Feature

McCain: Can he defy the odds?

By all rights, said Susan Page in USA Today, John McCain should be worried. Only 39 percent of Americans have a favorable view of the Republican Party.

By all rights, said Susan Page in USA Today, John McCain should be worried. Only 39 percent of Americans have a favorable view of the Republican Party. “Sixty-three percent say the Iraq war he defends was a mistake.” And 69 percent disapprove of incumbent Republican President George W. Bush. Yet in a race that should be a walkover for the Democrats, McCain is “within striking distance” of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, trailing both by only a few percentage points in most national polls. How can this be? Many voters have decided they simply like, and trust, McCain more. His “stature as a Vietnam War hero, reputation as an independent-minded Republican, and persona as a strong leader” are trumping the GOP’s negatives. While Clinton and Obama beat each other up, said Stuart Rothenberg in Roll Call, McCain has positioned himself “above the fray, looking like a leader, even a president.”

That free ride will soon end, said Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post. Once the Democrats pick their nominee, the media—and voters—will start scrutinizing McCain in much greater detail. They’ll then see plenty that they won’t like. A majority of Americans won’t accept his stubborn determination to stick it out in Iraq indefinitely. His economic philosophy—“keep cutting taxes for the well-to-do and restrain discretionary government spending”—isn’t going to win over the hard-pressed middle class. At 71, his age is a distinct liability, especially against the dynamic, young Obama. And then there’s McCain’s legendary, volcanic temper, which even some Republicans say makes him unfit for the nation’s top job. Thus far, McCain hasn’t taken any punches, but once the Democrats start pummeling him, “he’s eminently beatable.”

If you think he’s beatable now, said Anna Quindlen in Newsweek, wait until voters see how much he’s changed. McCain used to be a maverick who spoke his mind, regardless of party orthodoxy and political consequences. But to quiet the party’s conservatives, who bitterly opposed his candidacy, McCain has completely reversed himself on a host of critical issues. Take Bush’s tax cuts. “McCain voted against them as a senator but now says he would make them permanent as president.” He abandoned his own immigration bill, which would have made it easier for illegals to become citizens. On abortion, he’s now calling for overturning Roe v. Wade, after saying some years ago that such a decision would just open the door to a flood of illegal abortions. In his drive for the White House, Mr. Straight Talk has morphed into a flip-flopping panderer.

You do the man an injustice, said Dominic Lawson in the London Independent. McCain still breaks GOP ranks on many issues, such as climate change and campaign finance reform. And his ability to tell the truth is undiminished. Touring recession-hit states last week, he offered only hard economic realities to grim crowds. “I can’t look you in the eye and tell you that I believe those jobs are coming back,” he said in Youngstown, Ohio. That’s the kind of “pure political courage” that distinguishes McCain from the pandering Democrats, and it could prove decisive come Election Day.

It won’t be enough, said Bob Beckel in RealClearPolitics.com. In moving hard to the right, McCain has lost the “anti-Washington, post-partisanship” image that once made him so attractive a candidate. That image now belongs to Barack Obama. Strip that away, and McCain is left with unpopular positions on Iraq and the economy, his “near-total embrace of the Bush agenda,” and continuing questions about his temperament, age, and political identity. You can mark this down: “John McCain will not be elected president.”

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