The surprise and confusion in the liberal blogs about John McCain's campaign troubles are pretty funny. Put simply, turning a "maverick" US Senator into the GOP's establishment candidate for president is a monumental task, with far more chance of failure than success. The core of the GOP does not believe that the problem has been the GOP, but the liberal media, RINOs, the machinations of the devious Democrats - anything but that the American people as a whole just might not be all that interested in sticking with a George Bush governing philosophy.
So if you've based your political career on being the outsider, the one who will publicly question conservative doctrine, you're not exactly well situated to be embraced by those who believe that the way to win is to be even more conservative than they've managed to be the last several years.
Grover Norquist is exactly right
when he says,"[t]he base isn't interested in Iraq. The base is for Bush. If Bush said tomorrow, we're leaving in two months, there would be no revolt." It's interesting how the GOP has gone down the path of identity politics at the point when the Democratic party has finally started to realize that looking for a political messiah isn't going to win elections. George H.W. Bush was able to win the presidency, Bob Dole was able to win the GOP nomination, because conservatives were focused upon movement politics. The individual didn't matter quite as much as the fact that they were of the correct party and could be counted on to vote or govern the right way at the right times. This of course was not always the case, which led to a desire for candidates that more closely hewed to particular standards personally as well as politically.
George W. Bush was the perfect candidate for them, a born-again Evangelical Christian who openly talked about his faith in exactly the right language as well as someone who could point to the almost complete dismantling of the Texas State Government's social safety net and the implementation of conservative ideals in public schools with his imposition of testing standards. The base of the GOP had found the right person for them, and quickly set about creating a mythology of his righteousness, the extent to which he embodied the ideal of an Evangelical Christian that they all had set for themselves. Consider, for example, the ludicrous story that made its way through email for several years about Bush attending a "thank-you" party for his campaign staff in one Texas town or another, during which he spent 30 minutes (or an hour) witnessing to a teenaged boy who had come with his mother.
That's who the GOP base is looking for this time around. They want someone who can be portrayed is their ideal for themselves. Guiliani is popular because they don't know who he is, except that he's a strong leader who did all the right things after 9/11, someone like George Bush, someone who can protect the country in bad times. Most of the country doesn't read blogs or even follow the cable news shows all that closely. When the NRA decides to get hold of his gun control record, when conservative Christian groups decide to release photos and videos and write their newsletters about his views on abortion, his willingness to dress in drag and even his affairs, his campaign will be dead in the water.
James Dobson showed what we can expect with his pre-emptive strike against Fred Thompson. While liberals might be aghast at Dobson's willingness to declare that Thompson is not a Real True Christian*, for Evangelicals all Dobson did was apply common standards and come to a reasonable conclusion. Guiliani is not far behind. Romney, despite his ability to raise money, is similarly vulnerable.
Lefty blogs have been buzzing with the latest theory about why Evangelical Christians continue to support George Bush: they're actually authoritarians who want someone to tell them what to do. They actually don't care for the Constitution or the rule of law.
There is a small grain of truth to this. Many conservative churches have very strong pastors who exert quite a bit of authority over not only the church experience but also the personal lives of their parishioners. Those churches that do not have such a pastor usually have a deacon, elder or other lay leader that is the "church boss," the one who is arbiter of not only what color the carpet will be but also who in the church has been living up to their standards of righteousness.
However, the idea of religious conservatives as political authoritarians who have been looking for someone to dismantle the Constitution for them has more to do with excoriating one's enemy than it does with describing their actual motives. They have the order reversed. Because George Bush has been fully identified as an Evangelical Christian, one who prays daily, who has his priorities completely straight, religious conservatives are willing to cede their constitutional rights to him. Bush didn't come into office and immediately start holding prisoners without charges, torturing foreign citizens and placing wiretaps without any approval. They spent time building his reputation instead, so that when the Bush administration decided to do these things, they could rely upon quite a bit of the American population to accept it because Bush could be trusted to do the right thing.
Religious conservatives don't trust John McCain, and never have. They will drop Guiliani like a hot potato as soon as they get to know him in the slightest way. They may not have all the money, but in the GOP primary they do have the votes.
Chuck Hagel, if he runs, will be the GOP nominee. The fact that so many liberals actually like him right now because of his words on Iraq coupled with making his announcement - and therefore heavy scrutiny - late in the game means that he would have a great chance of winning the presidency. If Hagel doesn't enter, Sam Brownback is the GOP nominee. This presidential season will go down as a wild, weird election, one for the textbooks. Count on it.
*See Fred Clark, the Slacktivist
, for examples of Real True Christian. Unfortunately, he doesn't have a search engine for his site, but the term comes up quite a bit.