Seeking to build on maverick image, McCain touts environment

While Obama has been increasingly turning to the general election, John McCain has been preparing for 4 month now (incredibly enough, that's how long has passed since Super Tuesday!). His latest move: campaigning on the environment. In what his campaign had advertised as a major policy speech on global warming, McCain earned the headlines he wanted today, for example the New York Times's "McCain Differs with Bush on Climate Change."

McCain plans to tout environmental issues in order to appeal to independent voters. With politicians like Schwarzenegger focusing on the environment, there is a growing drift away from the business Republicans' stance and independents especially are paying attention to the issue. McCain believes he can build on his maverick image with this issue and build a strong base by anchoring moderate Republicans and independents (who might be tempted by Obama) to his side. Remember, independents swinging towards the Democratic Party was a major reason for the country's dramatic turn leftward in 2006, and McCain is perhaps the only candidate Republicans could have nominated to stop the bleeding.

Another reason McCain will seize the environment is that this topic allows him to appear like a maverick without actually moving to the center at all: All he needs to do is offer a break with President Bush and given how dogmatically far-right the current Administration has been on environmental issues, pretty much anything McCain proposes will earn him centrist credentials. In fact, even professing that he "believes in global warming" could do the trick! Similarly, McCain was left looking like a lefty pacifist during the GOP debates just for opposing torture, something that most people wouldn't even have thought was an issue until a few years ago.

It's hard to give McCain credit for things as simple as believing global warming or opposing torture, headline like the New York Times suggest that he will get what he wants out of them: the impression of offering a different kind of Republican regime. And thus the fact that McCain's proposals fall short of what is needed to truly combat global warming goes mostly unnoticed -- for instance the fact that McCain's cap on carbon emissions is significantly inferior to even what the Lieberman-Warner Senate bill is proposing.

Finally, this story suggests an important advantage McCain has had in starting the general election in early February. He has been able to spend the first few months of the year courting the disaffected Republican base, secure the support of Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and various conservative leaders and burnish his credentials on the right. Now that the general public is paying more attention to him again, McCain has already taken care of that part of the equation and is ready to move on to the second part of any general election campaign -- moving towards the center.

Yet, Robert Novak reports today that some elements in the evangelical community are not ready to embrace McCain just yet because (1) they want to wait for Huckabee 2012 and (2) they consider that an Obama presidency is a plague that America 'deserves' for its sins. Novak adds that these groups remain marginal for now but that enough evangelical leaders remain skeptical by McCain that this could prove a major problem for the Arizona Senator in the fall unless he does some reach out. We saw in 2000 that evangelicals don't mind just sitting at home.



  • Well I saw a video of a new ad that McCain made on the enviroment on politico, and Johnathan Martin says that it less of a true move to the center as it is triangulation. And as you mentioned in the New York Times article and other looks by the media, McCain is defintely trying to seem more envirmentally friendly and therefore more moderate while at the same time not incensing the conservative base. How sucessful this will be in the long run is hard to tell: Oregan, which is described as an enviromentally concenous state, will probably in the end vote for Obama in the general election (if Clinton somehow makes it to the general instead, McCain would have a much better chance) but it will probably help him at least in the short term. He is using triangulation on torture as well, I remember and I admired him for standing against interrogation techniques that could be considred torture but he then decided to vote against a bill banning waterboarding and other techniques from being used by the CIA and other covert USA forces: I bet McCain is personally against waterboarding but not enough to anger the conservatives he needs.

    Also on Robert Novak, I read on politico that Huckabee made a response to the article saying that Novak is absolutely wrong about wanting McCain to lose so he can be prez in 2012 and that his supporters are actively pursing the option of sitting out. I do believe that McCain can afford to have softer Evangelical support but still win the presidency based on more moderate GOP, independents, and conservative dems but if Novak is true, then it could become a thorn in McCain's side.

    By Anonymous jaxx raxor, At 13 May, 2008 00:27  

  • Like Bush and most Republicans I don't see McCain as a true enviomentalist. He comes accross ,to me at least, as pandering just like his and Clinton's gas tax holiday. They aren't willing to make the hard choices necessary to actually make a difference. The other issue that McCain is going to have trouble with soon is the new GI bill. I don't understand his reason for not supporting this bill. Although he may be right; it's a motherhood issue and the optics are brutal for him; much like his pre-surge support for the war in Iraq.

    By Anonymous fritz, At 13 May, 2008 06:27  

  • I'm torn on whether McCain is being sincere with his views on the environment. The environment is now a strong Democratic issue, so I really wonder why he would turn to this issue now...except to sway the Indies towards his side.

    I'm hesitant to attack McCain because he has definitely bucked the GOP for years (except since 2004, where he's been more rank and file). I really wonder with McCain will be President--the Maverick or the rank in filer.

    By Anonymous Jim West, At 13 May, 2008 07:17  

  • McCain will be hit by Bob Barr if/when he becomes the Libertarian candidate for President. The Libertarians typically got 0.5% of the total vote but with having someone more famous, with solid GOP credentials (small government, Clinton impeachment etc) and Ron Paul having made Libertarins "cool" that percentage will increase. If the greens in 2000 caused Gore to lose the elction and they got2-3% then it is certainly possible for the Libertarians to cost McCain the presidency.

    In the PA primary 100,000 people voted for Ron Paul, even if that was every Libertarian minded person in PA (a stretch) that number is huge compared to the margin the Dems won PA in 2000 and 2004 (about 200,000). Therefore Barr could have a huge effect in key swing states like PA, CO, VA etc.

    McCain has to be careful becuase the Libertarian GOP voters don`t like him and the social conservatives don't trust him. He has gotten away with it so far because of the Democratic primary battles, but they will end soon.

    By Anonymous Mike, At 13 May, 2008 08:11  

  • Mike I agree that Bob Barr will probably do better than the average libertarian candidate, and he will likely get more votes than Ralph Nader, who's reputationn is forever stained for him causing Gore the election in 2000, and the fact that as an independent he needs to get onto the ballot by getting thousands of signatures, which will be very difficult for him.

    Of course Bob Barr will need to win the Libertarian nomination first althrough his visibilty and therefore likeability to bring more votes to the Libertarian party (compared to Mike Gavel who has little visiblity as a Dem candidate) probably makes him the frontrunner.

    However I don't think (at least at this point) that Bob Barr will be the GOP Nader of 2008. Know that McCain had several months to get conservatives behind his candiacy and the GOP is much less fractious than the Dems. Plus the fact that Bob Barr doesn't have the dynamic personality of Ron Paul, and I don't see how he can be a spoiler. Maybe that will change, but I think for now McCain is going to ignore him.

    By Anonymous jaxx raxor, At 13 May, 2008 09:39  

  • Really? A plague? I'm conservative (for a Portlander) and I know some very conservative people, but none of them have even thought of an Obama presidency as a plague. Marginal, for sure. Novak is off his rocker for suggesting that.

    People are smart enough to see that an Obama presidency could happen because of the state of our political climate, not because of a punishment brought by God.

    Well ... okay, most people.

    By Anonymous John Middleton, At 13 May, 2008 11:55  

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