The Repudiation of Rove
John McCain had a surprising but pleasant evening last night -- watching Mitt Romney go down to defeat in nearly every contest and encountering a newly victorious but ultimately unnominatable Mike Huckabee all across the Bible Belt. McCain's successes so far reflect not only his appeal as a candidate but also the bankruptcy of the conservative agenda and political strategy that have steered the Republicans for many years.A good question and I think Meyerson's answer is the correct one - George W. Bush!
McCain's victories have been chiefly a triumph of biography over ideology.
Blessed, in Romney, with an opponent who approaches the Platonic Ideal of Inauthenticity, McCain has racked up primary-season successes more because of the personal contrasts between the two candidates than because of differences of program. But his personal merits have yet to sway those Republicans who classify themselves in the polls as very conservative.
A more direct affront to the Republican strategy devised by Karl Rove -- to build support within the party's right-wing base and then try to win over just enough moderates to carry elections -- cannot be imagined.
McCain's whole campaign is anti-Rovian. His core supporters are Republican moderates and Republican-inclined independents, and then he picks off enough conservatives to prevail. Even if he didn't have a history of rocky relations with various right-wing leaders, the very trajectory of his campaign would pose a threat to the conservative movement, notwithstanding that McCain is philosophically an heir to Barry Goldwater.
Moreover, McCain's successes have not been accompanied by an ideological reorientation within Republican ranks. The polls do not show any diminution of self-described conservatives within the party or any notable growth of the moderate faction.
So how have Republican conservatives managed to be on the losing end of so many primaries?
With his preemptive war and seemingly permanent occupation in Iraq, and his attempt to privatize Social Security, George W. Bush pushed American conservatism past the point where the American people were willing to go -- pushed them, in fact, to the point where they recoiled at the conservative project. And with that, American conservatism shuddered to a halt. In the 2005-06 congressional session, Republicans still controlled both houses of Congress, yet they introduced no major legislation.Conservatism had continued to support the empty and failed policies of an empty and failed administration. At a time when "conservative" has become associated with the Bush administration and that same administration has the support of less than one third of the voters "conservative" has become the new toxic tag. The more John McCain is accused of not being a conservative the better he seems to do. The conservative pinned all of their hopes on an obvious Face Dancer, Mitt Romney, and few were buying.
This exhaustion of conservatism has been apparent all along in the Republican presidential contest, where the chief point of agreement among the leading candidates has been to make permanent both the Bush tax cuts for the rich and our occupation of Iraq. The conservative agenda has been winnowed down to supporting what remains of Bushism. That's not only a losing formula for November, it also means that intellectually, conservatism is running on empty.
Avedon Carol has a different take:
Harold Meyerson is, I think, a classic example of people who have been fooled by the wolf in sheep's clothing that is John McCain. Meyerson sees his ascendency as a repudiation of Karl Rove, but he's not; he's another far-right conservative who pretends to moderation, just as Bush was eight years ago. Mitt Romney is a more obvious phony than McCain, but they are both phoneys. In fact, Mitt is the more moderate, as a man whose only interest is climbing up the power ladder and who will change his stated views at a moment's notice if it will help him up that ladder. McCain wears a few convenient talismans of moderation, but his real asset is his ability to charm the celebrity press who have talked up his "straight talk" incessantly despite his blatant flip-floppy pandering. So here's the thing: McCain is a far-right conservative. He happened to be running against Karl Rove's True Love in 2000, but today he's not, and he's the right-wing nut who has the best chance of being able to beat a Democrat, which makes him exactly what Karl Rove wants. Not a problem for Rove.Now she is right when she says that McCain is indeed a conservative wingnut and that Karl Rove is smart enough to realize that McCain is the only candidate with even a chance of winning. But I think she misses the point that Meyerson is trying to make - McCain's is not a Rovian campaign and is not so much a repudiation of Rove as a repudiation of conservative power brokers.