Imagine you're a prudent Republican moneybags who months ago calculated what this election cycle was going to cost you.
Or suppose you're a corporation executive or a lobbyist who wisely budgeted in advance the soft money expenditures you thought would be required through 2000 to buy the influence you need to keep your agenda safe. What you did, basically, was plan to throw most of your money at George W. Bush while hedging your bets with John McCain because, after all, even though he hadn't a chance, he'd still be chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee.
Things were humming along right on plan when suddenly the roof fell in -- shingles, nails and rafters. Registered Democrats in Michigan gummed things up by stealing a victory for McCain in a primary where real Republicans, exit polls showed, voted overwhelmingly for Bush.
Worse, the Texas governor was forced to blow most of the huge war chest that was supposed to have seen him smoothly through this summer. And McCain is now shopping big time for contributions, harnessing the Internet to bring in cash and inflating the cost of the Republican primaries beyond anybody's expectations back when Bush was the safely anointed front-runner.
Without warning, the bankrollers of the Republican Party, not to mention those equal opportunity givers who shower both parties with money, are faced with the prospect of being bled white by a primary season that has gone on too long, by Bush and McCain treasuries that urgently need to be replenished with money that many contributors had been putting aside for beating Al Gore in the general election. Face it, whatever it does to fracture the party, this prolonged Republican fratricide is everybody's worst fund-raising nightmare.
For a straightforward primary season that was supposed to be effectively over two months ago, this endless agony is enough to drive Republicans nuts.
I suggest they should relax. Ask themselves: If you took off the cloak of campaign finance reform in which McCain has wrapped himself, if you discounted the excessive fawning of the media, what would you find? Try Barry Goldwater. And I mean the younger Barry Goldwater, the one who existed before he aged into a kindly old liberal denouncing the religious right and supporting gays in the military. McCain, after all, is a creature of the same Arizona establishment that produced, nourished and financed Goldwater.
And didn't McCain fail to make up his mind whether the Confederate flag is a ''symbol of racism'' or a ''symbol of heritage?'' He's been endorsed by Gary Bauer. McCain's family owned slaves, for heaven's sake. Doesn't this make him a safe candidate in the South? Plus, there is his Senate voting record, which placed him on the honor role of the American Conservative Union and bad guy lists of the League of Conservation Voters, Handgun Control Inc. and the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. He even voted against the Brady Bill and against prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual preference. He works well with lobbyists, enjoys their generous support and married a beer heiress. The early Goldwater didn't have better right-wing credentials than these.
As for his grandstanding about campaign finance reform, can't Republicans take a joke? This is a man who badly needed to inoculate himself on this issue. His relationship with Charles Keating, the corrupt savings and loan executive and McCain benefactor, was a huge embarrassment, a permanent stain on his career. What better way to overcome this than to assume a sort of self-appointed sainthood on the issue of campaign finance? And who's to say it hasn't worked?
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