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March 10, 2006
Why Has McCain Become A Bush Cheerleader?

Chris Matthews reports at MS-NBC that John McCain plans to instruct delegates at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference to vote for George Bush as a write-in candidate instead of voting for him as the preferred nominee for 2008. Matthews says that McCain asks this to show support for the President, presently in a rough patch, and to keep the GOP's focus on 2006:

It's early on at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference down here, but already we've learned some big news.

Sources tell me that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., plans to shock his supporters tonight by asking them to NOT vote for him in the presidential straw poll that will be conducted by The Hotline on Saturday.

Instead, McCain will urge his followers to write in President Bush's name. McCain will tell his supporters that this is not about 2008, but rather about 2006 and supporting the president.

According to McCain's supporters, he'll say: "I think we have bigger things to worry about. So if any friends here are thinking about voting for me, please don't. Just write in President Bush's name."

McCain has supported Bush in elections and on the war, but has not given Bush much support for his legislative agenda. He has also gone out of his way to play the "maverick" during the last six years, often crossing the White House on key issues. His defection on the Byrd option to defeat the obstructionism that Democrats employed against over a third of Bush's nominees to the appellate courts cost Bush a number of his judicial appointments, including Henry Saad and Brett Kavanaugh.

In short, McCain has made a pest out of himself, and seemed to enjoy playing the centrist gadfly that attracts all of the media attention. So why has he suddenly taken on a role as Bush's chief defender?

Two reasons spring to mind. Since the beginning of the year, McCain has tried to patch up his standing with Bush supporters in the party. McCain discovered that while he polls well in the general electorate, his numbers among actual Republicans would prevent him from winning the primaries. Repairing his image as a sell-out and an enemy of free speech will take a huge effort, and this toadying at the SRLC appears to be part of that. It also is unusual enough to ensure that McCain will get his invites to the Sunday-morning talk shows to which he appears addicted.

Matthews picks up on the second reason. McCain does not enjoy a lot of popularity in the South, and he likely would have finished poorly anyway. Matthews thinks that George Allen will score well at the SRLC straw poll, but Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee will be certain to show strength as well. A third-place finish (or worse) might convince the big fundraisers that McCain will not generate the kind of momentum needed early in the effort, and the big power players will flock instead to Allen and Huckabee, and perhaps even Mitt Romney as a dark-horse candidate.

So in order to get attention at a conference that would be inclined to discount him, suck up to the Bush supporters, and appeal to the party stalwarts who feel he stabbed the GOP in the back with his Gang of 14 antics, he plays a little rah-rah for Bush and attempts to shame everyone into making the entire event irrelevant. It's a clever ploy, one that might even work to a limited extent, and will almost certainly steal all the thunder and momentum from this effort to establish some credibility for Republican candidates early in the process.

In other words, if it's true, it's a typical self-centered McCain publicity stunt.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 10, 2006 6:17 PM

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