Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Is McCain inevitable?

Jay Cost wonders if McCain can be stopped:

Now that he is the frontrunner, this is the problem that confronts John McCain. In every previous cycle in the modern era - the Republican who wins South Carolina wins the nomination. A big reason is that the victory in the South, the heart of the Republican's general election strength, signals who the favored candidate is. The rest of the candidates eventually recognize this, and they bow out. McCain won South Carolina, and he is better positioned now than he was a week ago - but the race is not over.

McCain is staunchly opposed by a vocal group of conservatives who view him as an unreliable maverick. You can hear their most prominent advocate on the radio every weekday from noon to three eastern. You can see them in the exit polls, which show that McCain has not yet won a (statistically significant) plurality of Republican voters, nor those who consider themselves "very conservative." In years past, opposition to the Republican frontrunner tends to fade away after South Carolina, with the supporters of the loser accepting that their guy can't prevail and reconciling themselves with the victor. But that does not seem to be happening this year. There is a faction of the party that seems unwilling to accept McCain. It might be able to stop him.

It should be clear from the nomination rules that somebody could find enough delegates to oppose McCain on the convention floor - even if he did not offer a serious challenge early in the process. From the unpledged delegates, to the delegates allocated by conventions, proportional allocation, and the congressional district delegates - there are a lot of ways to win convention support even as somebody else "wins" states. Eventually, an opposition candidate would have to break through with outright victories. He cannot win the Republican nomination underground - but the way delegates are allocated could keep the race close until he breaks through. Importantly, about 65% of South Carolina voters preferred somebody other than John McCain. This tracks with his standing in the national polls. So, the anti-McCain faction might have an audience - if it can find a candidate to rally behind. Also of importance: 95% of all delegates have yet to be allocated. And even after Super Tuesday, 45% will remain to be allocated. The faction has time to make its case.

I am not saying it will be successful. McCain has a very strong chance to win the nomination. One feather in his cap is that opposition to him does not cut cleanly along any ideological line. Rick Santorum is vehemently opposed to him, but Tom Coburn just endorsed him. Another asset is that the Republican delegate allocation system is much less charitable to losers than the Democratic scheme - this gives the opposition less time to get its act together.

My point is simply that the opposition to McCain could prove to be important. For better or worse, the old maverick from Arizona has inspired intense opposition in some quarters. In a nomination system such as this - that opposition might ultimately be able to stop him.

With McCain as the frontrunner - the way to look at this nomination battle should shift. Most of us had written McCain off last summer - so we were not expecting him to precipitate an ideological battle. If anything, we were expecting some kind of bottom-up opposition to Giuliani - with party elites accepting his candidacy, and rank-and-file pro-lifers rejecting it. The rise of McCain scrambles all of this. There is an ideological conflict brewing in the GOP - but not the one we thought we would see. This means that the way we have looked at nominations over the last few cycles does not hold. I think this contest could be longer than many have intuited - and the results in Florida could determine exactly who emerges as the "anti-McCain" candidate.

Do not expect the press to catch this dynamic. It understands the here-and-now of contemporary politics much better than the forces and institutions that have guided it for decades. One effect of its misunderstanding will come on Super Tuesday, which it will treat just like the general election. That evening, it is going to focus relentlessly and exclusively on who wins which states - as if delegates are allocated like Electoral College electors. Do not get caught up with this, regardless of how splashily it is staged. With the prospect of a McCain candidacy, and the ideological divergence it implies - this is not the best way to analyze Super Tuesday, even though it is an important aspect. We also need to wait until the next day to see how the delegates are meted out - that will indicate just where this race is going to go.

If McCain were a consensus candidate - like Bob Dole in 1996 or George W. Bush in 2000 - I would say that his victory in South Carolina, combined with his lead in the national polls, would be sufficient for the nomination. Florida would offer a final validation - and that would be it. But McCain is not this candidate. He has serious, entrenched opposition - and in a system such as ours, entrenched oppositions are given opportunities to stop something from happening. I do not know if it can stop McCain, but I expect it to try.

I continue to believe that Hillary Clinton is the reason for the Republican Party's troubles. Too many Republicans are so terrified that she will be elected that they are willing to sell their souls to prevent it from happening.

I say let her become president so that she can take the blame for the coming recession.

There is no proof whatsoever that she has truly learned any lessons from her mistakes in her first co-presidency. Let her combination of incompetence, arrogance and overreach frighten and disgust the American people so badly that they turn congress back over to Republicans. Let a genuine conservative leader emerge from the principled opposition to Hillary's attempt to force draconian socialism down the nation's throat and let that man (or woman) become the Ronald Reagan who rides to the country's rescue after Hillary's Jimmy Carter-like failure.

Even the fact that she will be making two or three Supreme Court appointments isn't that much of a factor because the retiring judges are all ultra-liberal. If the Republicans use the tactics pioneered by the Democrats in blocking Bush's judicial appointments we may even be able to force Clinton to appoint people who are at least a bit less stridently left-wing than the people they'll be replacing.

Think of everything McCain has done to harm this nation. He is responsable for a campaign finance reform bill which guts the First Amendment. He launched an attack on the Second Amendment in trying to pass legislation to "close the gun show loophole". He led the effort to grant amnesty to over 20 million illegal aliens, most of whom would have eventually become citizens, registered Democrat and tilted the electoral balance so far to the left that the nation could never have come back.

He is not a conservative. In fact he shows no clear political philosophy other than doing what is best for John McCain at any given moment. He would be a bad president and if the nation is to have a bad president for the next four years let it be a Democrat so that they will get the blame.