McCain's Achilles Heel

Lots of Republicans don't like him.

The headline news this week is Hillary's hard-fought victory over Barack Obama in Pennsylvania.  The candidates have spent the last six weeks flailing at each other, since it's generally considered that if Barack won the state, Hillary's campaign would be over.  She had to win, and win she did.  We can look forward, like Punxsutawney Phil, to six more weeks of nuclear winter between the two at the very least.

What's been less well publicized is McCain's hard-fought victory in the Republican primary.  What Republican primary, you may ask?  Wasn't that decided months ago?

Well, yes, in a way it was.  It's a fact that John McCain currently holds enough pledged delegates to win the nomination at the Republican convention in September.  He could lose every single remaining primary or delegate of those that remain, and he'd still be the anointed candidate.

But in a democracy, that doesn't mean that everyone has to like it.  Republicans are famous for "falling in line" when the occasion demands.  This year looks like it might be different, and Pennsylvania shows the way.

Remember: The Republican primary in Pennsylvania was entirely meaningless.  If not one single person voted in it, or if only one person did and wrote in Mickey Mouse, it would not make the slightest whit of difference to the eventual nomination.

As an opportunity to send a message, however, it is ideal.  Let's see what the Pennsylvania voters wished to say.

800,000 Pennsylvania Republicans took the trouble to come to the polls.  That's less than half as many Democrats voted, but then that's no surprise considering that the Democratic primary actually had the potential to matter.  But of those die-hard Republican voters, who can safely be assumed to represent the very most diligent and conscientiously loyal, John McCain wasn't even able to rack up three-fourths.

16% of the voters pulled the lever for Ron Paul, who has been a no-hoper from the very beginning.  In fact, as dreams of a Paul victory recede ever further into the realm of fantasy, his scores have gone up.

11% plumped for Mike Huckabee, who famously continued his race until McCain had collected every last delegate required for the nomination - but at that point, he threw in the towel and folded the tent.  He's not been campaigning for weeks.

So we have more than 1 out of every 4 core Republicans who, knowing that it cannot accomplish anything, nevertheless spent an hour of their day to cock a snook at John McCain.  And that 25% only represents those that left the house; countless more stayed at home and didn't vote for anyone at all.

It seems pretty clear that McCain expects to reach the Oval Office without the Republican base.  Notice his surprising lack of pandering to the issues that enervate them - his continued dedication to the cause of illegal immigrants, his loyalty to the anti-First-Amendment restrictions on free speech that go by the misleading name "campaign finance reform," and his aggressive pushing of destructive global-warming lunacies.  It looks like he's simply written off the core of his own party!

The polls indicate that this is not a completely idiotic strategy.  Any number of surveys of Democratic voters have shown that McCain is a viable option.  In fact, as many as a third of them say that if their candidate of choice doesn't get the nomination, then they'd rather vote for McCain than the "wrong" Democrat.

Can three-fourths of the Republicans plus one-third of the Democrats get McCain into the White House?  Yes, the math works.  But it doesn't put anything resembling a proper Republican there.

Of course it's good that a Republican can appeal to people who ordinarily vote Democratic, but not at the expense of abandoning the core values of historical Republicanism.  John McCain has every right to choose to take this route if he thinks it wise, but he'd better hope Dr. Paul doesn't wind up running in the general election under some other flag of convenience.  The Libertarians may be in for a very, very good year.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other articles by Petrarch or other articles on Politics.
Reader Comments
I would say that McCain has an Achilles BODY at this point. Nearly everything he has done in the past few years is coming back to bite him in some way.
April 25, 2008 1:16 PM
Your logic (not unusually) has a major hole. If 25% of republican voters wasted time to vote for somebody other than McCain, then three times that number wasted an equal amount of time to show their support for McCain, even though it was equally useless and unnecessary. Those numbers are hardly proof (or even indicating) of a lack of support for McCain. Perhaps you could accomplish that if you compared these numbers with numbers from similar situations in past primaries. Or is objectivity even your goal?
April 26, 2008 9:54 AM
Well, by comparison, Bush won 100% of the PA primary votes in 2004.
April 26, 2008 11:00 AM
Petrarch, are you serious?? In 2004 Bush's nomination was not seriously contested. There were NO OTHER NAMES on the ballot. How on Earth can you, with good conscience, use that as a comparison?

A better comparison would be 2000, where there was actually people running against Bush, including (very appropriately) McCain. Even though he had already lost the primary (like Huckabee today) McCain managed to get 23% of the vote, while the man who already had the nomination bagged, Bush, only managed 73%.

Using your logic, we can see here that core Republican voters actually like McCain BETTER than they liked Bush 8 years ago for president.

But then, if I really wanted to play your game, I could talk about how your beloved Reagan actually lost to Bush Sr. in the 1980 Pennsylvania primary. Surely the Republican core loathes Ronald Reagan. Or what?
April 27, 2008 1:28 PM
It's a matter of positioning. Regardless of your position on the political spectrum, it's simple fact that self-identified conservatives are the ground-level core of the Republican party, just as the unions and, to some degree, the "nutroots" are the footsoldiers of the Democrats. Big money is important and necessary, and can buy TV ads and a certain degree of success, but there is no substitute for having feet on the ground - and that almost always comes from your party's core.

Appealing to the middle is certainly useful, and can win elections. But you have to have at least a certain level of appeal to the roots.

When McCain got 25% in 2000, he represented the more centrist end of the spectrum, whereas Bush has played to his roots - and it's got him the nod twice. The numbers may be similar this time, but the meaning is opposite.

Concerning Reagan in 1980, I was not involved in that election, but from what I have read there was significant question at that time concerning whether Reagan and Bush Sr. themselves were purely conservative (both had taken different, liberalesque positions on various issues in the past). So I'd guess the calculus was a little more confused. However, the number of "hard-core" conservatives was probably smaller in those days. I'm not sure that the "lessons" of 1980 at that low a level, if even they can be accurately discerned at this remove, are particularly relevant.
April 27, 2008 2:28 PM
"The numbers may be similar this time, but the meaning is opposite."
Ok, so the stats mean whatever you want them to mean...? I'm not convinced.

With regards to 1980, I will agree that it is irrelevant, a fact that I alluded to. It is, however, no less relevant than Bush in 2004.
April 27, 2008 2:41 PM
Conservatives want McCain to lose so they can say they were right. No one wants to lose to the guy who told them they were wrong, particularly when that guy is inside your party. McCain is a maverick and the conservatives want him to burn for thwarting them. I can't image how he'll win with all that angst coming from his own people.
April 27, 2008 3:16 PM
Looks like the New York Times agrees with Scragged here. Dunno if that's good or bad.
(article found on site not requiring login like NYT does)
April 28, 2008 7:20 PM
I waited to comment on this one until we saw the results from Indiana and NC. And it seems Scragged was right on the money.

In NC, 26% of Republican voters WENT AGAINST McCain:

In Indiania, 22% of Republican voters WENT AGAINST McCain:

With regard to Jason's comments about voters in 2000... They could just have easily voted for McCain or the other guys who had a already dropped out when Bush was the nominee alreay. They either didn't OR they just stayed home. In this case, you have a resounding declaration of a solid 25%!! of the voting block driving to the polls and making a loud statement against McCain. This is very real and will be troubling for the GOP in November.
May 7, 2008 7:17 AM

Uh.. What? That's exactly what they DID do. Significant numbers of people came to the polls and made a completely useless vote for somebody OTHER than Bush in 2000. The numbers were actually worse for Bush in Pennsylvania, and only slightly better in Indiana and NC, so still fail to see how this spells doomsday for McCain.

Please READ my comments before you tell me I'm wrong.
May 8, 2008 1:40 AM
My mistake. I did read what you had said (the first time) but for some reason I was viewing a URL that showed the Bush results in PA at 100%. I read both the page and your comment incorrectly. My mistake.

With respect to the opposition, I think Gore was more widely endorsed by liberals than Obama/Hillary will be. The Dems have gotten too divided in this primary and that will be a GOOD thing for McCain.
May 8, 2008 1:41 PM
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