Yesterday’s New York Times included a brief but useful summary by John Broder about Sen. John McCain’s progress in reinventing himself from the brave maverick of GOP politics into the Chosen One of Republican elites, including many key veterans of George W. Bush’s two campaigns.I’ve long been a skeptic about McCain’s ability to propitiate the conservative ideologues that still own the Republican Party without losing the reputation that would make him a formidable nominee in 2008. But he’s off to a pretty good start, given his consistent front-running status in early GOP ’08 polls; his love-fest with prominent Bushies; and the high esteem he still enjoys from many mainstream media types. And lest we forget, the combination of very high and relatively positive name ID and insider backing is what lifted McCain’s former nemesis, George W. Bush, to the nomination in 2000.Broder’s summary of McCain’s pivot does not mention one factoid that the photo accompanying it illustrates: McCain yukking it up with attendees of the Iowa State Fair. He famously skipped the Iowa Caucuses in 2000, after conspicuously disrespecting the Ethanol Subsidy that ranks just behind the State Fair’s Butter Cow sculpture as Iowa’s Most Sacred Cow. McCain has now flip-flopped on ethanol, and is spending a lot of time in Iowa.McCain’s pivot, of course, most depends on the panic of Republicans who see the White House slipping away in 2008, and figure only a “maverick” like the Arizonan can save their bacon. The same underlying dynamic may doom a McCain general election candidacy, and thus his “electability” appeal, particularly if he continues to flip-flop on domestic issues, while championing the Bush administration’s disastrous course of action in Iraq.And even if McCain goes into the presidential cycle as the clear GOP front-runner, there’s no question many conservative movement types will continue to cast about for an alternative. At one point, Sen. George Allen of VA looked like a strong possibility for the Anybody-But-McCain (ABM) effort, but his sparse positive qualifications are clearly being overwhelmed by his current troubles. Right now the big debate about Allen is whether he’s a racist obnoxious jerk, or an equal-opportunity obnoxious jerk. No less an authority than Charlie Cook is already saying Allen’s presidential star has fatally fallen, and for that matter, Georgie is now in danger of losing his Senate seat.At present, the insider buzz about GOP alternatives to McCain revolves around Mitt Romney of Massachussets. Aside from the improbability of the Right readily embracing a guy once thought of as a northeastern moderate, whose most notable recent accomplishment was signing a quasi-universal health insurance bill, there’s the Mormon Issue. Last year Amy Sullivan wrote an important article examining probable conservative evangelical concerns about a Mormon candidate, but the problem could go deeper, since the unusual nature of LDS doctrines could discomfit some Catholics, mainstream Protestants and secular conservatives as well as evangelicals.The real darkhorse for the ABM mantle remains Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Expect a boomlet to form around him at some point in the near future.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
You might have missed a potentially significant political story involving a non-candidate for president, so I wrote about it at New York:
One variable in the fraught and complex 2024 presidential election has now been put to rest: Democratic senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia has announced he will not pursue an independent or “unity ticket” candidacy for president this year, as USA Today reports:
“Manchin made the announcement during a speaking engagement at West Virginia University for his recently created nonprofit group Americans Together, which is aimed at connecting and empowering moderate voices.
“’I will not be seeking a third-party run, I will not be involved in a presidential run,’ Manchin, 76, told the crowd. ‘I will be involved in making sure that we secure a president who has the knowledge, has the function and has the ability to bring this country together.’”
He argued that “the system right now is not set up” for candidates not affiliated with either major political party to win the presidency but said that in the “long game” there could be room to make a third party viable.
Manchin’s vow not to be “involved in a presidential run” seems also to preclude a vice-presidential candidacy, which had seemed a possibility if No Labels, the nonpartisan organization with which Manchin has been closely associated, winds up sponsoring a ticket headed by a Republican. His subsequent comment about the kind of president he wanted to help the country secure could indicate that for all his third-party flirtations and ideological heresies, Manchin might endorse a second term for Joe Biden. He could not possibly have been talking about Donald Trump by referring to a president who had “the ability to bring this country together.”
In any event, Manchin’s decision was good news for his party’s 2024 prospects. There’s likely a ceiling on Trump’s support well short of a popular majority, so it’s a strategic imperative for Biden to corral anti-Trump voters without too much competition from minor candidates, and particularly from a well-known Democrat.
The announcement obviously takes away one option for No Labels, which is reportedly in the process of interviewing potential candidates, even though the group has not formally decided whether to undertake a campaign (it has, however, secured ballot access in 13 states so far).
It also likely means Manchin has run his last campaign. He chose not to run for a third full term in the Senate this year, likely because West Virginia had turned so bright red that even a relatively conservative Democrat would have no real chance of winning, particularly in a presidential-election year. With no electoral base, the 76-year-old former governor will wind up his Senate service and presumably retire to his houseboat. His family already dodged one calamity this year when Manchin’s wife, Gayle, survived a serious car accident. A futile presidential run would not have improved their quality of life.