A McCain Comeback?


Politico has an article today that I think overstates the case that John McCain is taking a "burgeoning political role" in helping "reshape the Republican Party in his own center-right image." Sample:

One of these two people will help re-shape the GOP

[T]hose familiar with McCain's thinking say he has expressed serious concern about the direction of the party and is actively seeking out and supporting candidates who can broaden the party's reach.

In McCain's case, that means backing conservative pragmatists and moderates.

"I think he's endorsed people with center-right politics because he has an understanding that the party is in trouble with certain demographics and wants to have a tone that would allow us to grow," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who is McCain's closest friend and ally in the Senate.

"At a time when our party is struggling and has a lot of shrill voices and aggressive voices, he's one that can expand our party," said John Weaver, a longtime McCain friend and strategist.

"John remains the titular head of the Republican Party and he will be until there's a new nominee," he said. "Most of the people that ran and lost you never heard from again," he said. "He's not going to be like Ed Muskie or Hubert Humphrey." […]

McCain told POLITICO in a brief interview that he was determined to play a major role in the GOP's rebuilding effort-beginning with the party's 2010 campaign.

"I think it's important, at this stage in my career, to try to support candidates that I think represent the next generation of leadership in the Republican Party," the 73-year-old McCain said[.]

McCain's got brand-recognition and some deep-pocketed donors, to be sure, but a front-row seat at the party-reshaping conference? There was only one person on the GOP ticket last year who excited the Republican base and keeps them buzzing to this day, and her name is not "John."

Judging from the article (which is probably a bad idea), the Nu McCainites will be distinguished by their non-shrillness, social inclusion, fiscal responsibility…and loyalty to John McCain. It's a potentially interesting mix, I suppose, but it seems to me the animating question among Republicans this season is what to do about government over-reach, especially on the economy. McCain's record on that is and remains decidedly mixed: He is anti-entitlement but pro-bailout, anti-redistributionist but pro-redestributionist, pro-limited government but anti-libertarian, anti-Waxman-Markey but pro-cap-and-trade, and so on.

For nostalgiacs, here's my April 2007 Reason feature "Be Afraid of President McCain," the book that emanated from it, and a September 2008 exercise on "The Libertarian Case for McCain."