When Rudy Giuliani left the race and threw his support behind John McCain, people wondered whether it would have much effect on the race. After all, the Mayor had faded badly in the Republican primaries after utilizing a strategy that made him largely irrelevant in the national media. However, Rudy brought two other endorsements that could help build bridges with disaffected conservatives if McCain wins the nomination. First came Ted Olson to provide reassurance on judicial nominations, and today Steve Forbes endorsed McCain, perhaps addressing his self-professed weakness on economics:
U.S. Senator John McCain's presidential campaign today announced that Steve Forbes has endorsed John McCain for president.
"More and more Americans will be impressed by John McCain's efforts to reform our convoluted, growth retarding, anti-opportunity tax code." said Mr. Forbes. "He understands that dollars and decisions are best left to hard-working Americans. John McCain's pro-growth plan to cut taxes, stop wasteful spending and reform our healthcare system will secure our nation's prosperity for generations to come. He is the best candidate to ensure our economic and national security. I look forward to working with him in the days ahead."
John McCain thanked Mr. Forbes, stating, "Steve has been a major contributor to the tax reform movement in our country. He is a successful business leader and an effective advocate for reducing the burden of a heavy-handed government. I appreciate Steve's advice and counsel on the important economic issues facing our nation, and I am grateful to have him on our team."
The same subtle difference exists with the Forbes endorsement as with the Olson endorsement two days ago. Rudy didn't just have their endorsements, but had them on advisory panels that implied much closer ties to the policies of the two experts. Olson would have recruited and suggested potential nominees to the bench, and Forbes would have been directly involved in economic policymaking in a Giuliani administration. So far, the McCain campaign has not elevated either to that level in their organization, at least not that we've heard.
Still, the Forbes nomination may go a long way towards convincing at least the fiscal conservatives to go with McCain in the general election -- and that seems to be the contest on which McCain's focused. The bitterness between McCain and movement conservatives has to worry McCain for his prospects in a national election. Gaining Olson and Forbes, and agreeing to appear at CPAC next week, all seem very deliberate moves towards convincing the base that they have little to fear from a McCain presidency.
Will it work? It probably will have no effect on the primary. Conservatives who have felt his scorn in the past will not rally to his cause on Super Tuesday or in the primaries beyond. However, with Olson and Forbes on board in the event he wins the nomination, McCain can argue that he will fight for conservatives in the most important arenas -- foreign policy, fiscal discipline, free-market economics, and judicial nominations. In that sense, the Forbes endorsement could be pivotal to McCain.
UPDATE: CapQ reader Sandeep Dath informs me that Ted Olson has become McCain's co-chair on his advisory panel on judicial nominations. That's a smart move, again more for a potential general-election run than for any effect on the primaries.
UPDATE II: "Has elevated" should have been "has not elevated"; thanks to CapQ reader David Jones for the correction.