As if John McCain didn't have enough problems appealing to the Republican base. Last night, as the presidential primary debate in Florida started, the New York Times issued a vicious broadside against the McCain campaign, one that will only estrange him further from the voters he needs the most as he head into a series of closed primaries:
Still, there is a choice to be made, and it is an easy one. Senator John McCain of Arizona is the only Republican who promises to end the George Bush style of governing from and on behalf of a small, angry fringe. With a record of working across the aisle to develop sound bipartisan legislation, he would offer a choice to a broader range of Americans than the rest of the Republican field.
We have shuddered at Mr. McCain’s occasional, tactical pander to the right because he has demonstrated that he has the character to stand on principle. He was an early advocate for battling global warming and risked his presidential bid to uphold fundamental American values in the immigration debate. A genuine war hero among Republicans who proclaim their zeal to be commander in chief, Mr. McCain argues passionately that a country’s treatment of prisoners in the worst of times says a great deal about its character.
He stands on principle, except for those few times he panders. They like his bipartisanship except when he isn't. They think he did a great job in calculating the cost of a losing war strategy, for a war they insist the US can't win. Talk about damning with faint praise! The only passion they have for McCain comes from his enthusiasm for global-warming policy.
Yeah, that'll win over reluctant Republicans.
The Times spends as much space insulting Rudy Giuliani as it does weakly praising John McCain. Why doesn't the Gray Lady endorse Rudy? The paper claims that the Rudy running for president isn't the Rudy who ran New York City for eight years. As Giuliani noted in the debate last night, though, the Times hardly ever had an approving word to say about that Giuliani, either, so one can conclude that the Times speaks out of its hat.
The editorial barely notes any substantial issues with the other candidates. It dismisses Mitt Romney in three sentences, and claims that Huckabee's defense of his religion "disqualifies" him as a presidential candidate. Really? The media hounds Huckabee in every debate to provide Christian apologetics, and somehow that makes him ineligible for the office? The Times has a nice little system worked out, but Huckabee doesn't need approval from the Times to run for President.
It's this kind of staggering cluelessness that makes their Republican endorsement poison. It does provide a test for the McCain campaign, however. If they trumpet this endorsement, it will show a tone deafness towards the party base they need in the closed primaries. Rudy, on the other hand, should note that his candidacy is the one that the New York Times fears the most.
UPDATE: Jim Geraghty at The Campaign Spot wonders if the Times did this on purpose, and has some advice for McCain:
McCain would be well served by declaring, "Those surrender-now defeatists on the editorial board can take their endorsement and cram it."
It looks like they're not taking his advice. Right now, the endorsement is a featured link on the McCain campaign site.