Tuesday, March 04, 2008

A Cautionary Tale for Senator McCain - Super Tuesday II's Results in Texas, Ohio, Vermont and Rhode Island

Ned Barnett (c) 2008

Earlier this evening, Senator McCain comfortably locked up the Republican nomination with decisive wins in four state primaries on "Super Tuesday II." Governor Huckabee was remarkably generous and gracious in his concession speech - he's been a class act from beginning to end, and a refreshing change from the low-ball game played by some other candidates - and it should be said that Senator McCain has also opted for the "high road" in most of his efforts.

However, even as he is busy accepting his well-earned congratulations from friends and former competitors, Senator McCain should see tonight's vote as a cautionary tale - one that he needs to address before the Republican Convention ... one he should address right away.

There was no question before Super Tuesday II that Senator McCain was going to be the Republican nominee. He was shy a few delegates, but with only the zero-funded Governor Huckabee continuing to offer a challenge, no rational observer expected anything other than Candidate McCain. Certainly, Governor Huckabee knew this. More important, Governor Huckabee's supporters knew this, too.

However, with most of the votes counted (as I write this), it's clear that more than one million Republican voters took the time - and, in Ohio and the Northeast, braved the elements - to come out and vote AGAINST McCain. This wasn't the Rush Limbaugh-inspired cross-over vote for Hillary (to keep the blood-soaked internecine civil war alive in the Democratic Party), but rather a spontaneous, grass-roots uprising against Senator McCain's positions on tax cuts, border security, illegal immigration and a double-handful of other issues in which Senator McCain differs from the Conservative base of the Republican Party.

While McCain has won handily, he initially rose to the top because the Conservative vote was split in several ways, while McCain's resurrection of the "Rockefeller Wing" of the Republican Party went unchallenged for the moderate Republican votes - and in addition, Senator McCain did best, early on (when it really mattered) when Democrats and Independents could vote in the Republican Party - and exit polling showed that many did. In effect, between those cross-over votes and their own split between four (then three, then two) Conservative candidates, the Republican Party base's own fragmentation allowed Senator McCain to become the Party candidate, without ever earning a majority in those critical early primaries.

In effect, he won by attracting the largest plurality in elections where no candidate attracted a majority - but he did so in elections where all the Conservative candidates, when taken together, DID win a majority of the votes. Like President Clinton in 1992, he became the "plurality" winner, rather than the "majority" winner. Still, he won. That's history.

But in the face of that ultimately decisive victory, Senator McCain saw - tonight - well over a million Republicans come out and vote against him, casting ballots based on principle rather than on any hope that their votes would carry the day. That remarkable outpouring of Conservative discontent MUST be a warning signal to Senator McCain ... and if he's as smart a candidate as his track record seems to demonstrate, he'd better listen long and hard to that warning signal.

Senator McCain - "the natives are restless" - the base that you MUST have in order to win in November has just given you a bold and committed vote of no-confidence. That's the bad news. The good news - you've got eight full months to change your tune and decisively prove to your base that you're worthy of their support, their passionate support - as well as their votes. You need their money. You need their volunteer door-to-door commitment. You need their passion - you need them to believe in you every bit as much as you believe in yourself.

You've got eight months to close that deal - but you'll be struggling to overcome 25 years of aisle-crossing baggage. You may find that you'll need every minute of those eight months, and if you're smarter than your campaign advisors, you'll start today.

Remember, you heard it here first.