The following editorial appeared in Wednesday's Washington Post:
WASHINGTON -- John McCain's success in Michigan and Arizona Tuesday delivers a double message. It shows that the fight for the Republican nomination is not yet over. And it suggests that McCain's anti-establishment promise to cleanse politics has a powerful resonance. A loss in Michigan comparable in magnitude to his defeat in South Carolina Saturday would have thrown him very much on the defensive. Now he is clearly competitive; his candidacy cannot be dismissed as a fluke, the more so because in Michigan he had the entire state Republican establishment against him. Gov. John Engler had endorsed George Bush, as had other state officials and Republican members of the state's congressional delegation. Bush also had the continuing support of pro-life and Christian conservative organizations. It couldn't even buy him a draw with his challenger. That cannot be a heartening message for his campaign.
Bush must now make a hard decision. He will be tempted to blame disappointment in Michigan on the state's open primary system, which allowed independents and Democrats to weigh in on his opponent's side. Only half the voters were Republican, and most of those backed Bush. He can look ahead to other primaries in which non-party members will not be allowed to play such a role. In the important California primary, non-Republicans will be allowed to vote, but their votes won't count toward the selection of delegates. One candidate could win the popular contest, the other the delegate race. Bush may thus be freer than otherwise to court the party base. Should he win the California delegate race together with his home state of Texas and his brother's state of Florida, he would be in a strong position.
But a strategy of leaning toward the party base would not help Bush in the general election if he were the nominee. The more he defines Sen. McCain as an unacceptable centrist, the more he defines himself as the undeviating conservative that he tried earlier in the campaign to suggest that he was not. When he paints McCain as soft on abortion, he implies that he himself is uncompromising. When he criticizes McCain's proposed tax cut as not enough, he reminds voters that his own might cost more than the government can afford. He attacks McCain for courting Democrats, when his own earlier appeal to the party was that he was the candidate who could cause Democrats to cross over in November.
The problem is the more acute because Al Gore, the Democratic front-runner, has been running mainly from a position in the center. His centrist credentials have been usefully burnished by the attacks of his rival, Bill Bradley. It happened again in Monday's debate between the two, when Bradley accused Gore of having doubts about affirmative action, not favoring a large enough increase in funding for Head Start and the like.
Before the primaries began, it was widely believed that Bush could escape the hard policy choices that now confront him -- that his Republican Who's Who of endorsements and vast campaign treasury would allow him to motor past some of the doctrinal traps that in recent elections have caused other Republican candidates, including his father, so much trouble. Now he has a struggle ahead. The endorsements take him only so far. He has lost much of his financial advantage. He retooled his candidacy after New Hampshire. That, too, has taken him only so far.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.