John McCain: GOP Frontrunner?
Monday, I wrote that the media should consider the fates of other presumptive Presidential nominees before anointing Barack Obama the Democrat nominee after his impressive Iowa caucus victory. I pointed out that there have been many candidates who win a surprise victory, build up momentum, and are crowned their party’s nominee. Usually, they ultimately lose their momentum, and then their Presidential bid.
I pointed out the examples of John McCain and Howard Dean, among others. And as it turned out, Obama’s drive for the nomination was seriously impeded by his amazing loss in the New Hampshire primary. Before the votes were counted, the only question among literally all political observers was the question of how badly Hillary would be defeated. She came away with a victory. For a week, pundits on both the left and right predicted the fall of the Clintons, and the ascendancy of Barack Obama. They were dead wrong.
One such mistake is explicable. However, the very same pundits and media figures who were so wrong about Obama are now making the precise, identical error yet again.
It involves the other party, but the principle is the same. John McCain is now seen as the presumptive nominee for the Republican Party. It is undeniable that his New Hampshire win gave him a great deal of momentum, and that the polls do look good for him. However, a quick look back at the last two months show an amazing degree of votality in the Republican race.
After Rudy Giuliani’s campaign started to fizzle, Mitt Romney was the frontrunner. Then came the “Huckaboom”, the rise of Mike Huckabee. Then the “Huckabust”, which came after his series of bizarre gaffes—such as his anti-Mormon innuendo, his foreign policy blunders, and the strange episode in which he aired an attack ad against Mitt Romney while simultaneously sanctimoniously declaring his abstinence from that sort of thing.
However, Huckabee’s fall existed only in the minds of over analyzing pundits. He won Iowa easily, and became the new frontrunner. Then, of course, came McCain’s win in New Hampshire, giving him the frontrunner title, and naming him the probable nominee.
With wild momentum shifts like those noted above, it is foolish to declare anyone the inevitable nominee. However, it is not as if this is a first time this has happened. In 2000, McCain won New Hampshire, and was hailed, while possibly not as the frontrunner, certainly as a very serious challenge for Bush. When the South Carolina primary came around, McCain sank.
It is hard to see where all of McCain’s support for the nomination will come from. Most hardcore conservatives see him as a moderate and a sell-out, and have never trusted him. In addition, his support for amnesty for illegal aliens will also seriously damage his campaign. He does not have the natural base the other candidates have—Thompson and Romney are going after the conservative vote, Giuliani is trying to parlay his post-9/11 performance into a nomination (nothing wrong with that, by the way. He has every right to be proud of his performance on 9/11), and Huckabee is looking for the evangelical vote. McCain will get some votes from those concerned about nation security, but all the candidates (with the possible exception of Mike Huckabee) can look for votes from that group, as their foreign policies are all fairly homogenous.
Even factoring in the above obstacles, John McCain does have a good shot at the nomination. It is simply that his nomination is not inevitable, or anything like it. The media’s insistence on crowning a new nominee after every minute shift in public opinion is absurd. I doubt whether it has any effect on voting trends—in didn’t in New Hampshire. It just makes the media look silly. John McCain may end up winning the GOP nomination. However, if he does, it will come after a few more ups and downs for his campaign, and in spite of the media’s arguments for his “inevitability”, not because of them.