Thursday, January 31, 2008

McCain derangement syndrome?

A bit late to the party, here's Gerard Baker on McCain Derangement Syndrome. (Roger L. Simon has an interesting take on the disease that seems to be infecting conservatives here.) From Baker's piece:

I sense that the syndrome says something about what has gone so badly wrong with the conservative movement in the past ten years. It has become so intolerant and exclusive that once orthodox views are now regarded as heresy; while views once merely narrow and eccentric are now prerequisites for membership.

Baker's on target when he points out conservatives real problem with McCain is that he isn't one of them, but I think he's mistaken in seeing the McCain backlash strictly through the lens of narrow tribalism. I'd liken McCain to his good friend, Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman. Just as when liberals rejected Lieberman, it's not a matter of particular views or positions, it's the feeling you're dealing with a politician who, not only isn't a part of your movement, but doesn't want to be a part of it. Witness both McCain and Lieberman's places in the Gang of 14, the bi-partisan group of U.S. Senators who sought a "peaceful solution" to the debate over conservative judicial nominees. McCain is a moderate, who happen to hold some views that place him in the Republican party, but he is not a philosophical conservative.

All that being said, the real interesting questions will come if McCain manages to win the nomination - how many conservatives will actually bite the bullet and pull the lever for him? Truth be told, I'm not sure liberal Democrats have ever faced a similar dilemma. Some candidates have been more centrist than others (Bill Clinton, obviously) and there are always questions about whether or not particular candidates are liberal enough, but I can't recall a real moderate or conservative Democrat running for national office in recent history.

The anger at McCain is an interesting phenomenon, but I'd put it in a slightly different category than Clinton or Bush hatred. Simon makes the point that McCain has done some conservative things, and of course, in the same vein, Bush did some liberal things and Clinton did some conservative things. So yes, you have scenarios where the hated figures probably aren't as bad as they're made out to be, but the phenomenon of Bush/Clinton hatred was far more simplistic and partisan than the emotions McCain arouses in conservatives. The fear McCain arouses is the fear of losing their party and the fear of losing a place at the table.

The McCain phenomenon is by far the most fascinating because he's the only candidate who faces the likelihood of being abandoned by a noticeable percentage of his party base. Remember the big deal made over Ralph Nader in 2000, when he supposedly took 1% of the vote from Al Gore. Even if only 5-10% of the Republicans out there decide not to vote for him, losing even a few percentage points in the general election could be a killer for McCain.


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