The timing was impeccable. On the day after HarperCollins released the cover photo for Going Rogue — Sarah Palin’s highly anticipated autobiography — Steve Schmidt, John McCain’s former chief campaign advisor, predicted that if Palin were to win the 2012 GOP nomination, “we would have a catastrophic election result.” It was Schmidt, a veteran Republican strategist, who first advised Senator McCain to select Palin as his running mate in 2008. And it was Schmidt who first criticized Governor Palin within the McCain camp as “going rogue.” Asked how Palin’s book might describe their relationship during the election, Schmidt suggested that perhaps he was the “anti-rogue in the running of the campaign.”
Schmidt’s comments provide a nice backdrop to a recent report at Politico (“McCain’s Mission: A GOP Makeover.”) It turns out that the Arizona senator has been positioning himself as a major power broker within the Republican Party hierarchy. He is identified in the article as the party’s titular head; and the erstwhile presidential nominee has been raising money for moderate GOP candidates and hitting the campaign trail for pragmatic allies. As noted in the article:
“I think he’s endorsed people with center-right politics because he has an understanding that the party is in trouble with certain demographics and wants to have a tone that would allow us to grow,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who is McCain’s closest friend and ally in the Senate.
“At a time when our party is struggling and has a lot of shrill voices and aggressive voices, he’s one that can expand our party,” said John Weaver, a longtime McCain friend and strategist.
This meme of McCain’s reemergence as the GOP’s elder statesman and centrist savior is not likely to go down well among grassroots conservatives. As Bruce McQuain has noted, with reference to Schmidt’s comments above:
Good lord … that’s like Jimmy Carter wanting to reshape the Democratic Party. McCain stands for everything that is wrong with the GOP today. If ever there was someone who found the wrong message for presenting the GOP to the voters, it was John McCain. And the economic problems the country has gone thorough since his defeat have only made his message less acceptable. Schmidt can bellyache all he wants about Sarah Palin, but without her McCain’s election night returns would have been much more dismal than they were.
Yes, and if McCain continues to elbow his way back to the GOP’s center stage, it’s not Jimmy Carter who’ll be cited by the bloodthirsty hounds of the right-wing base, but Michael Dukakis.
That is to say, McCain might be more loved by activists if he’d follow the post-election model of the former Massachusetts governor and failed Democratic presidential candidate. Dukakis was exiled from the ranks of the Democratic Party following his “snatch-defeat-from-the-jaws-victory” loss to George H.W. Bush in 1988. (Dukakis held a 17-point lead in the presidential horse race following the Democratic National Convention that year.)
Within a few years, the former governor was teaching public policy seminars at UCLA, and his biggest post-limelight victory came in 2006 as an anti-”apron-parking” activist in his Westwood neighborhood. Perhaps that’s more respectable than his 1996 GOP counterpart Bob Dole. The former Senate majority leader and 1996 presidential nominee was reduced to warning “easy, boy,” while hawking Pepsi Cola in a Britney Spears Superbowl ad in 2001.