The Republican Party lost because of John McCain, and McCain himself lost much. But he will now return to the Senate having run a campaign that did not jeopardize the status he cherishes as the non-partisan, not-too-Republican Senator from Arizona.
McCain seemed to campaign with an eye towards having it both ways. It often appeared that he was saying, “If I win fine; but I’ll do little to identify and intertwine myself with the Republican Party, so that if I lose I’ll be able to return to the Senate, once again, as the leader and elder statesman ‘above partisan politics’ . McCain ran as a sort of independent, caring little about the health of the Party that was entrusted to him.
Never in memory has the head of a political ticket so rarely invoked the name of the Party in whose behalf he was running and so distance himself from the Party as did McCain. We hardly ever heard him ask the public to elect Republican members of the House and Senate, governors, or those seeking office all the way down the chain. That’s what the head of the Party is supposed to do. It’s called loyalty and responsibility: it’s called leadership.
Seeing himself, always, as the bi-partisan partner across the aisle, perhaps deep down he did not want a Republican-dominated Congress that would stand in the way of him acting as the bridge for “consensus” government. This campaign was all about John McCain, not the Republican Party, not its candidates, nor its political fortunes.
It was not that McCain simply did not run as a conservative; rather his unwillingness to hammer away at Democrat political malfeasance if by so doing he would be perceived as being too much on the Republican side.
The Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac debacle was an opportunity for him to repeatedly name the names of the House and Senate Democrats whose errant political philosophy and personal lack of ethics caused the meltdown now adversely affecting so many Americans’ economic safety. He could have used the financial crisis to bludgeon them, making their role in the financial meltdown a centerpiece of his campaign. Doing so, he could have reminded the public how the Bush Administration and Congressional Republicans had forewarned of the catastrophe.
But his reluctance to associate with the President, his unwillingness to be seen as choosing Republican members over Democrat colleagues, and his eye toward maintaining peaceable relations with Congressional colleagues if he were to lose and return to the Senate blocked him from doing and campaigning as has every normal head of a ticket before him.
In the process, he not only lost the presidency but left undefended every Republican running for office. He did so by allowing the public to think it was the Republican administration which was equally at fault and, worse, captive to Wall Street greed. His “there’s plenty of blame to go around” philosophy allowed him to pose as non-partisan but resulted in the devastating loss to our Party and country of fine and able Republican luminaries as well as a Party in shambles and sick at heart.
He ran his campaign as he has run his career in the Senate: the “maverick” by virtue of non-association and a self-focused breaking away from his Party, the politician who over the years relished his partnerships with and preened his admiration for Democrat Senate friends, more than for members of his own Party. Wasn’t he telegraphing that he found his legitimacy more in them than in us?
Many of us already felt betrayed by The Maverick at the Convention when, instead of lauding and celebrating his Party, he used his acceptance speech in front of the nation to be critical of his Party to a degree never before seen by a Party’s standard-bearer. As good water carriers and for the sake of the cause, many swallowed his “evenhandedness” and remained silent. But they were wrong, for silence then emboldened McCain during the second debate to brag about how he defied his Party’s legislative support for oil companies, which reinforced the myth that Republicans “care more about corporations than people” and ultimately opened the way for Democrats to echo, falsely, that the banking crisis hurting Americans was yet another example of Republicans putting corporate, Wall Street interests before the well-being of the little guy.
Had we let him know after his acceptance speech how betrayed we felt by his characterization of Republicans, he may have been checked, right then and there, from further indictments of the Party, which served the Democrat playbook about those “uncaring Republicans.” Had Republicans voiced our outrage at The Maverick’s “maverick-ness”, we may have stopped him during the second debate from disrespectfully referring to them as “Bush and Cheney”, as do hard-core liberals, when boasting of his opposition to the President’s and Vice President’s energy policy. But we didn’t.
Truth be told, McCain’s so-called “distancing” was not some sort of “savvy” political strategy but what McCain has been doing to our Party for years. At the convention he asked us to help him “fight”, but during the campaign he never fought for Republicans with anything near the zeal in which he has for years fought against Republicans, be they Republicans in the Senate or President Bush. Now as in the Senate he seems to forget the Republican quotient within bi-partisanship.
We all knew, way back, that McCain’s maverick-ness manifest itself in flouting the Republican Party and the interests of its members when he sponsored campaign finance reform; partnered with Ted Kennedy on immigration and imputed racism to those who did not support his plan; when he broke with the Administration on interrogation techniques at Guantanamo Bay; and, again, when he torpedoed the “nuclear option.” Senate Republicans and the President had arranged in securing conservative judicial nominees. So why did Republicans nominate him?
They did so because they lost confidence in themselves as Republicans. Our primary voters accepted the “conventional wisdom” and punditry that we could only win with a Republican not too Republican. We had to relinquish many of our beliefs and fervency, they told us, so as to appeal to Democrats and Independents. And so the Party chose the non-conviction candidate, John McCain, who didn’t look too Republican, who wasn’t on record even for drilling in Alaska, the candidate preferred by the Press and his Democrat colleagues in Congress.
We didn’t get the Democrats or even the Independents; worse, our base was humiliated and betrayed daily by a man unwilling and incapable of making our case — for our case was not, and is not, his case. He never seemed to be bothered by things that were gut-wrenchingly disturbing to most normal Republicans. Even Obama’s on-going friendship and working relationship with past terrorist and current Saul Alinsky socialist agitator, Bill Ayers, didn’t bother McCain except to say that it was “poor judgment”. McCain displayed an utter lack of ideological understanding or passion.
We dare not allow The Maverick to think that he will remain this party’s standard bearer in the Senate. We must have enough belief in our philosophy to choose next time, and always, as our leader someone who is proud to be one of us and so believes in what we believe that he will charge the ramparts as if everything is at stake and victory belongs to us.