And McCain Just Keeps on Sucking

One would think that after Bush torpedoed McCain’s 2000 presidential hopes by implying to South Carolinian primary voters that the Maverick Senator fathered an illegitimate black child that he would do everything he possibly could to distance himself from dirty tricks, whisper campaigns, and the like.

Indeed, so far we’ve seen a complete lack of blood in the primaries on either side of the fence at least in the public arena, however, as Chris Cillizza reports in his WaPo blog, The Fix, there are a few cheap shots being taken behind the scenes.

Which brings me to this flyer passed around in South Carolina during a recent GOP event held there. While it’s not necessarily as bad as saying Romney’s got an illegitimate pakistani love child, or that Giuliani is mobster because he’s italian, the purpose of the flyer is pretty clear: no one has the conservative street creds that the Straight Talk Express does.

This is all tied around McCain’s push to the hard right to tap into that supposed political power house that Bush & Co. harnessed for the past two presidential elections. The kitchen counter wisdom is that the socially conservative Joe and Jane Sixpack put the horrendously incompetent Bush in power, and therefore should be able to put anyone in power… especially a reasonably intelligent mammal such as McCain.

But this leaves us to two questions. Is the kitchen counter wisdom necessarily correct? And will McCain’s gambit have a prayer in hell of working.

As for the answer to the first question, I don’t think so. If we remember, Bush’s win in 2000 (let’s not even talk about the supreme court, please) stemmed off of a couple of things. For one, there was the compassionate conservatism; a new way to label ultra conservative talking points in such a way that more level headed folks wouldn’t feel guilty about following them. Then you had the man’s personality. To this day, people who can’t stand the way he governs will still admit that he’s charming. Put that up against the Al Gore, who at the time seemed so stiff one might think he was suffering from rigor mortis, and it’s not hard to see which candidate voters would be more likely to identify with.

Fast forward to 2004, and as Al Franken puts it in his book The Truth With Jokes, it was all about “terror, Terror, TERROR!!!!!” In essence, 2004 was an excercize in Terror Management Theory, a neat little theory that looks at the effect of thinking about one’s own death on their decision making processes.

The trimmed down version is that TMT states that thinking about dying encourages people to reinstate their world and cultural views, make the symbolism of who and what they are more evident. So when you have the archetypical cowboy persona of George Bush go head to head against the apparently elitist and somewhat European John Kerry, people are going to head to the polls and go for the kid in the ten gallon hat.

Pandering to the socially conservative did not necessarily do Bush that much good. Yes the numbers went up in that particular area, but they went up all around. Just as more evangelicals voted on the first Tuesday of that November, so too did young people, a largely liberal demographic.

So why oh why does John McCain want to paint himself as THE penultimate conservative in this presidential race? Obviously to pick up the nomination, as we know that primary voting tends to float more towards the base than towards the will of the people over all, but here is where we are going to answer that second question of will it work.

In the primary election, it is highly unlikely. It’s not that McCain ain’t pushing right hard enough, believe me, anyone who is willing to strap on armor and go walking downtown Baghdad all in the hopes of proving just how with the current administration he is on Iraq is pushing plenty hard. It’s just that he doesn’t really have the bona fides. Or at least doesn’t appear to have the bona fides.

Here is a man who has, up until recently, garnered much political success with how willing to work with the other side he was. McCain Feingold, the anti torture bill, and his disdain for the religious right may have made him seem like a good republican candidate with broad appeal to the center and across the aisle back in the day, but have made it difficult for him to work his way into the conservative fold today.

So, yeah, he’s got one hell of a fight convincing conservatives that he’s conservative ahead of him, and the primary challenge is pretty rough, an odd development considering that the other two big names in the ring are less socially conservative than he is. But let’s just say he beats the odds and takes the primary.

What are his chances of winning the general election? Not very good. The problem is, after spending the next year trying to win the nomination by proving how conservative he is, he then has to come to the nation as a whole and really… prove he really isn’t that conservative. While hot button issues such as abortion and gun control will for the most part go back and forth, his stance on the Iraq war is, in a word, catastrophic politically, and his newfound love for the religious right, I think, will hurt him more than help him.

In other words, quit trying John. You had a decent run in 2000 that got sunk by a no good sumbitch playing about as dirty as they come. It sucks, yeah, but at this stage of the game ANYTHING you do will just result in you sucking harder.

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