The fun part about watching John McCain win the Republican nomination for President is to see the anguished outcries expressed by conservative TV pundits like Glenn Beck and Hannity & Combs on the Fox News Channel. Before 2008, I never gave the Fox News Channel a first glance let alone a second glance but now I watch it every night there is a primary just to see the collective gnashing of teeth and the hypocritical moaning from these paradigms of conservative values.
In their eyes it isn’t right that John McCain has freely and fairly gained the Republican nomination by the consent of the governed; it isn’t right that McCain has attained the nomination by appealing (unlike the other G.O.P. candidates) to moderates and even disillusioned Democrats to cross over and join his campaign; it isn’t right that McCain, if elected President—something not inconceivable—is the only Republican who has the potential to achieve a bi-partisan coalition that could get the necessary legislation passed to get the country moving again.
In many ways John McCain’s successful campaign is one of the most remarkable political comebacks in the annals of Presidential politics. To see a parallel one must go back to 1968 when Richard Nixon defied the odds and his own self-destructiveness to win the Republican nomination and the Presidency. Interestingly, Mitt Romney invoked the ghost of Richard Nixon when he was still campaigning against McCain in the race, saying that McCain was using Nixonian tactics (i.e. Watergate tactics) against him. Romney erred only slightly. Yes, McCain did use Nixonian tactics but not the Nixon from the Watergate era but the Richard Nixon who won the Presidential race in 1968. McCain, like Nixon, had lost a Presidential campaign eight years before and had been written off politically. McCain, like Nixon, had to go to great lengths to shake off a loser’s image. McCain, like Nixon, had to appeal to conservative voters by blatantly pandering to their core issues (Richard Nixon in 1968 packaged himself far more conservatively than when he ran in 1960. McCain’s rightward turn made pundits and supporters wince but, so far, it has worked to get him the nomination. Now whether this will get him the Presidency remains to be seen but McCain still has that ability to grab voters from the center and the left than his opponents). McCain, like Nixon, ran a vigorous grassroots campaign which resulted in key wins in the right states which in turn allowed him to receive those key endorsements that guaranteed future victories—each victory opening up new possibilities and new avenues of support for a campaign that had been declared dead one year ago. McCain, like Nixon, campaigned on a platform that supported an unpopular war and demanded a more vigorous and more effective application of American military forces in that war.
And what if John McCain loses in November? Then it’s a brand new ballgame for the Republican Party and that means there is a vacancy which either Mike Huckabee or Jeb Bush will fill in 2012. Huckabee’s campaign continued to amaze after Super Tuesday, winning Southern states and gaining conservative supporters (voting in protest against John McCain) despite low funding. It begs the question: if Huckabee had the money that a Jeb Bush or a Mitt Romney possessed, it would have been more likely that Huckabee would be the presumptive G.O.P. nominee and not McCain—a possibility which would have made Fox News Channel delirious with ecstasy. Huckabee’s failure to win the South Carolina and Florida primaries ensured his defeat. Even though he lost by narrow margins in both states, the winner-take-all rules gave McCain plenty of breathing space in terms of delegates. Had Huckabee won those contests then the tables would have turned. Although he cannot win the nomination, Huckabee remains in the race to make the case for himself as McCain’s running mate and, even more likely, to get a running start in 2012 campaign. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mike Huckabee is asked to be the keynote speaker of the 2008 Republican convention. He would certainly do a great job in delivering the keynote address. Huckabee’s ability to articulate conservative values is excellent and he must not be underestimated. You will be seeing more of him in the near and far distant political future.