Sen. John McCain has long cultivated a political image as a maverick, someone who is willing to reach across the aisle, someone who will take unpopular positions, challenge partisan orthodoxies, someone you can count on to talk straight. Like all political images, there is truth in this characterization, as well as some embellishment, but you do not get to stay at the forefront of the nation’s political life as McCain has unless the image you have created coheres more or less with reality. Which is why yesterday’s closed-door fundraiser with President Bush is such a perfect icon of McCain’s dilemma. The candidate who regularly holds open court on his campaign bus has to shut out the press when the incumbent president of his own party shows up? The candidate who largely built his maverick reputation on the strength of his commitment to campaign finance reforms holds closed-door fundraisers? The unorthodox candidate is having his way paid for by the staunchest enforcer of partisan orthodoxy? Yes, John McCain is going to be paying the price for George Bush’s approach to governance throughout the 2008 election. By building his electoral coalition from the base up, and by regularly feeding that base slabs of red meat that utterly betrayed his 2000 promise to be "a uniter, not a divider" Bush is leaving behind a Republican Party that is thoroughly out-of-touch with America. He has the lowest approval ratings of any president in recent times, but that 29-32% that still support him represent the ideological and financial base of the GOP so McCain has to be very careful about how he distances himself from Bush. And, the fractures within the GOP coalition are especially difficult during bad economic times because the only thing that unites all factions of the GOP these days is a commitment to lower taxes, and that is not going to help the economy any time soon. As Bush ends his years in the White House, you can also expect some of his former subordinates to cash in while their stories are still relevant, or at least still sellable. This will be especially rough for Bush who put such a high price on loyalty and successfully kept intramural fights out of the limelight: tell-alls now will not only titillate, they will permit the rest of us to re-examine the assumptions we had about Bush previously. Scott McClellan’s memoir about his time as press secretary is sure to play such a role because McClellan was himself a central player in the administration’s effort to shape the news. To be clear, all politicians try and shape the news. FDR’s fireside chats were not undertaken because he had nothing better to do. But, to the degree that McClellan’s account shows how the Bush administration manipulated public opinion in the run up to the Iraq War, it will give those who once supported Bush but no longer do so a way to come to grips with that previous support. They can say: "I was deceived!" McCain’s support for the Iraq War was not premised on anything that came out of the mouth of Scott McClellan. But, it won’t matter to an electorate that desperately wants to put the Bush years behind us. It may not be fair, but Bush has dealt McCain a terrible hand and the president’s shadow will continue to stalk the McCain campaign right through November. Michael Sean Winters

Comments

Anonymous | 5/31/2008 - 5:50am
Michael Sean has written a very interesting article. No doubt about it: President Bush's approval ratings are very low, which must mean that he is out of touch with America. As a strong supporter of Pres. Bush, I myself often feel out of touch with America. One reason, I think, might be our country's almost complete lack of interest in the racial aspects of the abortion business. (Please see blackgenocide.org.) I hope to read soon an article by Michael Sean discussing Gov. Sebelius of Kansas, a Catholic with connections to the abortion business. The abortion business certainly seems to be a divisive issue. Let's pray for Gov. Sebelius, her family, and ourselves
Anonymous | 5/30/2008 - 2:16pm
I would hesitate to refer to McClellan as playing a central role in the Bush administration any more than assuming the school bus driver plays a central role in school curriculum. He was a ''loyal'' Texan who at best was grossly incompetent at his job and was finally ''released''