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Tom Adkins - Contributor

Tom Adkins is Executive Publisher of and frequent financial commentator on Fox News. [go to Adkins index]

McCain's Goofy Gambit
Treading water downwards...

[Tom Adkins] 6/9/05

John McCain has a history of breaking rank, rather than leading the way. From his near-flunkout at the Naval Academy to his 2000 election run, his Quixotic crusades and questionable failures led to wonderful press and cheerleading by traditional enemies. Particularly the press themselves, certainly considered the “enemy” by most conservatives. In fact, when considering McCain’s path, it’s difficult to determine which has led the way.

McCain’s latest gambit is a particularly stellar example why conservatives shouldn’t listen to accolades from enemies, and should pay closer attention to history, and at least consider the conscience of their own party.

Since banishment to Senate minority, Democrats apparently decided to stop at virtually nothing to save their dwindling power. Unfortunately, faced with a bare-knuckles Senate fight over judicial confirmations, Senate Republicans have dawdled and wrung hands day after day, month after month and year after year. Should they capitulate to Democrats? Or eliminate the filibuster and pull the trigger on the so-called “nuclear option?”

Or, was there a way out? Some sort of (ahem) compromise?

That’s the word, “compromise,” which to Democrats roughly translates, “we’ll screw you a little less.” But to Senator John McCain the word “compromise” is the Call of the Sirens.

The media began the drumbeat, gushing for their hero. Can the great conflict be resolved? Who will stop the meltdown? Only one man can save the Senate! It’s time for The Maverick…John McCain!!! Yayyyyy!!!

McCain perked to attention, slobbered, and reached for his toes, leading 14 Senate “moderates” to craft the Great 2005 Compromise, and save the world. Dazzling! Brilliant! Why don’t all Republicans emulate this amazing man? And see? Those right-wing nut jobs have been stumped by Presid…uh…Senator John McCain.

It took Democrats exactly three days to break the agreement.

The John Bolton appointment to the United Nations was supposed to be the first example of McCain’s agreement in action, where up-or-down Senate votes would once again determine the fate of Presidential nominations. But on the very first test, Democrats, shall we say, bolted, refusing to allow a floor vote.

On one hand, upholding a promise for three days isn’t a bad record for Democrats, who have been known to reneg before the ink is dry and press conference microphones are set up on the Senate Triangle. But it was definitely a bad day for Republicans. Especially McCain.

Obviously, John McCain still covets the White House. His strategy is clear. Abandon the far-right, capture the middle, infuriate the status quo, and find yourself sitting in the Oval Office. But while shifting positions for political expediency might work for Democrats, who essentially stand for nothing, Republicans generally vote on principle.

However, the coming 2008 election offers a unique chance for McCain’s ploy. The likely Democrat nominee is Hillary Clinton, the most polarizing candidate since George Wallace. She’ll simultaneously motivate liberals and power up conservative opposition with incredible verve. But Clinton shrewdly spent the last four years cloaking and dragging her far-left legacy towards the political middle. McCain is gambling that his right-wing base will stay loyal despite his checkered record of appeasement, and moderate dolts will embrace his reputation as a Great Compromiser, rather than the bitter-tasting Hillary.

But after this fiasco, McCain-Clinton election will feature three fascinating battles: 1) between a Republican base torn between rising up against Hillary and abandoning the sell-out McCain, 2) between the first right-wing debate remnants versus the exuberant liberal base, and 3) within the muddle-headed middle, musing over a semi-popular Clinton cult of personality, and McCain, King Of Compromise. It sounded like a good plan, until Thursday. Now, doubts are creeping. How can McCain handle the world’s treacherous leaders when he gets snookered by mere Democrats?

Ironically, McCain would have been best served by embracing the far-right approach to the filibuster issue. If he helped keep quivering Republicans in line, Bill Frist may have had the luxury of shoving the nuclear option down Harry Reid’s shorts and threatening detonation, forcing Democrats to consider a position of zero Senate power for probably a decade or more. McCain’s right base would have been strengthened. Instead, McCain put Republicans in a weaker position, certainly losing a chunk of the GOP base, and a few points from the middle.

John McCain’s ploy may cost Republicans the White House in 2008. Or perhaps McCain knows how to wield power without holding office. Of course, Democrats just schooled him on that subject. tRO

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