early and often

Can John McCain Save the Republican Party?


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Republicans are scared, and it’s not only because Ellen DeGeneres is getting married in California. With another special-election loss in a supposedly safe district in Mississippi (the party’s third in just a couple of months), the Republican “brand” itself is widely seen as increasingly unappealing. So far have spirits fallen that in a memo last week, Republican congressman Tom Davis of Virginia said, “If we were a dog food, they would take us off the shelf.” If there is to be a rebranding, though, many feel that “maverick” John McCain is the right man — the only man — for the job. Can McCain Chow keep the Republicans on the shelf?

• William Kristol writes that the one thing going for the Republican Party is “McCain exceptionalism,” meaning, that McCain is a different kind of Republican who may be able to resist being dragged down by voters’ low opinion of the party as a whole. [NYT]

• George Packer provides a history of the conservative movement before focusing on the Republican Party’s current crisis: George W. Bush’s presidency being a failure, and many conservatives, especially the younger ones, “in a state of glowing revulsion at the condition of their political party.” Leading conservatives are split on the party’s direction, but McCain, again, may be the “only kind of Republican who could win in 2008.” [NYer]

• Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten write that even as the GOP recognizes the crisis it faces, many conservatives are hesitant to adopt McCain’s positions. His views on immigration, earmark reform, and global warming, for example, don’t mesh well with the party’s. [LAT]

• Andrew Sullivan analyzes McCain’s attempt at diverging from a party “synonymous with nastiness, xenophobia, homophobia, narcissism and incompetence.” He went green, making a commitment to fight global warming. He’s differed with the party on torture and immigration. He’s pledged to bring the troops home by 2013. In sum, McCain is remaking the Republican brand into what Rush Limbaugh calls “liberalism lite.” [Times UK]

• Robert Novak sees the “divided, drifting, demoralized” Republican Party epitomized by the farm bill they passed last week. Filled with pork, the measure was opposed by President Bush and John Boehner, but they were unable to bring the rest of the party into line. Enough Republicans voted for the bill in both the House and the Senate to override a veto. [Town Hall]

• Carla Marinucci relays some of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s advice for the GOP. Instead of getting “stuck with just the right wing,” he said, Republicans should “come all the way to the center.” Some of the same people who worked on the Governator’s campaign are helping McCain to differentiate himself from Bush. [San Francisco Chronicle]

• Jonathan Martin, meanwhile, thinks McCain has actually offered more “conventional conservative dogma” than “nonconformist deviation,” despite his position on issues like global warming. On “such central issues as the economy, health care, the judiciary and national security,” McCain has stayed true to the party. [Politico]

• Peggy Noonan thinks the Republicans are stuck. They could have broken from President Bush in 2005, 2006, or 2007 over “the war, over immigration, spending and the size of government.” Doing so now will simply look “craven.” McCain, for his part, will have a hard time defending against Democrats’ claims that his presidency will be a third Bush term. [WSJ] —Dan Amira

Related: Republican Consultant Alex Castellanos: Obama Has 60 Percent Odds of Winning

For a complete and regularly updated guide to presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain — from First Love to Most Embarrassing Gaffe — read the 2008 Electopedia.

Can John McCain Save the Republican Party?