||Tucker Carlson is a CNN political analyst and contributes to The Weekly Standard and Talk magazines. He is providing exclusive analysis to CNN allpolitics.com during the election season.|
Tucker Carlson: John McCain's enduring loyalty to the GOP
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- John McCain turns out to be a more loyal Republican than expected.
In the days after the South Carolina primary, McCain's bitterness at his own party seemed to grow by the hour. Infuriated by attacks leveled at him by the Bush campaign and its allies, McCain began to devote a sizable chunk of his stump speech to slamming the GOP. "My friends," he would say, his voice rising for emphasis, "my party has lost its way. It has become captive to the special
As the weeks wore on, it became increasingly difficult to imagine
McCain ever returning comfortably to the Republican fold. He seemed too angry
at George W. Bush, too disgusted by the party establishment's rejection of
him and his message.
Last week, as a defeated McCain vacationed with his family on Bora Bora, I
called one of his campaign advisers and asked a simple question: Will
Straight Talk America, McCain's new hard money PAC, work on behalf of
reform-minded Democrats and Independents, as well as Republicans? "We'll
see," said the adviser.
But, I asked incredulously, wouldn't raising money for members of another party forever alienate McCain from the GOP? Wouldn't it break one of Washington's strictest taboos? The advisor chuckled. "We'll see," he said.
Ten days of grass huts and umbrella drinks seemed to have changed McCain's
outlook considerably. He returned to the Senate earlier this week eager to
reassure fellow Republicans that he will neither bolt the party, nor disrupt
George W. Bush's presidential campaign.
Advisors made it clear that Straight Talk America will help Republicans only. McCain's first rhetorical attack was aimed not at Bush, but at Al Gore. In interviews, meanwhile, McCain made it clear that he will -- ultimately, in due time, at some point in the future -- endorse Bush for president.
Republican relief was audible. Not one of McCain's many Republican enemies in
the Senate said an unkind word about him. Even Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Mississippi), long a bitter critic, went out of his way to pretend to like McCain personally. Lott's performance wasn't very convincing, but it sent an important message to other Republicans: John McCain is now an important national figure. Be nice to him.
What does McCain do next?
Some Republicans, including veteran GOP pollster Frank Luntz, have encouraged Bush to choose McCain as his running mate. This is a bad idea for all concerned. McCain doesn't take orders well; he'd be likely to pick a fight with Bush within days of being chosen. Moreover, McCain genuinely isn't interested in being vice president.
He is, however, interested in continuing to give speeches. If the primaries
proved one thing, it is that McCain is an extraordinarily able campaigner.
Unlike most candidates, he enjoys bombing around the country in a bus
answering shouted questions from reporters. His aides say he is eager to head
back out onto the road, this time on behalf of Republican House members in
John McCain's campaign for president has ended, in other words,
but his days of campaigning have not.