McCAIN: THE LEAST WEAK GOP CANDIDATE?
...the Republicans are on course to nominate their strongest possible general election candidate but the Democrats are not.
--Rasmussen Reports, July 15, 2008
Remember that line of argument? We heard it off and on in the months before the conventions: any other Republican was doomed, but McCain's mavericky appeal gave Republicans their best possible shot (and Obama didn't do the same for Democrats). And then we heard it a lot immediately after the Republican convention, during the Palin bubble.
We're not hearing it much right now, I notice.
No we can see McCain's vulnerabilities -- for instance, the fact that he voted with Bush 90% of the time, and boasted about that fact in news clips tailor-made for negative ads by a Democrat. The many, many joint photos with Bush weren't very helpful, either.
Romney, Giuliani, and Huckabee all had their own liabilities, but they didn't have congressional voting records to defend, and they'd never had McCain's desperate need to be photographed with Bush (although Rudy's "Thank God that George Bush is our president" moment would have haunted him all fall).
McCain's impetuousness looks scary and dangerous right now -- the phony campaign suspension, the angry attack ads that have nothing to do with real problems, and, most obviously, possibly the worst vice presidential pick ever.
It's hard to believe Mitt Romney would have done worse -- for all his shameless self-reinventions, he never seemed to shift gears impetuously, and the press would have treated him as a money-savvy guy at a time of financial crisis. And he seems too levelheaded to have fallen for Sarah Palin.
Huckabee might have been hurt by the Wayne DuMond case or his ties to the likes of John Hagee and David Barton, and he probably would have seemed like too much of a lightweight for the current crises -- but he wouldn't have seemed like a lunatic. And he likely would have made a safer, saner VP pick.
Giuliani? I still think, on paper, he was a strong candidate. If he'd tacked to the right on social issues well before the primaries, and he'd made the slightest effort to focus on policy, and he hadn't adopted the duck-any-primary-you-can't-win strategy, and he hadn't taken that phone call ... ah, but he did all that and more. And he actually might have picked Palin. But I still say a smart version of Rudy could have done reasonably well -- or, OK, no worse than McCain is doing now.