John McCain’s Rise, And The Reinventing Of The Republican Party

Who’d have thought it?  Of all the people that could reinvent the Republican party, it might not be some young whipper-snapper with a head full of steam and a heart full of dreams yet dashed, but instead a tough old SOB who refuses to march the party line all the time?

About as recent as a month and a half ago, the Republican race for the nomination was looking to be a battle between Mitt Romney’s solid ground game in early states versus Rudy Giuliani’s star power and national campaign.  Then along came a man named Mike Huckabee.

Huck, who had dwelled in the cellar for much of the preseason started to raise eyebrows when he took second in the Aimes Iowa straw poll, but even that wasn’t enough to get much chatter going on.  Winning over the foot soldiers of the Religious Right, and pulling off an upset of all upsets in Iowa, on the other hand, was.  The ripple effect of Huckabees eleventh hour surge to stardom was vast, and with the primary season just getting underway, we’ve yet to see all of the repurcussions.

One thing that is apparent, however, is that with Mitt’s early state game disrupted, another once thought dead candidate has risen to prominence in John McCain.

That very same month and a half ago, John McCain was over.  Kicking off the preseason as the prohibitive nominee, McCain began to slide a little early, perhaps a result of not having the support of conservative strongholds that are the typical pander spots for Republican candidates.  And then the immigration hit, and McCain tanked; his championing of a bill that the anti-immigration crowd within his own party seeming to have sunk the senator’s chances for good.

But now here we are in 2008, and it’s almost as though 2007 never happened.  Huckabee’s win in Iowa set up the perfect storm for McCain to walk away with New Hampshire by dropping Romney’s stock, while at the same time Huck was simply unable to harness the Iowa wave to make him even competitive in the Granite State.  New Hampshire, a friendly state to McCain, gave the old Maverick a kick start to his campaign and now the Arizona senator is looking to show strong in South Carolina and possibly even win in Michigan.

The race once thought to be between Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani, now appears to be between Mike Huckabee and John McCain.  Funny thing is, neither man is much loved by Republican stalwarts and high powered conservative interest groups.

With Mike Huckabee, it’s a pretty simple situation.  Huck is, in a manner of speaking, too big of a dose of one type of Republican medicine, while lacking in the other kinds.  His uber Christianity is very appealing to the masses of the Religious Right, but on virtually everything else, Huck fails to appease in the areas of small government, foreign policy, and so on and so forth.

As for McCain, well, he panders, what politician doesn’t?  But McCain’s problem is that he has a habit of not pandering to the right people, and in some cases, outright pissing them off.  This has led some leaders of the modern conservative establishment to not simply write him off, but actively work against his White House bid in an apparent attempt to send a message.  That message being, “Pander to us, or else.”

But what is often forgotten is that despite the ire of Gun Owners of America and Americans for Tax Reform, John McCain is in fact a conservative.  The important thing, however, is that he is not a lockstep conservative.  Yes, there was the immigration reform, and campaign finance reform, but what a lot of people seem to miss is the fact that the high profile bipartisan bills and antagonistic attitude with certain interest groups hides what looks to be a very conservative record.

In other words, he’s conservative enough, Republican enough, just not enough of an asshole to the American people and too much of an asshole to conservative power brokers.

Now, when Huckabee’s rise was solidified by his Iowa victory, some have pondered that this perhaps signals finally a deep fracturing of the GOP, one in which only a severe reinvention of the party could save the party.  It’s possible, and in fact the late quarter rise of both Huckabee and McCain would seem to solidify this idea.

Taking things a step further, when one takes a look at the overall field of the GOP, we see anomolies everywhere which seem to signal this being true.  Giuliani and his social liberalism, Thompson and his seemingly apathetic religious demeanor, meanwhile more traditional conservatives such as Duncan Hunter, Tom Tancredo, and Jim Gilmore have all failed to gain the slightest bit of traction among GOP voters.

Of course some of this has to do with style, but when we look at Huckabee’s rise, what we see is a man who bypassed the power brokers of the Religious Right, and appealed directly to the voters.  And when it comes to McCain, well, it seems there are more brokers that he’s pissed off than not, and yet he’s still a prominent player in the party.

Thus, I think what the Ralph Reeds and Grover Norquists are seeing is the same thing I’m seeing; there’s a new Republican party on the horizon.  And in what looks to be the death throes of the old GOP, they are trying to hold on to as much power as they possibly can.  Unfortunately for them, if it is Republicans such as John McCain reinventing the party, their ouster from such great heights just may play a big role in it.

2 Responses to “John McCain’s Rise, And The Reinventing Of The Republican Party”

  1. Mark says:

    Hey Kyle- this is something I’ve been covering for awhile now. McCain, with the possible exception of Fred Thompson, is the only candidate who is actually capable of keeping the famed GOP coalition together. The only group he really annoys is the GOP power brokers; but that’s because he is a conservative (of the Teddy Roosevelt variety perhaps) with an identifiable ideology beyond simply “whatever is best for the party.” The power brokers’ first loyalty, though, is to the party, which means they’ll back whoever winds up the nominee. He does have a trust problem with religious conservatives, but as you point out, he is more clearly a social conservative than anyone but Huckabee in the race; he can keep religious conservatives on his side with one or two meaningful gestures in their direction.

    Contrast that with the establishment’s chosen candidate Mitt Romney. The only group he seems to actually appeal to is the establishment- none of the constituent interest groups in the party trust him at all.

    Which is probably why McCain has the lowest percentage of Republicans that would be dissatisfied or angry with him as the nominee, while Romney has the highest. Conversely, McCain has the highest number of Republicans who would be enthusiastic about him as nominee, and Romney the lowest:
    http://rossdouthat.theatlantic.com/archives/2008/01/does_mccain_have_a_ceiling_ii.php

    McCain is unique in that he has the ability to appeal to each of the GOP’s various constituencies to at least some extent without sounding completely incoherent like Romney (if I hear him suggest that government should be making families stronger in the same sentence as he claims to be for limited government again, I’m going to scream). But the reason McCain is able to do that is precisely because he seems to understand that the party’s overall platform is completely incoherent.

  2. Carlos Lorenzo says:

    Well I as a Conservative Fredhead will not vote for McCain.. It took Jimmy Carter’s multitude of failures to give us Ronald Reagan..

    your coalition be damned..

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