By William Mckenzie
how he sees it
John McCain is the real agent of change
If you’re a Democrat reading this column at the breakfast table, you’d better hit the door. This Hillary Clinton-Barack Obama dustup has Democrats tripping over themselves to vote.
But here is a rich little irony: Despite all you’ve read about Democratic candidates promising change, the surprising change agent in this presidential election could be a 71-year-old Republican.
Yes, John McCain. McCain is the GOP nominee, which means Republicans have a senator who led the charge to prevent lobbyists from using their money to gain access to legislators, who co-authored the leading Senate bill on controlling climate change, who believes in using embryonic stem cells for medical research and who co-wrote the legislation to create a legal flow of foreign workers.
None of those positions comes close to reflecting the views of the party’s conservative base.
Meanwhile, he’s had the guts of a cat burglar on Iraq by siding with the surge when there was little political upside to it. And he has worn his fiscal conservative hat so tightly that he opposed the first-term Bush tax cuts because the administration provided no way to pay for them.
String together this range of views, and you have a candidate who could refashion his party in a way that would make Teddy Roosevelt proud.
For that matter, even Ronald Reagan.
First, the Reagan part. John DiIulio Jr. wrote in The Weekly Standard last month that “McCain is probably the only Republican who can win as Mr. Reagan did. In 1980, in a three-man race, Mr. Reagan won 26 percent of the Democrats and 30 percent of independents. In 1984, in a two-man race, he won 26 percent of Democrats again, plus 63 percent of independents.”
Those independent voters are particularly significant. President Bush won more of them in 2000 than Al Gore — but not in 2004, when John Kerry won that sector. Democrats held them for the 2006 congressional elections, when they gained majorities in both houses. Republicans can’t ignore that trend, especially if the charismatic Obama wins the Democratic nomination
Now, the Roosevelt part. Most GOP nominees like to see themselves as crusaders, but few come as close as McCain to the real deal.
The quote I love best about Theodore Roosevelt came from Walter Lippmann, the late columnist who credited Roosevelt for taking the nation in the direction it needed to go in the 20th century.
Desire for change
You could say the same thing about McCain and today’s Republican Party, which can’t keep relying solely on its most conservative adherents. The 2006 midterms showed that. And the general desire for change in this election cycle speaks to it.
Republicans need someone who can speak to independents and Democrats, including the working-class Democrats who flocked to Reagan. These primaries have shown that McCain can do well with blue-state voters, so perhaps he could reach conservative Democrats in places like Pennsylvania with his realism about radical Islamists, his opposition to abortion and his devotion to fiscal conservatism.
Those same points, by the way, could sell with GOP conservatives.
The Arizonan’s reputation as a Republican outsider also helps his cause with independents. He may not satisfy the most loyal conservatives, but he could win ticket-splitters with his sensible answers on climate change, immigration, campaign finance and stem cells.
All those issues could come into play in battleground states.
Look, for example, at the West. It is filled with swing “purple” states like Colorado that are equal parts red and blue. So are Arizona, Nevada and Washington, more states where Republicans and Democrats must compete hard for victory. The GOP can’t ignore these tossup states, where crossover candidates do well.
The party especially needs a candidate who can get people’s attention when you look at the enthusiasm Democrats are generating in their primaries. Judging from what’s gone on here in Texas and elsewhere, there seems to be more “Democratic mo” than “GOP mo.”
A GOP friend in Washington terms it “Republican fatigue.” Probably so, but how ironic that a septuagenarian is the one repositioning his party so it can combat that fatigue this fall.
He may not be talking about change as much as the other candidates, but don’t count out John McCain as the guy who finally shakes things up.
X William McKenzie is an editorial columnist for The Dallas Morning News.