I know John McCain does not go down easily among many conservatives. But with Barack Obama looking like the victor among Democrats, his party needs the Arizona Senator at the top of the ticket.
Conservatives may decry his support of campaign finance reform (a mistake to be sure -- it simply moved the money around to new vehicles, but with less disclosure of contributors), his opposition to the size of the Bush tax cuts, his support for the Bush immigration plan, his embrace of global warming fears. But this is the reality ten months before the November election: if the Republicans nominate anyone other than John McCain, they are doomed to defeat against Barack Obama, maybe even a decisive defeat. McCain on the other hand, has a real shot at winning against Obama.
For a while, I thought Rudy Giuliani could also win. But his ideal match-up was against Hillary Clinton, not Obama. Rudy's campaign has also been damaged by a steady drip of opposition research leaks, coming from candidates in both parties and publicized by a journalist rat pack, that have cumulatively eliminated his lead in the national polls. In a Rudy-Hillary race, the warmth factor would have been lacking on both sides (who do you want to sit down and have a beer with?), but Rudy could have won on his toughness and resilience after 9/11 and his record as Mayor (which trumps Hillary Clinton's bogus claim of 35 years as a change agent -- 20 of them as a first lady!).
One of the questions the Giuliani team needs to ask itself is why they relied so heavily on 9/11, and spent so little time highlighting Rudy's record of accomplishment as Mayor in New York City, where he turned around a dangerous, declining city, and made it world class again by bringing back a sense of personal security and safety. Cutting the murder rate by over 70% was a very big deal. The Mayor had a "surge" strategy of his own in the use of his police force as Mayor, and as in Iraq, it worked.
Unlike certain defeatists, I think it matters that the GOP win the Presidency this year. This is not 1992, and the GOP is a party that appears to be in decline. The Republicans lost control of both Houses of Congress in 2006 and will not reverse that result this cycle. Much more likely are further Democrat pickups, particularly in the Senate. If a Democrat is elected President, Ruth Bader Ginsberg and John Paul Stevens will probably both retire from the Court, to be replaced by younger liberal jurists.
One of George Bush's signature achievements, if you are a conservative, was getting both John Roberts and Samuel Alito onto the bench. The Democrats would strike back if Obama or any other nominee from the Party wins in 2008. That would likely lead to Anthony Kennedy pivoting left, giving liberals a 5 to 4 majority on the Court.
A Republican win could secure a more solid conservative majority on the Court. John Paul Stevens will not live forever. Would the Democrats filibuster Orrin Hatch were he appointed to replace Stevens? The Congressional GOP is not on the upswing as a minority party, ready to seize back power in 2010 or 2012. There is no Newt Gingrich to provide the intellectual firepower and energy to get that job done. So a Democratic presidential win in 2008 means years in the wilderness as a minority party for the Republicans, and the likelihood of re-election for Obama, a man with considerable political skills, in 2012.
For years, the GOP easily outspent their Democrat rivals in House and Senate races and in Presidential campaigns. No more. Bill Clinton evened things up by making money-raising (from whatever country) a key part of his mission for the Democrats. Now the Democrats have stormed past the GOP, and are the real money party. John Edwards may rail against special interests who control Washington, but the Democratic Party is in the grip of left wing unions, wealthy trial lawyers and environmental groups. In addition, many of the newly-minted mega-millionaires in finance and technology now identify with the Democratic Party, in part because of their greater comfort level with the more liberal social agenda of the party, and in the case of some, because they smell a winner, and want to jump on board.
I am convinced Obama will be the nominee. He appears to be headed for a big victory Tuesday in New Hampshire. His poll numbers are climbing every day, as Clinton's drop off. He could win by a bigger percentage margin than in Iowa. Clinton's stridency and lack of charm in the Saturday night debate won't help her.
In the coming months as her campaign unravels, it will not be pretty. A woman who has aimed for the White House for 40 years, lived through her husband's success and thought this time was hers, will not go quietly or in a dignified fashion into the night. One can sense the seething bitterness over this young interloper arriving on the scene to trump her glass ceiling-breaking vision of the first woman president with a much bigger ceiling-smasher, race.
And Obama is an African American (in the real sense of the word), with real political gifts. It is not in the debate forum where he shines, but on the stump and in front of an audience allowed to cheer and respond. Hillary Clinton leaves a lot of people cold. She is suffering some of the same fate as Mitt Romney on the Republican side -- the hardest working star student who displays no warmth and argues from a list of debating points. Put simply, Hillary Clinton is a bore. A radio listener might have thought Clinton won the debate Saturday night, just as radio listeners thought Nixon beat Kennedy in their crucial first debate in 1960. But TV viewers took away something else Saturday: Obama calm and poised and unflappable; Clinton bitter and angry.
Obama would be a strong general election candidate. Many whites feel better about themselves for supporting him -- as if they are personally closing the racial divide, and bringing back the better days of the civil rights movement. Obama has successfully morphed into the modern day Martin Luther King, while not emphasizing his race (it is obvious), unlike Clinton who now pushes her gender identity at every turn, in one more desperate attempt to fight back.
So how does McCain beat Obama? Obama has his weak spots, and over ten months we can expect some to come out. Look for GOP ads of Bill Clinton telling Charlie Rose that Obama is untested, inexperienced and not ready to run the country. This has the virtue of being true. Obama is three years removed from the Illinois State Senate, and for almost half the time he has been in the US Senate he has been running for President. Even in his first two years in the US Senate, Obama missed many votes as he flew around the country to speak at Democratic Party functions, paving the way for his Presidential run. Obama has been effectively AWOL in the Senate since he began his Presidential campaign, even as many of his primary campaign opponents, who also serve in that body, somehow found the time to show up for key votes. Obama had the gall to criticize some of them for their votes (e.g declaring Iran's Revoutionary Guards a terrorist entity) though he skipped them for reasons of personal political convenience. Compare this self serving behavior to John McCain's conduct as a prisoner of war in North Viet Nam. McCain declined an offer of early release, and as a result absorbed five more years of torture and beatings, rather than break the military "code" which calls for prisoners of war to be released in the order in which they were captured.. A case can be made that US Senators and House members who run for President should resign their seats. That is certainly the case when they no longer make any pretense of serving in their elected role. That is what Bob Dole did, very honorably I think, in 1996.
On national security and foreign policy issues, Obama is a novice, and already has made some telling mistakes during the campaign, including his support for pre-emptive action in our ally Pakistan, the very thing he opposed in Iraq, and his misstatement in the debate Saturday night on why the violence was down in Anbar Province in Iraq. Obama said the violence has ebbed in Anbar because of reconciliation between Sunni and American forces once Sunnis read the results of the 2006 congressional races in America, and feared an American withdrawal and Shia takeover. In fact, what happened is that Iraqi Sunni insurgents turned on foreign Al Qaeda fighters. No less an authority on the subject than Osama Bin Laden has decried the Sunni insurgents for their treacherous behavior.
Obama has made it his signature issue that he was right on the Iraq War by opposing it from the start. Of course, he was not in the US Senate at the time, and not privy to the intelligence reports that other Senators saw, including many liberal Democrats who initially supported the Iraq war resolution. But if he were elected President, he has committed to follow-through on his pledge to end the war. And if he is in against McCain in the fall campaign, there is a huge opening for McCain to talk directly to the American people about our mission and how to wind it down with dignity and honor, and with success. That success has come from the Bush Administration's belatedly rejecting the Rumsfeld light footprint approach and accepting McCain's call for troop reinforcements ("the surge") to re-establish security, the precondition for a political solution.
While Obama has enormous appeal to younger voters, and will attract many first time voters, older Americans vote in much greater numbers. In an interview with Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation Sunday, the CBS newsman was almost reverential toward McCain. The old warhorse, the former flyboy, has a lot of appeal to this group.
And McCain also may have a trump card or two. One of them might be to pledge to serve only one term -- to get the job done right in Iraq. This would be consistent with a career of calling for sacrifice by Americans to contribute to a greater cause. And most Americans are at heart, patriotic. They would rather a good outcome than a defeat in Iraq, and that may now seem possible. Unlike defeatists like Harry Reid, they would rather a good outcome than a defeat in Iraq, and that may now seem possible.
Compare McCain's career and personal courage to Obama's steely ambition, demonstrated by his current campaign, after categorically denying any interest in running for President in 2008. The Obama campaign is all about him, as the healer, the unifier, the political messiah. Over the next ten months, we may see a reality check. What has he done? What would he do as President? We are in the throes now of a star-struck media Obama lovefest. Something similar will happen again after the Democratic convention in late summer. But if I were a Republican, I would like to have John McCain debating Barack Obama one-on-one in the fall .
And then there is the vice presidential half of the ticket to fill. McCain could pick a social conservative like Huckabee who has demonstrated some of the same ability as Obama to speak directly to voters who are uneasy about their economic future -- without the nasty class warfare rhetoric of John Edwards, who, thankfully, is going nowhere again, and now can go back to fighting for the middle class from his new 26,000 square foot house in North Carolina. On a more serious note, he can spend time with his ailing wife Elizabeth and their family, which many people think is where he should have been all along.
Or McCain could pick Joe Lieberman, creating a real fusion ticket, which might, I repeat might, threaten the Democratic Party's long stranglehold on the votes of Jewish Americans. Given Obama's past dalliance with pro-Palestinian groups in Chicago, and the perception that he will do nothing to stop Iran's nuclear program, those Jews who are concerned more with Israel's survival than Obama's symbolism might think twice about how they vote. Jewish votes matter in swing states like Florida, and Pennsylvania, and maybe even New Jersey. McCain has indicated that if nominated he will select for his running mate someone who could fill in as President. In a time of war, that is a sounder policy than looking merely for geographic or ideological balance in a running mate.
If McCain were the nominee, the debate between the candidates in the Fall would automatically be focused more on national security and foreign policy than it would otherwise. That is the GOP's strength, and this year the news on Iraq is much better than it was when the Democrats won in 2006. If the debate is primarily about national health insurance, global warming and stem cell research, the Democrats will have the edge. The economy may be in the doldrums in 10 months, another advantage for the Democrats.
But McCain, or whoever the GOP nominee is, can hold their own here, because substantial tax increases, as the Democrats are proposing, is exactly the wrong medicine for a recession or impending recession, and almost guarantees that any economic weakness will be intensified. Raising taxes on some, and cutting rates for others, will also not provide any real economic stimulus. Raising the social security income threshold to apply the payroll tax, which Obama has supported, will raise taxes for many Americans, not just the ultra rich.
McCain's biggest challenge may be to get nominated. Mitt Romney may not drop out, even if loses a string of primaries, and his money supply is effectively unlimited. Fred Thompson may hang around hoping he can emerge as the consensus choice among conservatives, if Huckabee fades. Rudy Giuliani may get some momentum back in Florida and in the big state races on February 5th. But Republicans may want to heed the words of Bill Clinton and Bob Beckel, both very savvy Democrats, on the one Republican the Democrats do not want to run against this year- John McCain. McCain runs much better at the moment against every Democratic opponent than any other GOP candidate.
Many Republicans are not enamored of the Arizona Senator, of course. He is, to be sure, an imperfect Republican. But if only McCain can win for the party in November, Republicans might want to really consider carefully if they want to choose a candidate with greater ideological purity and the President Obama that will go with it.
Richard Baehr is political director of American Thinker.