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Posted by on Oct 10, 2008 in Politics | 7 comments

McCain Campaign Troubles Moderate Republicans And Some Others

The tone of the campaign of Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain has begun to trouble some moderate Republicans and some other Republicans. Note this piece from the Grand Rapids Press:

He endorsed John McCain in the presidential primary, but now former Republican Gov. William Milliken is expressing doubts about his party’s nominee.

“He is not the McCain I endorsed,” said Milliken, reached at his Traverse City home Thursday. “He keeps saying, ‘Who is Barack Obama?’ I would ask the question, ‘Who is John McCain?’ because his campaign has become rather disappointing to me.

“I’m disappointed in the tenor and the personal attacks on the part of the McCain campaign, when he ought to be talking about the issues.”

Milliken, a lifelong Republican, is among some past leaders from the party’s moderate wing voicing reservations and, in some cases, opposition to McCain’s candidacy.

Some conservative Republicans will dismiss his criticism as “well, he’s just a RINO!” which is part of the problem: the Republican Party under George W. Bush, as engineered by strategist Karl Rove, has marginalized moderate Republicans who have now become people almost without a party — dismissed as people who are “just” RINOs. McCain had retained the respect of many moderate Republicans up until this White House run because the pre-2008 version of McCain didn’t strictly adhere to the conservative base line.

Milliken is not alone:

During a stop in Grand Rapids on Thursday, Lincoln Chafee, a former Republican U.S. senator from Rhode Island, said he’s voting for Obama and urging others to do likewise.

McCain campaigned for Chafee’s unsuccessful re-election bid in 2006, but Chafee said he is concerned McCain has swung to the right, a divisive strategy that could make it difficult for him to govern.

“That’s not my kind of Republicanism,” said Chafee, who now calls himself an independent. “I saw what Bush and Cheney did. They came in with a (budget) surplus and a stable world, and look what’s happened now. In eight short years they’ve taken one peaceful and prosperous world, and they’ve torn it into tatters.”

As for McCain’s choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin for his running mate, “there’s no question she’s totally unqualified,” Chafee said.

He had similar reservations about Obama’s lack of experience, but said the Democrat’s handling of the campaign convinced him he’s ready to lead.

Chafee said he has spoken with several other moderate Republican leaders, and “there are a whole lot of us deserting.”

The ranks of the loudly-defecting now include the son of conservative icon William F. Buckley. His column should be read in full but here are some key parts:

I have known John McCain personally since 1982. I wrote a well-received speech for him. Earlier this year, I wrote in The New York Times—I’m beginning to sound like Paul Krugman, who cannot begin a column without saying, “As I warned the world in my last column…”—a highly favorable Op-Ed about McCain, taking Rush Limbaugh and the others in the Right Wing Sanhedrin to task for going after McCain for being insufficiently conservative. I don’t—still—doubt that McCain’s instincts remain fundamentally conservative. But the problem is otherwise.

McCain rose to power on his personality and biography. He was authentic. He spoke truth to power. He told the media they were “jerks” (a sure sign of authenticity, to say nothing of good taste; we are jerks). He was real. He was unconventional. He embraced former anti-war leaders. He brought resolution to the awful missing-POW business. He brought about normalization with Vietnam—his former torturers! Yes, he erred in accepting plane rides and vacations from Charles Keating, but then, having been cleared on technicalities, groveled in apology before the nation. He told me across a lunch table, “The Keating business was much worse than my five and a half years in Hanoi, because I at least walked away from that with my honor.” Your heart went out to the guy. I thought at the time, God, this guy should be president someday.

A year ago, when everyone, including the man I’m about to endorse, was caterwauling to get out of Iraq on the next available flight, John McCain, practically alone, said no, no—bad move. Surge. It seemed a suicidal position to take, an act of political bravery of the kind you don’t see a whole lot of anymore.

But that was—sigh—then. John McCain has changed. He said, famously, apropos the Republican debacle post-1994, “We came to Washington to change it, and Washington changed us.” This campaign has changed John McCain. It has made him inauthentic. A once-first class temperament has become irascible and snarly; his positions change, and lack coherence; he makes unrealistic promises, such as balancing the federal budget “by the end of my first term.” Who, really, believes that? Then there was the self-dramatizing and feckless suspension of his campaign over the financial crisis. His ninth-inning attack ads are mean-spirited and pointless. And finally, not to belabor it, there was the Palin nomination. What on earth can he have been thinking?

For Buckley, this is reason for sadness:

All this is genuinely saddening, and for the country is perhaps even tragic, for America ought, really, to be governed by men like John McCain—who have spent their entire lives in its service, even willing to give the last full measure of their devotion to it. If he goes out losing ugly, it will be beyond tragic, graffiti on a marble bust.

As for Senator Obama: He has exhibited throughout a “first-class temperament,” pace Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.’s famous comment about FDR. As for his intellect, well, he’s a Harvard man, though that’s sure as heck no guarantee of anything, these days. Vietnam was brought to you by Harvard and (one or two) Yale men. As for our current adventure in Mesopotamia, consider this lustrous alumni roster. Bush 43: Yale. Rumsfeld: Princeton. Paul Bremer: Yale and Harvard. What do they all have in common? Andover! The best and the brightest.

If McCain wins, his 2008 face will be the face of the Republican Party. McCain could indeed be figuring that, if he wins, once he’s in power, he can shift back to the 2000 McCain. But as his increasingly-menacing campaign rallies have shown, he has unleashed some disturbed genies from bottles now and he is unlikely to get them easily back inside again.

If he goes down to defeat, then it’ll be time for the traditional conservatives who are true descendants of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan — those more concerned about ideas and ideologies, rather than hate-arousing rhetoric masking as partisanship aimed to whip up the party faithful to run to the polls to save the country from opponents defined as dangerous-to-the-Republican demons, fellow travelers of terrorists or traitors — to lock horns with the remaining party moderates to refurbish the GOP.

P.S. Several writers on this site are or have been moderate Republicans. Several have been longtime admirers of John McCain. At least one independent voter on TMV changed party registration to vote for him in 2000. The independently-written and usually-unedited posts here reflect the same kinds of shifts and conclusions that Milliken and Chaffee experienced.

Increasingly, the 2008 McCain is to the 2000 McCain what New Coke was to Coke Classic.

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