bid for the presidency: His loyal staff members, John Weaver and Rick Davis, hanging in the back of the room with the nervous confidence that wizened political operatives always seem to exhibit at such speeches. Next to them, a cadre of elite media following every word of the prepared text and snickering each time a well-worn McCain line came up . And up front, the principal exhorting his fellow Republicans to return to their roots as the “party of Roosevelt” and “take on the special interests.”
But in addition to the Straight Talk Express veterans in attendance with McCain were some new faces. Among them, Terry Nelson, a top aide of President Bush’s re-election campaign and native of that first caucus state that McCain skipped in 2000 but won’t again. Also there was lobbyist Wayne Berman, a top Bush donor in both ‘00 and ‘04, whose wife happens to be the current White House Social Secretary. Republican regulars, all.
Also in the back of the room, blocking Maureen Dowd’s view on stage, was a riser filled with cameras. Among these were McCain’s campaign officials. They were broadcasting the speech live out over the internet. McCain, it seems, has also taken to bypassing “the filter” — even if it means obscuring his “base’s” view of the action.
And back at the podium was, well, a somewhat different sort of McCain. “Culture of life,” “legislating from the bench,” and more Reagan references than TR ones were heard. But also included were healthy dollops of criticism about his party, a reminder that we’re “not a nation of Social Darwinists” and an unvarnised assessment of the “dire” situation in Iraq.
It seems that, much like the man their candidate alluded to nine seperate times in his speech tonight, the 2008 Straight Talk crew thinks it may best to “let McCain be McCain.” For the most part.