McCain consolidates support among House Republicans while Rove dishes

posted at 11:40 am on April 30, 2008 by Ed Morrissey

Karl Rove writes about John McCain’s personal life in the Wall Street Journal, while the New York Times analyzes his efforts to build a general-election foundation among Congressional Republicans. Surprisingly, the NYT paints McCain in a positive light, while Rove’s salutory column tries to focus on character, to middling effect. It seems a bit like gilding the lily:

When it comes to choosing a president, the American people want to know more about a candidate than policy positions. They want to know about character, the values ingrained in his heart. For Mr. McCain, that means they will want to know more about him personally than he has been willing to reveal.

Mr. Day relayed to me one of the stories Americans should hear. It involves what happened to him after escaping from a North Vietnamese prison during the war. When he was recaptured, a Vietnamese captor broke his arm and said, “I told you I would make you a cripple.”

The break was designed to shatter Mr. Day’s will. He had survived in prison on the hope that one day he would return to the United States and be able to fly again. To kill that hope, the Vietnamese left part of a bone sticking out of his arm, and put him in a misshapen cast. This was done so that the arm would heal at “a goofy angle,” as Mr. Day explained. Had it done so, he never would have flown again.

But it didn’t heal that way because of John McCain. Risking severe punishment, Messrs. McCain and Day collected pieces of bamboo in the prison courtyard to use as a splint. Mr. McCain put Mr. Day on the floor of their cell and, using his foot, jerked the broken bone into place. Then, using strips from the bandage on his own wounded leg and the bamboo, he put Mr. Day’s splint in place.

Don’t get me wrong; Rove relates compelling stories about McCain’s character, but McCain’s character hasn’t been called into question. No one doubts the fortitude of his inner strength and the service he did on behalf of his country. Other POWs have already come forward to speak to his courage, his tenacity, and his defiance that enabled others to survive. These stories add to the narrative, but they don’t really add to the argument for his election, which is what Rove tries to do here. Rove may also be the wrong messenger for this column; a fellow POW would have been more appropriate.

The Times makes a better case, ironically. In their analysis today, they look at the way McCain has begun to influence House Republicans back towards fiscal conservatism, and note that McCain outlasted the previous GOP leadership that went to war with him:

The McCain campaign and House Republicans, in an effort coordinated by Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the party leader, are engaging in a bit of therapy to strengthen their political marriage. Top McCain officials gathered recently with chiefs of staff to House Republicans to emphasize the idea that it is to their mutual advantage to pull together as the election unfolds.

Mr. McCain has reached out more to the House leadership. Republican officials say that Mr. Boehner sought and received assurances from Mr. McCain in a private meeting in February that he would not ignore the interests of his backers in the House when pushing his policy ideas. ….

But it was not always that way. There was no love lost between the former speaker, J. Dennis Hastert; the majority leader, Tom DeLay; and Mr. McCain. Much of it was because of the senator’s push for campaign finance changes, a crusade that Mr. Hastert considered a betrayal and led him to question publicly whether Mr. McCain was in fact a Republican.

Mr. McCain also liked to ridicule Congressional earmarks, the pet projects on which Republicans were feasting. And he led a Senate investigation into the bilking of Indian tribes by the lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a source of great embarrassment and trouble for Mr. DeLay and other Republicans. …

Republicans acknowledge that Mr. McCain often annoyed them in the past and that he sometimes seemed to take contrary views just to be contrary. But they also note that Mr. Hastert and Mr. DeLay are gone and that Republicans are trying to regain their credibility on spending restraint. Opposition to earmarks has gone from being a fringe Republican position to one the party is promoting.

That doesn’t mean that a love fest has broken out on the Mall. Republicans are still wary of McCain’s tendency to hammer his allies harder than his opponents, in public and private. While they have grudgingly adopted earmarks as an issue for 2008, the caucus has not gone anywhere near as far as McCain has, and they’re not likely to uphold McCain vetoes on appropriations with earmarks. They also stand ready to fight any immigration reform that doesn’t start with border security and rigid enforcement of employment laws.

However, the House Republicans understand what many still do not, which is that McCain gives the GOP their best chance of hanging onto the White House and dividing power in Washington for the next two years. Thanks to a series of retirements, the prospects of gaining control of the House look more difficult, and the Republicans will be lucky not to lose five seats in the Senate in November. Given the poor economy and the mood for change, McCain’s independent streak allows him to argue that he represents the real opportunity for change, not the Senator from Illinois who has yet to challenge his party on any significant issue.

Conservatives can find points of agreement with McCain on fiscal discipline, taxes, and national security — and several points of principled opposition, such as on global warming and energy policy, immigration, and the poisonous debacle of the BCRA. What they can’t dispute is that the opposition would be exponentially worse on all of these points of disagreement, and even more so on fiscal discipline, taxes, and national security. The Democrats want to add hundreds of billions of dollars to the federal budget, kill economic growth with spectacularly stupid capital-gains tax hikes, and put us in full retreat in the war on terror.

If McCain can get the House Republicans to start acting like, well, Republicans on fiscal discipline, then his candidacy has had at least that positive impact. It could bode well for November, especially with the Democrats veering sharply towards populist, hard-Left policy. That’s the real choice voters will have after the convention, not pining for Republican nominees that might have been.  Will that choice be stark enough for conservatives in the general election?


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I can only pray that McCain not screw everything up.
There’s a huge amount at stake in this election, and we can only hope that he remembers that it’s not all about him.
That is the problem we Republicans have with McCain; he has cheapened the brand too many times.

TexasJew on April 30, 2008 at 11:47 AM

Boehner for VP??? Hummmmm Ohio!!!!!!!!! Hummmmmmmmmmmm

Dread Pirate Roberts VI on April 30, 2008 at 11:50 AM

No one doubts the fortitude of his inner strength and the service he did on behalf of his country.

If I recall correctly, Geraghty’s source says MoveOn and 527s intend to question his hero status.

amerpundit on April 30, 2008 at 11:54 AM

McCain consolidates support among House Republicans

well all but those Ron Paul whackos.. /redstateupdate

jp on April 30, 2008 at 11:56 AM

” stark enough”? Not yet.

MNDavenotPC on April 30, 2008 at 11:57 AM

McCain’s stand on earmarks is worthy of comment. But I do not see all the House Republicans swinging his way concerning this.

I over heard something the other day concerning ANWR and Ted Stevens, Lisa Murkowski and Don Young. If you want ANWR, better be ready to hand over some federal money (aka earmarks) to get you that oil faster. I wish I could remember where I heard it at though. McCain is against ANWR… so what do you suspect the Republicans who want ANWR are going to say to him?

upinak on April 30, 2008 at 12:05 PM

When the NYT starts spooning sparkly crystals on the pickle, I say to myself, that’s probably NOT sugar.

RushBaby on April 30, 2008 at 12:06 PM

I enjoyed Rove’s stories about McCain. Here are some more.

jgapinoy on April 30, 2008 at 12:06 PM

If I recall correctly, Geraghty’s source says MoveOn and 527s intend to question his hero status.

amerpundit on April 30, 2008 at 11:54 AM

…and they’ll have another “General Betray-us” moment.

Badger in KC on April 30, 2008 at 12:09 PM

Oh yeah. I’m all tingly about McCain now.

F**K it.
McCain 2008

sigh

Fishoutofwater on April 30, 2008 at 12:12 PM

Boehner for VP???

Boehner was one of the architects of the 2006 butt kicking. He should have been gone from any leadership position and his remaining just goes to show that the republicans learned absolutely nothing and their judgement is overwhelmingly colored by their arrogance. The current elction is just a sign of things to come, a one party United States.

peacenprosperity on April 30, 2008 at 12:13 PM

It’s McCain or Obama.

Make your choice wisely.

omnipotent on April 30, 2008 at 12:17 PM

Well, at least you actually worked on this one, Ed.

All I can say is, McCain has alot of work to do if wants to win the presidency. Whether winning the just the nomination is enough for him is a question that has already been raised, most notably by Peggy Noonan.

If he wants to win, McCain has work to do both with conservatives and, once the Democrats have a nominee, with the broader public. His challenge is that his message will need to be consistent. He cannot continue this strategy of openly dissing conservatives and Republicans in an effort to gain the votes of liberals and independents and expect to win.

Folks, look what happened to Barack when he dissed white working-class voters in Pennsylvania. McCain cannot bash his base and expect them to vote for him.

And the campaign is going to get ALOT tougher once the Dems have their nominee. Nobody is really going after McCain yet.

BigD on April 30, 2008 at 12:21 PM

It’s time for McCain to throw Global Warming Alarmism under the bus. There is no issue moving forward that is more important than inflated gas and food prices, and to compound it, we have a new one problem with fertilizer shortages.

McCain was right about ethanol being a dangerous scam, but he needs to fully admit the error of his ways and reverse himself on ANWR and the like.

It’s a perfect time to revisit energy policy because it’s not just a topic for policy wonks anymore; it’s affecting everyone of us personally right now, on both sides of the aisle.

Buy Danish on April 30, 2008 at 12:25 PM

In his latest tirade, Rev. Wright called into question VP Cheney’s patriotism because the Rev. had served in the USMC while Cheney didn’t. Couple this with all the “chickenhawk” arguments from the left, and now they are going to have to support a genuine war hero who suffered greviously at the hands of his enemies over a “never served”. Right?

rbj on April 30, 2008 at 12:25 PM

Why, oh why does McCain get ogasmic over supporting millions and millions of illegal aliens? That’s not fiscally responsible.

After this article, I can only think of two words:
JUAN HERNANDEZ.

Those words keep getting in the way of my voting for him.

stenwin77 on April 30, 2008 at 12:35 PM

Being a POW and war hero is good, sure, but I’m very sure that voters in my state (PA) are far MORE interested in what McCain is going to do about skyrocketing gas and food prices. Bread and butter issues dominate political conversation, here. So far, McCain is not speaking to those issues near often, or forcefully, enough.

I would caution, also, that campaigning on biography can backfire if one’s life story is not sqeaky clean.

james23 on April 30, 2008 at 12:43 PM

After this article, I can only think of two words:
JUAN HERNANDEZ.

Those words keep getting in the way of my voting for him.

stenwin77 on April 30, 2008 at 12:35 PM

Yeah, well…

Four words: ‘Associate Justice John Edwards’ are enough to ensure that I’ll crawl over broken glass to vote for him if need be.

Typhoon on April 30, 2008 at 12:44 PM

In his latest tirade, Rev. Wright called into question VP Cheney’s patriotism because the Rev. had served in the USMC while Cheney didn’t. Couple this with all the “chickenhawk” arguments from the left, and now they are going to have to support a genuine war hero who suffered greviously at the hands of his enemies over a “never served”. Right?
rbj on April 30, 2008 at 12:25 PM

Ohhhhhh …. didn’t read the fine print from the democrat playbook did you? It clearly states that *Democrat trumps Republican war hero every time. (See: Bill Clinton.)

wise_man on April 30, 2008 at 12:46 PM

and note that McCain outlasted the previous GOP leadership that went to war with him

You might liken it to herpes or cockroaches or something that will outlive a nuclear war.

McCain won’t win because he doesn’t know who his friends are. He will fight against people on his side and that makes him not a friend of anyone. So now he’ll waste 84 million dollars ‘earmarked’ to his campaign and when he loses, he’ll still have his pension, and his senate seat to be a virus on the party.

This elongated Democratic nomination process has allowed both D candidates to be very visible in each state and build their bases in each state. McCain has been on his magical mystery tour of the country talking about him without concerning himself with what the people in those regions care about.

The strangest thing about this election is that people talk about how poor Bush’s approval rating is, then they talk about how much worse congress’ approval is. . . yet our only choice for president is between three people who are a part of the congress that has a worse approval rating than the president that we want so much ‘change’ from.

It doesn’t make sense that these people we don’t approve of are suddenly going to be praiseworthy. I’ll never vote for McCain.

ThackerAgency on April 30, 2008 at 12:59 PM

but McCain’s character hasn’t been called into question.

Oh… only every day about five hundred times a day in mass e-mails to journalists; public statements from Howard Dean, Barack Obama, and sundry surrogates and operatives; and articles and posts from leftwing pundits and bloggers and from the left’s effective allies on the right.

CK MacLeod on April 30, 2008 at 1:02 PM

The strangest thing about this election is that people talk about how poor Bush’s approval rating is, then they talk about how much worse congress’ approval is. . . yet our only choice for president is between three people who are a part of the congress that has a worse approval rating than the president that we want so much ‘change’ from.

ThackerAgency — I love that.

And I would add that they are all drawing their Senate salaries while living and “serving” full-time on the campaign trail.

BigD on April 30, 2008 at 1:10 PM

They also stand ready to fight any immigration reform that doesn’t start with border security and rigid enforcement of employment laws.

What? They don’t trust McKeating5 on his promise to enforce the border first? Knock me over with a feather.

Valiant on April 30, 2008 at 1:16 PM

Mr. McCain put Mr. Day on the floor of their cell and, using his foot, jerked the broken bone into place.

Imagine that moment…that takes a steely core. And character is everything when it comes to the presidency, and McCain has it, as is proven by the DNC and the NYT by the fact that all they can do to attack him is lie and distort.

McCain already had my vote, reluctantly, because we disagree on some significant issues. But every now and then I actually feel a slight hint of enthusiasm toward his presidency.

JustTruth101 on April 30, 2008 at 1:20 PM

With all-or-nothing so-called purists like single-issue Valiant on our side ( ? ), it kinda reminds me of how much good Obama’s friends (Rezko, Wright, Michelle, Ayers) are doing him.

jgapinoy on April 30, 2008 at 1:20 PM

Valiant on April 30, 2008 at 1:16 PM

FYI – don’t forget the attorney who did the original investigation on Keating 5 did NOT want McCain prosecuted…but he was told they had to include him or it would oly have been democrats facing fire, and they couldn’t have that. McCain was innocent. (NOT not guilty – innocent.)

JustTruth101 on April 30, 2008 at 1:21 PM

Valiant

McCain has publicly & repeatedly said the American people are right, that we need border security.
McCain is conservative or moderately conservative on almost every issue.
McCain’s two opponents are ultra-liberals.
Why do you & your ilk want to give us Obama or Hillary?

jgapinoy on April 30, 2008 at 1:24 PM

Boehner was one of the architects of the 2006 butt kicking. He should have been gone from any leadership position and his remaining just goes to show that the republicans learned absolutely nothing and their judgement is overwhelmingly colored by their arrogance. The current elction is just a sign of things to come, a one party United States.

peacenprosperity on April 30, 2008 at 12:13 PM

LOL. You’re completely uninformed. Boehner was in power (majority leader) for only a few months. The damage to the Party was done before he could do anything about it.

House Republicans are already much better in my book than Senate Republicans. House Republicans actually have a clue.

HYTEAndy on April 30, 2008 at 2:17 PM

McCain has a long track record and has been in the public for long time. He won the Republican nomination on the back of his record and the fact that even Republicans want a certain amount of change themselves from what we have seen over the last eight years. I doubt that Americans will make his war record or service to his country in uniform a big voting issue this year. They will be thinking about his integrity and what he offers on the issues of security and economy.

MoveOn and other fringe groups (including those on the right) are out of step with the mood of the nation which wants some relief from the far left and far right dialogue.

lexhamfox on April 30, 2008 at 2:18 PM

jgapinoy on April 30, 2008 at 1:24 PM

Ya know, I’d love to support MexicCain, but I have too many back-injuries (stab wounds) to get out of bed and vote for him.

HYTEAndy on April 30, 2008 at 2:18 PM

….relief from the far left and far right dialogue.

HOORAY MEDIOCRATS!

Hey Hey, HO HO
Keep that ball on the 50 yard line and don’t GO!

Mediocrity RULES!

YEAAYYY TEAM!

LegendHasIt on April 30, 2008 at 3:46 PM

He won the Republican nomination on the back of his record

Lemme fix that:
He won will probably win the Republican nomination on the back of despite his record.

He isn’t official yet, and I pray constantly in the forlorn hope that some semblance of sanity will return to the Republican Party in time to prevent a disaster.

LegendHasIt on April 30, 2008 at 3:51 PM

McCain couldn’t do anything to cheapen the brand. It’s already been done by DeLay, Hastert, all of the Republicans who were in power throughout the two big daddy state administrations of Bush. Look at the polls. More Americans believe that Dems will better handle the economy than the Republicans. Hell hath frozen over.

Schaivo, Medicare expansion, NCLB, and let’s not forget corruption, real or perceived. What’s amazing is that big daddy state supporters are now complaining about McCain, who doesn’t come close to either Bush.

rightwingprof on April 30, 2008 at 3:57 PM

It’s time for McCain to throw Global Warming Alarmism under the bus.

And a few other things, like BCRA and McCain/Kennedy. John’s problem is he never corrects himself on anything he has touched, even when 90% of his own party is ready to claw his eyes out. He admitted to misinterpreting the people on immigration reform, but look what it took!

Yes, I’ll vote for the curmudgeon, but it will require Dramamine to do it.

leftnomore on April 30, 2008 at 7:34 PM

First off, let me say that Rove is indeed a magnificent bastard, but…. Being that the left despises this man worse that the black plague, his public support is the kiss of death to his preferred candidate for the hard left, and the chances he may even influence anyone of any lesser degree of the leftist sphere to go against him simply because he’s “Rove” is substantial. If at all possible, let’s use his “strategery” quietly and let his public speaking be used against the opponents.

Big John on April 30, 2008 at 9:16 PM