One of those low-grade-fever, under-the-radar discussions that often consume the chattering classes involves the possibility that the Republican Party will offer up John McCain as the successor to George W. Bush in 2008. It’s an especially interesting topic to us political junkies who know (a) how much savage hatred was built up in 2000 between McCain and the movement conservative/K Street/theocon establishment backing Bush; (b) how often McCain has violated conservative litmus tests on domestic issues ranging from tax cuts to global climate change to ethics legislation; and (c) how tempting it is to McCain’s old GOP enemies to bring him back into the establishment to save it from total immolation in 2008.I’ve already weighed in on a TPMCafe discussion of McCain’s future, but was prompted to say more here by an interesting assessment of McCain’s rapproachment with conservatives written by Byron York of National Review, published by The New Republic.York is a very good old-school reporter who knows the conservative world intimately, so I’ll take his word for it that McCain’s efforts on Bush’s behalf in 2004; his base-pleasing outspokenness about the righteousness of the war in Iraq; and the recent conservative convergance with the Arizonan on the fiscal profligacy of the congressional GOP; are all factors that cover a multitude of McCain’s past and present heresies against Republican orthodoxy. But I submit those heresies–which include McCain’s sponsorship, with Joe Lieberman, of the climate change legislation conservatives hate passionately–remain a bar to a McCain run in 2008, unless he goes far out of his way in the future to tack back to the Right. The other factor, of course, is exactly how desperate Republicans are becoming when they think about 2008. Do they embrace their ancient intraparty enemy over their friends? Will they demand McCain bend the knee on a variety of conservative litmus tests? How many assurances will they require about the shape and the staffing of a potential McCain White House? (Will my colleague The Moose, for example, be banned from grazing among the canapes at White House receptions?).My own gut feeling about the current conservative flirtation with McCain is that it’s all a matter of hedging bets. The Right will look high and low for a presidential alternative to McCain, but the big priority is to make sure they get a sufficiently clear set of commitments from him to make the competition as insignificant as possible.For us very interested outsiders in this Republican debate, the major question is how big a piece of his own persona McCain has to repudiate to attract GOP forces who’d rather try to tame and train him, than to actually listen to his words. And for McCain, the question is how far he’s willing to go to make his own proud and independent words meaningless.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
As a California voter, I am acutely aware of the state’s very deliberate process for counting votes, and wrote about the latest lesson from June 7 at New York:
Anyone engaged in politics in a state with heavy voting by mail knows that making pronouncements based on early returns is perilous. The danger of rushes to judgment is especially dire in California, which allows mail ballots postmarked by Election Day but received in the next week to count, permits Election Day registration, and goes the extra mile to help voters cure minor errors on their mail ballot. As CalMatters put it in 2020, “the state opts to make it very easy for Californians to vote” and prioritizes voter convenience over the speed or efficiency of vote-counting. There have been many recent elections in the Golden State where the winners on Election Night have turned into losers before very long.
This was all well known prior to the 2022 California top-two primary on June 7. Yet early returns fed a narrative of a conservative law-and-order revolt against the Golden State’s dominant progressives. Newsweek’s take was typical:
“Democratic voters in California took their frustrations to the ballot box on Tuesday, boosting a former Republican in Los Angeles’ mayoral race and removing one of the nation’s most progressive district attorneys from office in an urban revolt …
“What’s happening in the L.A. mayor’s race and in the San Fransisco district attorney race is ‘consistent with the trend we are seeing nationally: that voters feel that the Democratic Party has moved too far left and want elected officials to shift back towards the center,’ Democratic pollster Carly Cooperman told Newsweek.”
Rick Caruso’s early lead in the L.A. mayoral race and what appeared initially to be a three-to-two victory for the effort to recall San Francisco district attorney Chesa Boudin were wildly overinterpreted, as I pointed out at the time:
“The idea that the primary showed a state convulsed with reactionary tough-on-crime sentiment is an overreaction to what actually happened on June 7. Boudin was happily tossed over the side by much of San Francisco’s Democratic political establishment — who regarded him as an embarrassing and not terribly competent outlier, not a national symbol of criminal-justice reform (as some have treated him). And while Caruso’s emergence as a freshly minted Democrat running a viable race for mayor of L.A. was startling, it took a ten-to-one spending advantage over Karen Bass to make the general election. His best shot at winning may have passed in this low-turnout primary; Bass should be favored to win in November.”
Now, late-arriving results in the primary have made the law-and-order takes not just premature but possibly wrong, as the Los Angeles Times explained:
“[I]n the two weeks since California’s primary, some key races across the state have reshuffled or tightened — turning upside-down some of the early punditry about the message Golden State voters are sending this cycle …
“In L.A.’s mayoral race, Caruso, a billionaire developer who ran on a platform of expanding the city’s police force and clearing homeless encampments, celebrated with confetti on election night as he held a five-percentage-point lead over U.S. Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles), whom he will face in the November runoff.
“But two weeks later, he finds himself trailing Bass by seven points.”
I’d say Caruso is a distinct underdog for November.
Boudin was indeed recalled, but the margin of yea-over-nay votes has dropped from 20 percent to 10 percent, and may drop further. And meanwhile, other contests already contradicted the swing-to-the-right narrative on Election Night, as I noted:
“Appointed incumbent attorney general Rob Bonta should have been a prime target for tough-on-crime agitation. As The Appeal noted: ‘Bonta’s record on criminal justice reform, and his ties to groups doing the frontline work to transform prisons and policing, are stronger than either [Xavier] Becerra or [Kamala] Harris,’ his two predecessors. (The former is Joe Biden’s Health and Human Services secretary; the latter is his vice-president.) As a novice statewide candidate, Bonta could have been especially vulnerable, but in a primary against four opponents, he has received almost 55 percent of counted votes — a higher percentage than U.S. senator Alex Padilla and a bit below that of Governor Gavin Newsom.”
Bonta’s lead is exactly where it was on the evening of June 7.
The moral of the story is to resist the temptation to make broad generalizations about California election results until enough of them are in to justify such conclusions. Let’s hope the lesson sinks in by November.