The Myth That McCain Wasn't Conservative Enough

After a losing presidential campaign, the candidate quickly (and often cruelly) is painted as an object lesson in what not to do -- but that should not happen in 2008.

In order to truly revive itself, the GOP should be more like the real John McCain in the future, and less like the conservative cast of the past decade: George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Tom Delay. And it certainly should not look to the likes of Mitt Romney or Sarah Palin to lead a restoration.

You do the math: America has a moderate majority -- 50% of Americans are centrists, compared to 20% who are liberal and 30% who call themselves conservative.  Independents are the largest and fastest growing segment of the electorate.  Republicans need to appeal to the center and find common cause with independents in order to win.  And that's something they have increasingly failed to do over the past decade.

John McCain lost because the country was suffering from Bush backlash, a reaction against a deeply damaged Republican brand, which had become associated with low and divisive attacks, arrogance, and ineptitude in office.  In effect, Bush and Rove beat him twice -- first in 2000 and again this year, when his campaign was staffed by RNC "experts" who had learned their trade under Karl Rove -- and the old play-to-the-base tactics backfired badly this time.

The tragedy is that John McCain in 2000 set the standard for centrist message that would ultimately win this election for Barack Obama.  He, more than any other politician of the last ten years, was a profile in courage to reach across partisan lines towards bipartisan coalitions in Congress.  He almost single-handedly stood up against the self-dealing, ideological excesses and unprecedented pork-barrel spending that came out of Tom DeLay's corrupt conservative Congress.

McCain's come-from-behind win in the primaries was not only proof of the strength of the center but a repudiation of Karl Rove's play-to-the-base approach because he won the Republican nomination without the support of right-wing talk radio and evangelicals.