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Inside Politics
Mark Shields is a nationally known columnist and commentator.

Putting 2008 behind us

Senators, including Republican John McCain (left) and Democrat Joe Lieberman (at podium), announce the Senate compromise.
Robert Byrd (West Virginia)
Daniel Inouye (Hawaii)
Mary Landrieu (Louisiana)
Joseph Lieberman (Connecticut)
Ben Nelson (Nebraska)
Mark Pryor (Arkansas)
Ken Salazar (Colorado)
Lincoln Chafee (Rhode Island)
Susan Collins (Maine)
Mike DeWine (Ohio)
Lindsey Graham (South Carolina)
John McCain (Arizona)
John Warner (Virginia)
Olympia Snowe (Maine)
John McCain
South Carolina

WASHINGTON (Creators Syndicate) -- You want irony? This week's CBS News poll reported Congress' approval rating at a dismal 29 percent, the lowest recorded number since 1996, right after that Republican Congress, in a showdown with Democratic president Bill Clinton, followed the unwise leadership of Speaker Newt Gingrich and shut down the government.

In 2005, with ethically challenged House Majority Leader Tom Delay as its face and petty squabbling its principal product, the conservative Republican Congress could actually get needed rehabilitation from the last-minute Senate compromise among seven Republicans and seven Democrats, avoiding a potentially catastrophic shoot-out over judges.

The ultimate irony: The compromise, so potentially beneficial to the damaged reputation of the conservative Congress, was fashioned in the Senate office of the Republican whom Tom Delay and many conservatives so intensely dislike -- John McCain of Arizona.

To hear the ratatat of right-wing attacks on the judges compromise is to conclude that by his part in that deal, McCain effectively ended any and all hopes his admirers might have held for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.

With characteristic restraint, Pat Buchanan called the compromise "a Republican Munich." Sounding like a capo from "The Sopranos," Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council identified McCain by name to Ron Fournier of AP and hinted darkly that "there will be repercussions."

Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family termed the deal "a complete bailout and betrayal by a cabal of Republicans."

Sorry, folks, but any political obituary on John McCain for 2008 is both premature and wrong.

Of course, if GOP primary voters in 2008 are looking for a candidate who votes "right" for every possible tax cut, advocates contradictory Big Government Conservatism and simultaneously shelters our adolescents from the temptations of the Victoria's Secret catalog, while saddling these same children with the burden of ever-swelling public debt simply because we are too selfish to pay our own bills, then McCain will never be the first choice.

He has actually voted against Republican tax cuts. He votes against spending. In the considered judgment of the iconoclastic Marshall Wittman, his former press secretary, McCain's a" neo-Goldwaterite," who, like his fellow Arizonan, is "a limited government hawk with deep reservations about the rising dominance within the party of the moral conservatives."

After Ronald Reagan nominated Sandra Day O'Connor to the Supreme Court, Jerry Falwell declared that every good Christian ought to oppose her nomination. Mr. Conservative, Barry Goldwater, a supporter of gay rights, responded, "Every good Christian ought to kick Falwell's ass." It is no accident that John McCain today sits behind Barry Goldwater's desk.

Those who write off McCain as someone who can only win a Republican primary when independents and Democrats can vote ignore South Carolina in 2000.

Then, in that undeniably socially and culturally conservative place where only registered Republicans vote and where George W. Bush -- with unlimited campaign funds -- had the all-out backing of the state and national party machinery, McCain still won 43 percent of the vote.

In 2008, there will probably be a number of candidates with some support from the religious right, including Sens. George Allen of Virginia, Sam Brownback of Kansas and Bill Frist of Tennessee, but none will likely command the overwhelming financial and political support Bush enjoyed in 2000. It's a good bet that in a semi-crowded primary field, that 43 percent would be enough to win South Carolina.

The other GOP 2008 contenders will compete to be the favorite son of Wall Street, or Easy Street, the home address of the taxaphobics, or Church Street, where some oppose pre-marital sex because it could lead to dancing. McCain will be the favorite of none of these.

His political base (outside of that part of the press corps who appreciate his candor and guts) is on Main Street, where voters still value conscience, independence and the strength to tell powerful interest groups to go to hell.

That's what John McCain has spent his career doing. Whether he will do the same in the White House is in large part up to the voters in the 2008 Republican primaries.

Click here for more from Creators Syndicate.

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