McCain supporters need to acknowledge that Larison lands many, many blows in this post.
McCain regularly won among anti-Bush voters in the GOP primaries, and this perception of independence from the conventional GOP line seems to be a reason for his continuing appeal to independents and his ability to outpoll his own party label by ten points or more. In the eyes of the media, McCain must necessarily be distancing himself from Bush, because they “know” that McCain is the Good Republican and Bush is the antithesis of this. They are also counting on McCain’s ability to get by without having a clue about numerous areas of policy. They probably anticipate that he will once again be able to prevail by muttering boilerplate about opposing wasteful spending and the dreaded earmark with the odd gas tax holiday pander thrown in for good measure. It’s worked before, so why not on a larger scale with the general electorate?
What Halperin also misses here is that in any contest between Obama and McCain, Obama is the substantive, policy-oriented candidate, while McCain is the one offering mostly pious bromides about victory, service and being American. If style often beats substance, Obama is in trouble because, as his supporters tirelessly remind us, Obama does have a substantive policy agenda (even if he doesn’t spend as much time talking about it and a lot of his boosters don’t care what it is) and McCain’s entire campaign has been even more driven by biography and character than Obama’s.
This parallels an observation made by a friend of mine recently — that Mark Salter strongly reinforces major McCain vulnerabilities: an overemphasis on personal loyalty, an indifference or even hostility towards social conservatives, a high-mindedness that is mostly procedural and substance-free, and a marked disinterest in domestic policy. Anyone who wants John McCain to win needs to encourage the campaign and the candidate to fight against these tendencies.
The post begins, by the way, as a characteristically polite evisceration of Mark Halperin. I’d love to live in a world in which someone half as incisive as Daniel had a platform like Halperin’s. But hopefully this person would not use this platform to advance the dismemberment of the Union, which I for one am pretty fond of.