While President Bush seems to be losing his political touch, the man he beat in the 2000 GOP primaries appears at the top of his game.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., goes into mandatory coy mode when asked about a 2008 presidential run — he's seriously considering it and will decide after the 2006 elections — but he's obviously off and running and doing a good job of it. He will not make the mistake of 2000 and get into the race late.
There he was in California campaigning with Arnold Schwarzenegger on behalf of the governor's four ballot initiatives. Schwarzenegger may be slipping in Californians' opinion, but the public elsewhere finds him fascinating and he's a publicity magnet. Not a bad IOU to have. If the initiatives win, McCain picks up some of the credit, and it's not his fault if they lose.
McCain was a good soldier in 2004 and campaigned relentlessly for Bush. He can't be faulted there. But he has a knack for distancing himself from the White House when it suits him.
He won passage, by a lopsided 90 to 9 vote, of an amendment banning the torture of anyone in the custody of the U.S. military. The vote spotlights a Bush administration low point — the torture memos — and McCain's heroic background as a POW torture victim. The White House opposes the amendment, but has yet to find a graceful way of killing it. Point to McCain.
In 2000, McCain disproved a cherished tenet of the right, that the mainstream press will never show a conservative politician in a favorable light. McCain got great press by being accessible and quotable.
Asked about possibly taking the vice presidential slot on the Republican ticket, McCain told a fund-raiser in Staten Island, "I spent all those years in a North Vietnamese prison camp, kept in the dark, fed scraps, why the hell would I
want to do that all over again?"
He's still quotable and, for that matter, he's still running.