Alex Wong  /  AP file
If Sen. John McCain were to run as an independent, he could siphon more votes from the Republican nominee than the Democratic one. 
By contributor
updated 6/22/2005 12:54:50 PM ET 2005-06-22T16:54:50

Here in your nation’s capital, three parties roam the landscape these days: Dobson-Rove Republicans, Reid-Pelosi Democrats and McCain-Media Independents. At least for now, the McCain-Medias control the game. Going forward, the question isn’t so much whether the leader of the MMs can win the presidency, but whether he will try to do so as an independent or a Republican. If Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton hopes to win in ‘08, by the way, she’d better hope McCain chooses the MM route. It’s her best chance.

To an almost comical degree, John McCain is everywhere in Washington, a Batman without mask or cape, plummeting from rooftops into every situation. Sen. Dick Durbin is resisting apologizing for his errant Gitmo “Nazi” remarks? McCain chastises him on “Meet the Press” and, presto, Durbin issues a blubbering apologia on the Senate floor. Conversely, if you want to convene a commission to investigate allegations of prisoner abuse at Gitmo — the very same abuses that prompted Durbin’s remarks — why then, here’s Sen. Lindsey Graham, a faithful McCain lieutenant, to lead the charge. Want to investigate sleazy casino lobbyists who have close ties to the administration of George W. Bush? McCain’s committee is calling witnesses. Want to defend John Bolton, the president’s dyspeptic nominee to be ambassador to the U.N.? McCain is your man. Want to put limits on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants — arguably the biggest environmental issue of the 21st century? McCain has a tough bill with fellow MMer, Sen. Joe Lieberman. But want to oppose the Kyoto Accords in the name of American sovereignty? You guessed it.

I dunno, McCain may even be the man to see if you get a parking ticket downtown.

So here’s the question: Why is this McCain’s Moment? There are lots of reasons. For one — and this is not a new observation — we in the so-called Mainstream Media can’t get enough of the guy. He’s got an inspiring personal story, of course, but that’s only part of it. McCain, quite simply, is good copy. He knows precisely where to stand on which issues to generate publicity. Battered between right and left, the Mainstream Media is drawn to him because he’s unpredictable, because he is alternately and equally critical of both parties, castigating Democrats for standing in the way of Bolton’s nomination one minute and aiming harsh words at Bush political allies the next.

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The war on terrorism and the war in Iraq boost McCain’s prominence. He is a warrior, from a warrior family. He has been more than supportive of the president’s overall strategy in the battle against the jihadists. But who is kidding whom? If the Iraq project falls apart, who is going to be there — more in sorrow than in anger, of course — to investigate the causes of what would be regarded as a colossal failure? You Know Who. In 2008, will you want to change commanders-in-chief without, as Karl Rove says, seeming to “turn tail and cut and run”? Since no one wants to “cut and run,” McCain may be the answer.

By pursuing a take-no-prisoners ideological stance on virtually every issue he faces, Bush leaves more room for the MMs to operate in what looks like the middle. The president and Rove believe that you get things done in Washington by taking a hard line. They bet hard and high on every hand, like big-talking cowboys in Texas Hold ‘Em. It’s how they think you have to operate in a Red-Blue world — but of course it is a world that they helped to create.  But the problem with this self-fulfilling Manichaean vision is that it can wear people out. It’s tough to live every minute in the apocalypse. And it isn’t how legislation in made, certainly not as we approach the sixth year of a presidency. McCain stands for the proposition that gray (or purple) can be compelling.

The emerging shape of the 2008 field is another reason for McCain’s Moment. With Dick Cheney not running to succeed Bush, it is wide open, with perhaps eight or nine potential candidates at the starting gate — and McCain is the best known. As for Bush, he has no favorite heir apparent, I’m told — unless his brother decides to run. I am told by GOP insiders that Rove and Bush are taking a hands-off approach to managing this. They certainly are letting their putative favorite, Sen. Bill Frist, twist in the wind. One theory is that Bush and Rove couldn’t abide McCain. I’m not convinced that that’s true. Their overall objective is to have a Republican succeed Bush; even McCain would be better than another wave of Clintons in January 2009 rummaging through the fresh, unshredded records of Bush’s years in the Oval Office.

But McCain can take it either way. If he can’t get the Dobson-Rove Republicans — if Dr. James Dobson is able to successfully shout “no!” from his mountaintop in Colorado — then McCain could run as an independent. Were he to do so, he would probably siphon more votes from the Republican nominee than the Democrat — good news for any Democratic nominee, but especially for a divisive figure such as Hillary Rodham Clinton. Remember 1992?

And if the Reid-Pelosi Democrats do nominate Hillary, plenty of conservative Democrats would be tempted to join McCain. The shape of a possible MM administration is clear: Lieberman as vice president, Graham as attorney general, Sen. Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense (if his own bid for the GOP nomination fails) …

And, of course, Don Imus as press secretary.

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