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December 14, 2006
Is McCain Inevitable?

Robert Novak sees the beginnings of a GOP effort to consolidate itself behind one candidate for 2008 even this early in the primary process, paralleling similar efforts in 1996 (Robert Dole) and 2000 (George Bush). In this case, the "corporate" choice might be John McCain:

Some 30 invited corporate representatives and other lobbyists gathered at the Phoenix Park Hotel on Capitol Hill Tuesday morning to hear two senior mainstream Republican senators pitch the 2008 presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain. They were selling him to establishment Republicans as the establishment's candidate. Nothing could be further from McCain's guerrilla-style presidential run in 2000, which nearly stopped George W. Bush.

Invitations to Tuesday's event were sent by Trent Lott, the newly elected Senate minority whip. Over coffee, Lott and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) pushed McCain, though neither previously was seen as a McCainiac. They were not for McCain in 2000, and neither were the assembled party activists.

It is beginning to look like "McCain Inc." -- that is, party regulars, corporate officials and Washington lawyers and lobbyists moving toward John McCain, the man they feared and loathed eight years ago. The GOP, abhorring competition and detesting surprises, likes to establish its presidential nominee well in advance.

The problem with the corporate choice, in Novak's history, is that it tends to favor the Rockefeller Republicans. Gerald Ford, Dole (Ford's running mate in 1976), and Bush all came from the moderate wing of the party, which this year would be more associated with Rudy Giuliani than John McCain. The only conservative candidate Novak mentions is Ronald Reagan. Novak says that the corporate interests pushed Reagan, but that's not how I recall it; Reagan made his nomination inevitable despite the Rockefellerians. They had no choice, especially after Ford flamed out and the Nixon/Carter economic policies drove the US into a mind-boggling fiscal crisis.

I tend to doubt Novak'a analysis in this case. The previous corporate choices, if they can truly be known as such, had one particular quality even above their political moderation: consistency. No one doubted where Dole or Ford or even Bush stood, and they performed pretty much as expected. Corporate thinkers value that above almost all else. McCain, on the other hand, has spent the last several years nurturing his reputation as a maverick. He has waffled on tax cuts, opposing them for most of the time since they got enacted in 2002-3 until deciding to run for President. He has been unreliable on judicial nominations, and reliably bad on free speech.

I'm sure McCain's backers would love to create the impression that he is inevitable. The function Novak describes undoubtedly had that intention. However, even Novak notes that McCain holds the conservative position in the race thus far only by default, and that other, more reliable conservatives might still enter the race. In the meantime, Giuliani has made his own inroads into the GOP power structure:

Mayor Giuliani has tapped the political director of the Republican National Committee to head his presidential exploratory committee, making his second national campaign hire in the second week of his battle for early support among top GOP operatives.

Michael DuHaime, 33, headed political operations for the RNC this year after serving as a regional political director for President Bush's re-election campaign in 2004. He also has served as executive director of the state party in New Jersey.

Known for keeping a close circle of advisers during his years as mayor, Mr. Giuliani is expanding his team as he considers a run for the White House. Last week, he selected a former top financial official from the Bush re-election campaign, Sandra Pack, to run the finances of his exploratory committee.

Giuliani is expanding his reach outside of New York and into Washington. He may not have McCain's experience as a presidential contender, but he's both more reliable and more typical of Novak's corporate choices in the GOP. I'd say that the race is still wide open and that the party machine has not yet decided to repel boarders at the moment.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 14, 2006 5:19 AM

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