Wednesday, November 23, 2005

McCain in 2008?

Matthew Yglesias thinks John McCain's perceived strength as a presidential candidate in a general election is illusory. He's apparently of the opinion that the coolness of social conservatives for the Arizona senator would badly hurt him.
McCain has also pulled off the neat trick of alienating cultural conservative leaders without making any substantive concessions to cultural liberals. I know his polling looks good now, but I think if he somehow manages to get the nomination he'll fare much worse than people expect.
I happen to agree with those who say McCain faces a lot obstacles in gaining the GOP nomination. But the issue of his chances in a general election is a different matter. There are a number of variables to consider here, not least of which is the name of his Democratic opponent. I guess the conventional wisdom would have to be that McCain's chances improve should he face a Democrat from the party's left wing. But I'd say all the leading potential candidates are mainstreamish enough to run as centrists. I doubt very much McCain would be facing Al Sharpton in a general election.

My own guess is it will be the Democrats' election to lose in 2008, because after two terms of a controversial Republican president with high negatives, the country will likely be ready for a change. The political conditions present in 2008 are very unlikely to emulate those of 1988, the last time a party won the White House for a third consecutive time. And should the economy be shaky three years from now, it would take a miracle for the Republicans to retain the White House.

But if the economy were in decent shape in 2008, or in the late stages of a boom, then I'd guess McCain would be about as strong a candidate as the Republicans could hope for. Yes, he's conservative, but his penchant for noisy maverickism has given him an aura of sincerity, and voters of all political stripes tend to suffer from slick politician fatigue. This allows many a moderate or liberal to forgive McCain his more right-wing positions. And McCain does depart from the party line on several issues (campaign finance, gun control, the environment).

Ronald Reagan won what, 47 states in 1984? Look at that performance compared to George W. Bush's last year. The latter wasn't even competitive in New York, California, or Illinois. McCain theoretically should be a much more formidable candidate than George W. Bush or a strong conservative such as Sam Brownback, because the Arizonan would force the Democrats to defend blue state territory.

If my hunch is right about 2008, it may not make much of a difference who the GOP puts up, but they could certainly do a lot worse than John McCain. It's getting the nomination that's the real hurdle. For the senator, that hurdle may well be insurmountable.

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