I’m intensely proud of my dear Gabrielle Giffords for voting against the bailout plan.
Leaving aside the wisdom of the plan for a moment, it seems worth asking: why did so many House Republicans rebel against party leaders and send the bill to defeat? Was it a genuine display of voting by “principle, not party”? Was it a genuine defeat for the GOP elite, or something more?
This Thursday exchange on Anderson Cooper’s CNN show may give us a clue:
ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: If they’re not at the meeting, it’s not going to happen. I mean the bottom line is that this is a four-legged stool. The House Republicans are a different breed.
COOPER: What’s going on with them? What’s happening?
ROLLINS: Well, my sense, is they feel that Bush has led them down astray. That he’s gone in 116 days. They don’t care about the Treasury Department, they have no relationship there.
COOPER: Do they care about anything else and I include Democratic Congressmen in this as well, anything but getting reelected? But they’re all up for reelection.
ROLLINS: They’re all going (to) get re-elected, they’re all in safe districts. The one’s who’s going to lose seats are going to be open seats and maybe one or two of them lose.
At the end of the day, there’s a lot of people thinking about, how do we rebuild this party. And do we want to rebuild this party with John McCain, who’s always kind of questionable on the basic facts of fiscal control and all the rest of it, immigration.
And I think to the certain extent this 110 or 115 members of this study group are saying here’s the time to draw the line in the sand.
Never mind the dull interpretation Cooper quickly foisted on this information — that Republicans care more about “party” than “country,” which clearly hasn’t happened. Look at what Rollins is telling us:
1.) The vast majority of GOP incumbents aren’t worried about getting re-elected. They know they’re going to get re-elected. In other words, they probably didn’t vote against the plan solely in order to please their constituents, though I do think a strong element of old-time Western Republicanism — defined not merely by hatred of big government but resentment of big business — was there.
2.) They don’t care if John McCain gets elected. Rollins, who’s as far “inside” as an insider gets, very strongly hints that they may well not want him elected, and that sending the bill to defeat had something to do with that wish.
It was always rather unlikely that Republican leaders were going to be thrilled about electing a man who makes a selling point of his on-again, off-again loyalty to the party. Look at how often he mentioned how he’d “gone against his own party” during the first debate — why, he’d even gone against Ronald Reagan. Well, what better way to win over Republican voters than to tell them you’re better than Ronald Reagan?
So why was he nominated? It’s worth remembering that a year ago no one thought McCain had a chance and that he trailed every other major candidate. Fairly late in the race, in fact, he was running neck and neck first with Romney and then Huckabee. McCain only cinched the nomination after a series of endorsements from party celebrities. McCain’s success was baffling to a lot of people because, apart from that lisping New York Mussolini, he’d seemed like the least promising candidate. He wasn’t popular among the conservative base, he’d long since lost most of his appeal to liberals and independents, and his uneven temper was well known in Washington. So why McCain? And why, once the GOP had nominated McCain, did they give him his head and let him run a campaign so reckless that even the normally subdued big city newspapers are calling him a liar and a lunatic?
As political commentator Marvin Gelfand put it, when the Republicans nominated Goldwater in 1964 — a “losing year” for the GOP if there ever was one, no matter who the candidate was — “They were thinking, ‘Who can we throw away?'” And there’s no one Republican leaders would rather throw away than McCain, who’s been a pest and a gadfly — constantly threatening to bring in independents and swing voters and other dangerous folks — for the last seven years. It doesn’t matter that McCain’s claims to be a “reformer” are mostly bogus. The mere fact that he claims the reformer’s mantle — that he encourages voters to believe that reform can even be accomplished — weakens party unity and party loyalty. What’s more, he’s just crazy and unpredictable enough to turn on party leaders once elected and actually enact reform. McCain is a ticking time bomb of a candidate, and the last thing Republican leaders want is a president they can’t trust.
With the defeat of the bill — a bill McCain all but identified himself with, thus guaranteeing the scorn of its opponents if it passed and the scorn of its supporters if it lost — McCain’s campaign is virtually over. It’s all but certain now that he will suffer a humiliating defeat at the hands of a relative newcomer to politics, and that his sway among Republicans will plummet to virtually nil after that (if you doubt this, ask any Democrat how often John Kerry comes to mind these days). His reputation, of course, will experience an eventual resurge (as happened with Goldwater). No matter what Obama’s presidency is like, more and more people will forget what they disliked about McCain and remember him as a straight-talking hero who was too honest for Washington. Defeat, indeed, is all but necessary to salvage McCain’s reputation for the future. As Evan Lisull put it: “The GOP realizes that it must throw this election under the bus. McCain, whose hero is Hemingway’s Robert Jordan, is fit perfectly for the tragic role. He relishes this.”
McCain, of course, will collude — quite unintentionally — in his defeat. Probably knowing, deep down, that he isn’t going to win, his behavior has grown more and more extravagant and bizarre. Rather than shiver with dread at the thought of an unstable monomaniac becoming the world’s most powerful leader, we ought to shrug off our fears and enjoy the show while we can. Political campaigns don’t get this entertaining very often.