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McCain: Still A Prisoner Of War? March 12, 2007

Posted by fitsnews in 2008 Presidential Primaries.

John McCain Iraq


FITSNews – March 12, 2007 – The War in Iraq cannot cost George W. Bush the White House anymore, but it could easily deny it to former GOP presidential frontrunner John McCain.

In fact, backlash against the war is the main reason there’s a “former” in front of McCain’s hard-earned, quickly lost GOP frontrunner mantle. And despite vigorous protestations to the contrary, the Arizona Senator’s precarious present footing has many in the McCain fold worried, especially considering how successful the Straight Talk Express had been in positioning him as the establishment candidate – even in South Carolina, where McCain was skewered last go-round by the more conservative, establishment Bush campaign.

In the span of a few short months McCain has gone from the Maverick-turned-frontrunner into the institutional candidate-turned-second fiddle.

What happened?

Call it a tale of two surges. One of American troops in Iraq, the other of former New York Mayor and GOP rival Rudy Giuliani‘s popularity.

On the first count, McCain’s unequivocal support for President Bush’s wildly unpopular troop surge has put a huge dent into the original insititutional enthusiasm surrounding his candidacy. With support for the war languishing in the low 30’s according to fresh public opinion polling, the term “anchor” comes to mind.

And while McCain may be able to continue butting his own head against a political brick wall, he can’t expect uniform allegiance from his backers (let alone undecided Republicans).

Not surprisingly, McCain has attempted in recent days to differentiate his support for the surge from a blanket endorsement of the Bush administration’s overall conduct of the war.

“As I have said many times, I believe we have made many mistakes in the prosecution of the war,” McCain said in a March 1 statement. “(But) with a new Commanding General and a new strategy, we are now trying to correct those mistakes, and I believe we have a realistic chance to succeed.”

Some political observers in South Carolina feel McCain’s ownership of the surge (fellow GOP frontrunners Giuliani and Mitt Romney both support it too, by the way) is more personal than political.

“It’s almost as if he is being driven to try and ‘right the wrong’ of Vietnam with the war in Iraq,” a veteran South Carolina Republican consultant told FITSNews. “I don’t want to use the word ‘obsession,’ but I think he feels it’s very personal given his experiences and how this country was left after Vietnam. I think for him, it’s the whole Vietnam thing played over again.”

McCain’s advisors dispute that, saying South Carolinians still support the war effort. Specifically, they cite the Republican bent of the state, President Bush’s historically strong approval ratings in South Carolina and the disproportionately high percentage of military personnel living in the Palmetto State.

“South Carolinians support their President and they support America’s efforts to advance the cause of freedom and democracy around the world,” a South Carolina McCain supporter told FITSNews. “Senator McCain is demonstrating courage, and South Carolinians respect his courage.”

Not everyone is convinced, however.

“I think McCain’s people have the math 100% wrong on that one,” another political observer told FITSNews. “The more of our National Guard people who get sent over there, the less the families who are left behind are going to support the war effort. It’s getting to the point where everybody knows somebody who is over there, and whether they admit it or not, everybody is asking ‘what’s it all for?’ Trust me, there is a growing discomfort that is not going to go away until we see significant improvement over there. And if we don’t see that improvement, (backing the surge) will certainly be a calculation that costs him.”

While the troop surge has clearly has clearly cost McCain significant support already, the emergence of Giuliani as the new Republican frontrunner has clearly been the biggest monkeywrench in Team Straight Talk’s road to the GOP endorsement.

A national hero after 9/11, Giuliani was nonetheless considered far too radioactive for the right wing of the Republican Party given his liberal positioning on core social conservative issues like gun control, gay rights and abortion.

McCain’s people still believe that to be the case, but so far it hasn’t materialized as Giuliani is faring far better in God’s Country than anyone anticipated.

First, he finished a close second to McCain in a Spartanburg County (S.C.) GOP straw poll earlier this month. Next up he followed that performance with an equally impressive second place finish in a straw poll conducted by arch conservative group CPAC.

“I don’t like his position on social issues but he’s electable and he says the judges he’d appoint are George Bush judges,” one South Carolina social conservative told FITSNews. “That’s good enough for me.”

Of course, voters aren’t really paying attention yet, but the core perceptions that will drive the messages (and attacks) to come are being shaped.

For example, Giuliani is taking considerable heat of late for his 9/11 leadership from some firefighters, meaning the same “Whack-A-Mole” phenomenon that hit the McCain campaign could be headed Rudy’s way.

As The State‘s venerable Lee Bandy likes to say, “batten down the hatches.”



1. “Le Troupe Serg” Tiring Of Constant Criticism « FITSNews For Now - March 14, 2007

[…] dance outfit sounded identical to President George W. Bush’s incredibly unpopular “troop surge” in Iraq, Serg snorted, turned his nose up and declared the interview […]

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