Today's Reading Assignment
Hugh Hewitt and the WSJ, on John McCain's refusal to embrace the conservative blogosphere, and how it may hurt his prospects for 2008.
As Hugh and Journal reporter Amy Schatz correctly point out, McCain is reluctant to engage the new media because he's very much a creation of the old media. During the 2004 GOP convention in New York City, just hours after he delivered a speech in support of President Bush, Senator McCain celebrated his birthday at Tavern on the Green. The guest list included virtually every big media "A" list type from New York and Washington. Most showed up to celebrate the senator's birthday, with smiles, hugs and laughter all around.
By currying favor with the press, McCain seems to believe that he can avoid the withering criticism leveled at most GOP presidential contenders, and cruise to the '08 nomination. Unfortunately, the Senator is living in a fool's paradise. His media stock rose only when he broke with the administration and showed his "maverick" streak. Observers will note that the press seems far less interested in McCain's support for the troop surge in Iraq, than his past criticism of administration war policies. Senator McCain apparently hasn't learned one of the cardinal rules of GOP politics: if you're a Republican and the MSM loves you, it's time to check your recent statements and voting record, because you're probably out of step with your party, and a good chunk of America (paging Senator Hagel).
And, if that weren't enough, Senator McCain's erstwhile media "allies" are about to teach him another elementary lesson. In presidential campaigns, the support (and sympathy) of the press inevitably falls with the Democrats, even if the GOP contender was a media darling in the past. Over the next year, the media will turn on the Arizona Senator with a ferocity and viciousness that will even surprise Mr. McCain. Exhibit A in this transformation process is the recent profile of Senator McCain by Todd Purdum (Mr. Dee Dee Myers) in this month's Vanity Fair. Barely 1,000 words into the article, Mr. Purdum wonders if McCain is really up to the job, or could live with himself in making the compromises often required to win the White House.
As he embarks on his second presidential campaign, a campaign he once assumed he would never get the chance to run, there are many questions for John Sidney McCain III. Can he bank the fires of temperament that routinely put him atop insiders' lists of the most difficult senators on Capitol Hill and become a unifying leader? Can he reconcile his unstinting support for the war in Iraq with his unsparing criticism of the Bush administration's execution of it—and with the electorate's evident yearning for a new approach? Would he be, at 72—more than two years older than the oldest man ever to assume the presidency, and more battered by old injuries than most men who have held it—too damned old to do the job?
But the biggest questions of all are whether, by forcing himself to become some kind of something he just isn't, John McCain can win the presidency to begin with, and would he consider himself to be worthy of the honor if he did.
The rest of Purdum's article echoes these themes, raising more doubts about McCain and his ability to win in '08. It's hardly a hit piece, but the Vanity Fair article isn't exactly the fawning coverage that the Senator has received in the past. In fact, the "profile" is nothing more than a first attempt to soften up Senator McCain for next year's campaign, highlighting his potential liabilities as a candidate.
Admittedly, some of these "faults" are trivial. Senator McCain has a temper? Well, I'm told that a certain Senator from New York has a volcanic temper, but you won't see that sort of stuff in her Vanity Fair profile. McCain--a retired Navy Captain--has a bit of a salty tongue? I've met (and covered) politicians from both parties who could make a longshoreman blush, but you won't find that in the MSM, either. In fact, you've got to wonder why McCain's vocabulary is an issue at all, until you remember McCain's meltdown in South Carolina in 2000, the same state where thousands of evangelical voters might be offended by a politician who sprinkles g--d--- into his casual conversation.
It's the first media salvo in the campaign to destroy John McCain, and it will be fascinating to see the Senator's reaction as his "friends" in the press finally turn on him. Meanwhile, as Hugh and Ms. Schatz observe, Senator McCain deliberately ignores potential allies in the conservative blogosphere, a key constituency in solidifying your support among the GOP base. It's a choice Mr. McCain makes at his own peril, and as criticism from the MSM intensifies, the Senator may wish he had built some bridges to the bloggers and the rest of the new media.