Stay Classy, John McCain


Lest anyone doubt that John McCain isn't chagrined by his "Bomb, Bomb Iran" moment:

At both his Greenville stop and a later visit to Columbia, McCain was introduced as "Barbara Ann" played in the background. "I don't know why they keep doing that," McCain said when asked about the song selection.

"No one will acknowledge responsibility," he joked. "We'll play, maybe, 'Good Vibrations' next."

McCain's never had a problem with the like of us Reasonoids. He doesn't need us, probably doesn't want us. But he needs conservative Republican voters to back him, and he's figured out that those voters have a Pavlovian response to pro-war, kill-thuh-Arabs fooferah. The newest CNN poll is offline right now, but what it recorded was a surge in support for McCain among "conservative" voters. They haven't changed their mind about him on campaign finance reform or life issues or anything besides his chest-pounding support of the Iraq surge.

What's happening is that the GOP base is moving away from adherence to its traditional issues and candidate demands and replacing all that with one big Y/N question—do you support the war? Jim Antle (read his Reason work here) explains this ably in the new cover story for the American Conservative.

Instead of making Iraq an issue that transcends partisan politics, groups like his help fortify the war as a dividing line between the two parties—a risky position for Republicans when more than 60 percent of the electorate is antiwar. Moreover, while foreign policy drove many intellectuals to the Right, social issues were actually a bigger draw for voters. Can the Iraq War rally the millions who entered politics to fight the Culture War?

Many conservative writers think (or perhaps hope) so. Jonah Goldberg wrote in his syndicated column, "Taken together, terrorism, Iraq, and Islam have become the No. 1 social issue." Social conservatives will embrace candidates like Giuliani not because "pro-lifers are less pro-life" but because they "really, really believe the war on terror is for real." Emery argued similarly that the war appeals to "the need to use force when one's country is threatened; the need to make judgments between good and evil; the need to protect and assert the moral codes of the Judeo-Christian tradition; the need to defend the ideals of the West."

Some careful observers of evangelical politics agree. U.S. News & World Report senior editor Dan Gilgoff reported that Romney faced harder questions from the National Religious Broadcasters convention about Islamic terrorism than abortion or same-sex marriage. Gilgoff wrote in the Los Angeles Times that "tough-on-terrorism credentials" could lead evangelicals to "deem Giuliani not just the lesser of two evils but a national savior." The fact that opposition to the Iraq War does not equal giving up on the fight against terrorism—and is often based on the idea that our present strategy has actually increased the dangers of radical Islam—seldom enters into the partisan debate.

Not coincidentally, McCain's support among conservatives is coming at the expense of his hard-won support among Democrats and independents—swing voters who'll elect the president in 2008. For the first time since 2000 his favorable numbers have fallen below 50 percent. He's trailing Obama, who was six years old when McCain was shot down in Vietnam. It's almost a perfect relationship: As McCain gets more bellicose, he wins more Republican votes and loses more votes for the general election.