Monday, March 24, 2008


Elisabeth Bumiller's article about John McCain's moments of rebellion against the GOP reminds us just how much these moments had to do with anger, far more than ideology. In particular, McCain's flirtation with the idea of switching parties in 2001 and his then-opposition to the Bush tax cuts were, it seems, nearly all pique.

So swing voters who think a McCain presidency would be an eclectic mix of conservatism and moderation need to take note: The moderation came when he was ticked off at Bush and other Republicans. Right now, by contrast, there's no powerful right-wing force in the party thwarting him. He's the GOP Alpha Dog. So what reason is there to believe he's going to deviate from his usual right-wing orthodoxy in the future?

From the article:

... In the spring of 2001, Mr. McCain was by most accounts still angry about the smear campaign that had been run against him when he was campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination in the South Carolina primary the previous year. He had long blamed the Bush campaign for spreading rumors in the state that he had fathered a black child out of wedlock, which Bush aides denied. Mr. McCain was also upset that the new White House had shut the door on hiring so many of his aides.

"Very few, if any, of John's people made it into the administration," Mr. Daschle later wrote in his book "Like No Other Time." "John didn't think that was right, that his staff should be penalized like that."

Mr. McCain had begun to ally himself with the Democrats on a number of issues, and had told Mr. Daschle that he planned to vote against the Bush tax cuts, a centerpiece of the new president's domestic agenda. Mr. McCain often made "disparaging comments" about Mr. Bush on the floor of the Senate, Mr. Daschle recalled.

...[There were] weeks of conversations that April between Mr. McCain and the leading Democrats ... about the possibility of Mr. McCain's leaving his party. One factor driving Mr. McCain, [Democratic congressman Thomas] Downey said, was his bad relations with the Republican caucus.

"They had booed him once when he came in," Mr. Downey said. "It was bad stuff in the caucus. He didn't see his future with these guys." ...

It all seems to be rebellion for the sake of rebellion, rather than a core ideological eclecticism.

McCain's willingness to entertain the possibility of being John Kerry's running mate in '04 is a bit more mysterious, though it's clear it wasn't rooted in deep-seated ideological conviction -- after all, it was mere months after entertaining the Kerry offer that McCain wrapped Bush in a bear hug at the Republican convention. My theory: a love-hate relationship with Bush. But the object of these strong emotions is leaving the scene.

Within his party, McCain spent a brief period as a gadfly. But ever since that hug, he's been a suckup -- sucking up to Bush, sucking up to the religious right. Even his most significant deviation from correct right-wing thinking in recent years, his support for immigration reform, was very much in sync with Bush and Rove's notions that immigration reform was good for business and likely to draw Hispanic voters away from the Democrats.

So where's the deviation from orthodoxy going to come from in the future?

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