The derailed ‘Straight-Talk Express’

During the last six years, Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) has developed a reputation as a political maverick, taking on politicians and policies from both sides. Such perceived straightforwardness has led to his becoming, arguably, the most popular politician in America. The conventional wisdom is that he would be a shoo-in for President of the United States if it just weren’t for one small problem – an uphill road to the Republican nomination.

McCain has evidently decided to attempt to fix this problem; however, the manner in which he’s doing so will probably negate the one advantage he has over the other GOP contenders: his popularity among moderates.

What McCain has done is not so much a change of his views on individual issues, although he has iterated new-found support for President Bush’s 2001 tax cuts, as much as an embrace of the decaying edifice of the administration and the right-wing of the Republican Party. This is happening when other Republicans are running away from Bush.

An example of this new-found feeling of understanding between the former political rivals is how McCain threw his support behind the term-limited President during a GOP straw poll last month. He argued that during a crisis such as the war in Iraq, we need to support the President and not worry about political concerns, while giving a full-throated defense of the war.

This support is combined with his hiring of many of Bush’s political advisors from the 2000 election campaign, including those who orchestrated the personal attacks that sunk his bid for the White House. This shows that McCain is trying to solidify himself as the established candidate, regardless of his personal history.

McCain’s most disconcerting recent action was his tacit support for Jerry Falwell. Six years ago, during the South Carolina primary campaign, McCain condemned Falwell’s extreme political views, implying that the Religious Right would have no undue sway over an McCain administration. However, his recent agreement to speak at Liberty University and, metaphorically speaking, kiss Falwell’s ring, indicates a reversal from those views and shows his willingness to be a “team player” heading into the 2008 primary season.

There is only one problem with this strategy: It’s almost certainly doomed to fail.

The hard right that makes up most of the GOP primary electorate will never fully trust McCain, both for his previous criticisms of the administration and the perceived, albeit actually non-existent, flirting with the Kerry campaign for the VP spot in 2004.

There’s no good reason to support a man who’s spurned them in the past when they could support an Allen or a Brownback who has always stood by them.

On the flip side of the equation, McCain’s many admirers on the left will see these moves as either acts of political maneuvering, which belie the whole honesty memo about McCain, or as reminders that regardless of how much they’d would like to believe that he’s a closet liberal, his political views are, and in his defense have always been, quite conservative.

But instead of the straight-shooting honest conservative that the media has made him out to be, these recent moves show McCain to just be yet another pandering politico.

The above is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board