THE MCCAIN PARADOX.

THE MCCAIN PARADOX. To take another quote from Matt's article, he's right that Maverick McStraightTalk John McCain "has the misfortune of being both the most conservative candidate in the race and the one most hated by conservatives." It's quite strange, and is one of the ways in which the Bush personality cult will hurt the GOP going forward. It seems to me that Ramesh Ponnuru is being completely rational in his positive "second look" at McCain in National Review. For someone who cares about policy rather than sticking it to liberals, has strong cultural conservative commitments (especially on abortion, where, whatever his bizarre liberal glee club would prefer to think, McCain's pro-criminalization record is as staunch as can be), and for whom fiscal conservatism is about something other than upper-class tax cuts (that will be temporary because of huge deficits), McCain is a perfectly respectable conservative, and certainly infinitely preferable to Giuliani or Romney. But he fought with Bush and made occasional gestures against Republican orthodoxy during the aftermath of the '00 primaries, so he has no chance this year.

Another interesting thing about the electoral dynamic Matthew describes is that if Rudy or Romney get the nomination, a good Democratic candidate should be able to make overturning Roe -- the least popular "cultural" issue the Republicans have -- an albatross around the neck of the Republican candidate in the general election. Someone like Bush, who was trusted by cultural reactionaries, could get away with babbling about "a culture of life" and Taney Court decisions they probably don't understand. But any of the big 3 will have to keep saying how much they hate Roe in the primaries, which means that unless the Democrat is inept that should be another issue fought on friendly Democratic terrain in '08.

--Scott Lemieux

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