February 15, 2008

John McCain is the presumptive Republican nominee. There is only one minor problem”€”many activists and voters in the Republican Party don”€™t quite seem to believe it and aren”€™t going to acknowledge it until they absolutely must. The naturally anti-McCain crowd at CPAC gave Romney a narrow moral victory in the straw poll there (as meaningless as the victory that he bought last year). More strikingly, McCain lost two of Saturday’s contests and very nearly lost the third to rivals who have very little realistic chance of assembling enough delegates to prevent McCain’s nomination. Even though Huckabee is low on cash and currently giving speeches for pay in the Cayman Islands, he has won in caucuses in Kansas and in the Louisiana primary, giving his campaign an argument for continuing in spite of the huge delegate deficit between him and the leader. He nearly prevailed in Washington’s caucuses, and very well might have won there had die-hard Romney voters not insisted yet again on splitting the anti-McCain vote. Significantly for John McCain, he could scarcely cobble together a quarter of the vote in a state where GOP “€œmoderates”€ were supposed to give him a respectable showing. The Virginia primary would seem tailored for a front-runner”€”as it doesn”€™t rely on organization and activists, as do the caucuses”€”but here he barely scrapped by with 50%.


As it was, McCain was just ten points ahead of the candidate who already abandoned the race. Denied a concerted, presumably well-funded challenge to McCain’s coronation following Romney’s withdrawal, many activists and voters appear uninterested in acquiescing to the likely nominee, whose recent appeals to party unity must strike his target audience as especially ironic given his own “maverick” moods. Remarkably, the candidate whom Romney had been urging to leave the race has fared quite well in the two-way contest between leading candidates to which Romney claimed to belong just a few days earlier. In his widely-reported remarks at CPAC, Huckabee essentially ignored long odds of his own nomination, saying, “I didn’t major in math, I majored in miracles.” At the very least, Huckabee does seem to have some alchemical ability to continue to create electoral victories out of thin air by sheer force of personality and identification with other Christians. It remains as true this week as it has been for the past month”€”a vote for Huckabee is a vote for continuing chaos and uncertainty in the GOP, at least for a while. Once again, the anti-McCain role that movement leaders gave to Romney is actually being performed by the one candidate whom they seem to dislike even more strongly than McCain. Coming out of this weekend, McCain should actually be grateful for the prolonging of the contest by Huckabee and Paul, since this provides Republican voters their opportunity to express their opposition to the nominee now rather than saving it until the fall. It may be that McCain will not overcome the intense disaffection within the party, but he is more likely to be compelled to make real concessions to those he has alienated if rivals are applying pressure for weeks and months to come rather than letting him off the hook (and in the name of combating terrorism at that!).


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