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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

South Carolina: 2000 With a Twist

Over at The Plank, Eve Fairbanks exposes herself to several hours of noise pollution from Rush Limbaugh, and reports on the impressive ferocity of his assault on Mike Huckabee and (especially) John McCain. Since McCain remains (in most reckonings) the closest thing to a front-runner in the Republican presidential contest, and could solidify that status in South Carolina on Saturday, the rampant hostility of the still-reigning conservative gasbag could be a bit of a problem for party unity.
But we’ve been here before, at the same juncture in the nominating process, in the same state.
For those of you who don’t remember it, I have to tell you: the full-scale panic that gripped the conservative ideological-and-corporate establishment of the GOP in 2000 after McCain’s trouncing of George W. Bush in NH is hard to over-estimate. Yes, local operatives in SC were responsible for much of the sleazy tactics against McCain in the Palmetto State that helped saved Bush’s bacon, but they were carrying water for the vast coalitiion of Christian Righters, K Street types, and DC careerists who had placed all their chips on the Texan, and who feared McCain in no small part because he owed them nothing.
Yes, I know, I know, since then McCain has mended fences with the conservative establishment by loyally stumping for Bush in 2000 and 2004, kissing up to Christian Right leaders, going apocalyptic about “Islamofascism,” and championing the Iraq escalation. But in the same period of time, he also flirted with a party-switch, voted against Bush’s tax cuts, and cosponsored another twenty-or-so bills with Democrats, including the immigration proposal that looked to have knocked him out of the race just a few months ago. He’s also never renounced the campaign-finance law that ideologues hate with an irrational passion, and opposed torture, which a startling number of conservatives perceive as the worst heresy of all.
So it’s not surprising that Rush and others aren’t being convinced by McCain’s general election poll numbers (he’s currently the only GOPer nationally competitive against Clinton or Obama) to roll over. But they have a real problem. In 2000, it was a simple matter of helping the lavishly financed and well-positioned Bush to croak him in a state or two. Now, for many conventional conservatives (largely, like Rush, more-or-less supporting Romney or what’s left of Fred Thompson), beating McCain is a complex three-cushion-shot game of denying him the nomination without elevating someone they dislike as much or more. After all, if McCain loses SC, Mike Huckabee’s going to win it. If McCain loses momentum, Rudy Giuliani gets his final chance. And if McCain wins the nomination anyway, you’ve got a GOP nominee who will remember all the abuse he’s gotten on his right flank for the last eight years, and a legion of McCain-haters tempted to take a dive and hope for better times in 2012.
To put it another way: if McCain (or for that matter, Huckabee) is the nominee, what are you going to rant about every day if you’r’e Rush Limbaugh? Senate races?
So no wonder Limbaugh is hyperventilating. As in 2000 at this point, it’s cookies-on-the-line time, but this time the odds look really bad for the conservative establishment’s Noise Machine.

2 comments on “South Carolina: 2000 With a Twist

  1. edkilgore on

    Yeah, that was one of the things I had in mind in mentioning bipartisan legislative initiatives.
    It’s interesting: most Republican elected officials have managed to scuttle crab-wise towards grudging acceptance of global warming as a legitimate issue, the right-wing ranters still can’t let go of their Green Hoax rhetoric on the subject. And I’m sure they blame McCain for the embarassing disconnect.
    Thanks,
    Ed Kilgore

    Reply
  2. d on

    I know you didn’t try to list them all, but let’s not forget McCain’s global warming legislation as one more kick to the teeth of the right.

    Reply

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