Sunday, February 03, 2008

Conservatives desperate to stop McCain

As Super Tuesday looms — and the possibility that McCain could all but wrap up the nomination — the chattering conservative class is in an uproar. Talk show host Rush Limbaugh has warned that McCain as standard-bearer would destroy the Republican Party. Author and pundit Ann Coulter, in jaw-dropping heresy, said she would campaign for Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton if McCain wins the party nod. Commentators Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity and Mark Levin have come out in support of McCain's rival, Mitt Romney. ...

"If you are a Republican in the broadest sense, there is only one place to go right now, and that's Mitt Romney," said former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

No matter how irritated I find myself at the Democrats in the Democratic party, all I have to do is cast a glance rightward and my heart warms.

In the short-term, McCain is helped by Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and Southern Baptist preacher who remains in the race and could split the conservative vote with Romney in the Bible Belt and elsewhere. Seeking to capitalize, McCain visited Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia on Saturday.

In the long-term, "it is critical for him to build a strong and stable bridge to the constituency that every cycle rings the phones, knocks on the doors and gets the vote out," said Greg Mueller, a conservative Republican strategist. "Endorsements alone will not be enough. Many conservatives will look to see what issues he emphasizes on the campaign trail from now until Election Day."

And that's where he will very likely lose. The base is so utterly demoralized that if they refuse to work for McCain as the nominee, then he is doomed from the beginning.

Frankly, I can't see that happening. Coulter's "endorsement" aside, Republicans will no more stay home in droves than they will vote for the Democrat. The one thing I'm sure of is that it will be a close contest in November if Clinton is the nominee -- too close -- and it won't if Obama is.

With Clinton and McCain still the probable big winners on Tuesday as this is posted, third-party entries will begin to gain momentum. Some combination of Michael Bloomberg, Ralph Nader, almost certainly Ron Paul and possibly a reactionary right candidate could easily combine to siphon off 15% of the popular vote but little of significance in the Electoral College.

An uninspired electorate with demotivated activists on both sides ultimately produces some plurality president in the mushy middle. In 1992 its name was Clinton.

In other words, business as usual.

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