John McCain's Catch-22

It's not easy being John McCain these days. The self-styled "maverick" faces a classic Catch-22, which he will have to somehow resolve if he wants to be elected president.

As we conservatives see it, McCain has gotten this far in his political career by kicking us in the teeth for the amusement of the mainstream media, which has repaid him for the entertainment by treating him with kid gloves and hyping him as a principled maverick.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with this perception, it is clear that now that McCain has captured the Republican nomination, he faces a dilemma.

The problem in a nutshell: he desperately needs the backing of the very conservatives he has infuriated time and time again over the last few years. We're not talking about tepid support either. John McCain needs conservatives to pour money into his campaign, and to rabidly defend him when he's under attack -- and of course, vote for him. Achieving this won't be easy. In order to patch things up with conservatives, McCain will need to cater to us by making meaningful gestures that show his heart is in the right place and by shifting his positions a bit on key issues, in order to placate our very valid concerns about him.

BUT -- if and when he actually attempts to start trying to reach out to conservatives, he risks losign what made him attractive in the first place; McCain's appeal to independents and moderate Democrats is directly based on liberals in the mainstream media saying nice things about him based on the fact that he DOESN'T try make conservatives happy.

What to do? McCain has a hellish balancing act to pull off.

If conservatives don't vote for him en masse and fill up his campaign coffers, he is probably going to lose in November.

However, if he tries to openly appeal to the conservatives that he needs to win, his real base, the mainstream media, will voice their displeasure, which will turning off the middle-of-the-road voters that McCain has been counting on to put him in the White House. A lose-lose situation.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that McCain's "honorary Democrat" status, which the mainstream media has bestowed upon him for criticizing other Republicans, has officially been removed now that he wears the mantle of presumptive nominee.

That's why, for the first time in at least a decade, you're seeing the mainstream media smear John McCain with the same sort of poorly written, lightly sourced hatchet pieces that are typically aimed at other Republicans.

Today's situation was completely predictable, so much so, that some of us predicted earlier that it would happen if McCain were the nominee almost two years ago -- and it makes perfect sense if you think about it. After all, why would the liberals in the press settle for a "Democrat-light" like John McCain when they can have the real thing?

This puts John McCain in his enormous pickle, particularly if he ends up going toe to toe with Barack Obama. On paper, McCain would seem to be the superior candidate to Obama in almost every way. He's incredibly experienced: Obama isn't qualified to be President. McCain is a moderate and Obama is the most liberal man in the Senate. Obama makes empty promises about how he'll unify the country because he's such a wonderful guy and everyone loves him so much. McCain has forged more significant compromises between Republicans and Democrats than any other five senators combined.

You can go on and on with these examples, but Obama has one huge advantage over McCain: Obama inspires enormous enthusiasm on the Left, which means his voters will turn out for him and give him enough money to build a staggering war chest.

By contrast, conservatives were dispirited BEFORE John McCain became the nominee and now, the Right is sliding towards despondency.

How is John McCain going to change that? How can he change that? Given John McCain's contrarian nature, a better question may be: does he even want to try to change it? If so, there's not much evidence of it. Since he sewed up the nomination on Super Tuesday, McCain has done very little of significance to reach out to conservatives. As of now, there are few indications that he intends to do so.

That may lead to what the late, great Milton Friedman referred to as a "wonderful natural experiment." Reagan has already proven, without a shadow of a doubt, that a strong conservative Republican can pull in independent voters and beat a liberal candidate hands down for the presidency. But, can a strong moderate Republican, one who doesn't have firm support on his Right, do the same thing in 2008?

Despite all of his flaws, conservatives should certainly hope so.

If not, they should just remember Adam Smith's words of wisdom when he was told that Britain would be ruined by an unhappy turn of events, "There is a great deal of ruin in a nation."

John Hawkins is a professional blogger who runs Conservative Grapevine and Right Wing News. He also writes a weekly column for Townhall.