John McCain won big on Tuesday. Are you shocked? After winning in Florida last week, McCain was clearly seen as the front-runner of the Republican Party, and his Super Tuesday victory was expected.
The question earlier this week was not, “Will he win?” but rather, “How great will his victory be?”
Suffice it to say that, yes, “Mac is certainly back,” and something catastrophic will have to happen for him to not get the Republican presidential nomination. It’s an amazing story, one that mirrors his “back from the edge of death” experience in Vietnam.
While it remains to be seen who McCain’s opponent will be in the general election cycle, another question, perhaps a more pressing question, is looming on the horizon: What does the Republican Party do with the “maverick?”
Over the past several years, McCain has intentionally forged an image of a senator who is willing to defy the wishes of his own party. The upside of this, obviously, is that he appeals to voters who don’t agree with all or part of the Republican Party’s agenda — which generally means a unique appeal to Democrats and independents.
The downside is equally as obvious: McCain has irked some of his fellow Republicans. Yet despite all this, the maverick is about to become the leader, the one who sets the tone and agenda for the entire Republican party.
So, where does McCain go from here, and what does he need to do to unite his party?
One of the key constituencies that McCain has alienated in recent years is fiscal conservatives. This matters to McCain.
Those who believe passionately (as I do) that government should take less, not more, of our earnings and personal wealth, and that we the people can spend and invest our own money more wisely than that government can, almost always like tax cuts.
Yet, McCain voted against the Bush administration’s proposed tax cuts earlier this decade. I didn’t like that at the time, and I still don’t. Neither did a lot of other Americans.
Yet, arguably, McCain’s rejection of the tax cut legislation way-back-when actually was grounded in a sense of principle. McCain rejected the tax-cut legislation because it wasn’t accompanied by a reduction in government spending.
I’m fine with cutting the inflow of tax revenues — “starving the beast of government,” as it were — regardless of whether government spending gets cut simultaneously. Government will eventually have to reduce spending, if there’s less cash flowing into the coffers.
McCain and I (and lots of other fiscal conservatives) viewed this matter differently. His vote on the tax cuts didn’t go the way I would have liked.
But this doesn’t make McCain my enemy or the enemy of fiscal conservatives generally.
Despite his rejection of the Bush tax cuts, McCain has not once voted to raise taxes, not in his entire 25 years in Congress. Similarly, McCain has been a consistent voice against government waste. This is good. Republicans should embrace this.
McCain has also engendered some animosity from the ranks of religious social conservatives, in part because of his refusal to support a constitutional amendment that would have provided further legal protection for the definition of marriage. McCain rejected the idea in the Senate, arguing that the legal definition of marriage should be determined by the individual states, and that, in any event, tinkering with the Constitution is risky business.
I agree with him on both counts, especially the latter. And social conservatives who think that it’s a good idea to change the Constitution should consider how that tactic might be used against them if, for example, the Democratic Party controlled Congress and the White House at the same time.
McCain has also been directly at odds with the leadership of the Arizona Republican Party.
Or, more accurately, the Arizona Republican Party leaders have been at odds with McCain.
But this really doesn’t matter much at all.
Leaders of political parties, both nationally and at the state level, customarily spend most their time and energy raising campaign funds, recruiting candidates to run for office, and trying to build unity with the volunteers.
For whatever reason, during the first half of 2007 the Arizona Republican Party leadership spent most of its energy trying to destroy Republicans — namely President Bush, Sen. Jon Kyl and, yes, McCain.
Bush, Kyl and McCain are still doing what they do. And, not surprisingly, the leadership of the Arizona Republican Party has made itself irrelevant in this election cycle, unable to raise campaign funds and unable to get return phone calls from the national Republican Party offices.
So as McCain is now within striking distance of the nomination, it’ll be interesting to see what the party does with the maverick. Equally as interesting, however, will be to see what the maverick does with the party.