MCCAIN DRAIN. E.J. Dionne hits the nail on the head today when he says that the positions that John McCain will need to take in order to win the Republican primary may very well lose him the support of the more moderate voters who've hailed him as a maverick, to his perhaps permanent electoral or reputational detriment:

it's a more dangerous strategy than it seems. McCain's central appeal, even to people who disagree with him, has always been his willingness to do the nonpolitical thing -- for example, to defend Kerry that day in 2004 simply because he thought the attacks on Kerry were wrong.

If McCain spends the next two years obviously positioning himself to win Republican primary votes, he will start to look like just another politician. Once lost, a maverick's image is hard to earn back.

Add to that one thing I haven't read a lot about, but which Democratic aides who work for likely '08 contenders increasingly bring up: McCain's age. He will turn 72 in '08, making him three years older than Ronald Reagan was in 1980, when he became the oldest man elected president.

The age issue is not just something raised by Democrats grasping at straws. Googling around I found Colorado-based Anthony Surace at the Christian conservative site The Templar Pundit sketching out an interesting view of McCain's chances with the hardcore conservative Republican base, in which he also pointed to general election risks, such as age and whether or not members of the press will turn against McCain out of a desire for divided government if Republicans retain Congress.

Surace, whose site helped promote the Blogs for Bush network, also had some views on the rest of the '08 Republican field that I hadn't heard elsewhere:

The Republicans need a candidate in 2008 who can restore principles of limited government and fiscal conservativism to the party. Unfortunately, I don�t see anyone currently �in the running� who can do that with any legitimacy.

George Allen is, like it or not, part of the Congress that has caused the problem facing the party. Mitt Romney, as much as I like him, does not look like he will be a great advocate of limited government. Tom Tancredo is a one-issue politician. Pence probably won�t run. McCain won�t make it through the primaries, Huckabee doesn�t stand for limited government, and the time for Gingrich has passed.

Where does that leave us? It leaves without a candidate who can restore the principles of the GOP, or at least without a candidate who is actively running for President right now.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the sound of a dispirited base voter.

--Garance Franke-Ruta