Hey, Sen. McCain, wanna know how you can win in November? Let's rewind to Friday and the Council for National Policy, where you met behind closed doors with -- and I say
this as a lifelong Republican -- some of the right-wingerest of right-wingers in a pre-election kiss-up. The supersecret CNP, founded by Tim LaHaye as a forum for select conservatives, reportedly includes James Dobson, Bob Jones III and Amway co-founder Richard DeVos.
"I don't think he came close to saying something to excite conservatives sitting on the sidelines," Richard Viguerie, a longtime business associate of Sun Myung Moon, was quoted as saying in Moon's paper, The Washington Times. "Everything he said was rehash of what he has said before."
Viguerie, reported the Times, echoed a sentiment of other CNP members: "He didn't assure us he would bring conservatives into his White House or administration." Viguerie was also upset that McCain wasn't more candid about his personal -- that's the keyword, folks -- faith.
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McCain, don't worry about exciting the Christian right. They'll be "on your team" at the ballot box when they're retching at the thought of a Democratic-controlled White House. Yeah, even as they run to the next secret-handshake CNP meeting to gloat about their alleged "protest vote."
Everything you said was a rehash? Cool, Mac, because you shouldn't be changing your message right now to please the right. No assurances of CNP-acceptable righties in the White House? No promises needed.
Let them rant. Let them complain. Keep shaking off anti-Catholic evangelist John Hagee.
You've got work to do. It's called "being yourself." Because that, my friend, is the only way you'll win the election in November. You are one of the few Republicans, after eight years of Bush's divisive presidency, who has the ability to claim the middle.
You need the ever-growing middle, moderate sea of voters to win the White House. You don't need to do anything that will get you painted as a panderer to the far right. The middle's reaction would be a synchronized "ick."
Because, Sen. McCain, as someone who spends most of her time around liberals (I am a journalist, after all), you have to know that they generally have always liked you. They like the maverick, but not just because you've held hands with Democrats. They like that you've been your own guy, even when they don't agree with you, even when it's been unpopular. They respect your beyond-the-call military service.
And the righty pundits who swore that they'd vote for Hillary Clinton over you? Those tirades had a 15-minute shelf life. Already, voters have forgotten them. And when voters rally to beat a strong Democrat, there will be little chance of the Pundit Mafia staging another hit -- unless you pick Dennis Kucinich as your running mate.
Do you need the far right to fight the Obamania sweeping across the plain? Not since Hillary got back in the game with Texas and Ohio. Now Barack Obama is going to be forced to answer those hard questions, like "Can you name the new president of Russia and describe his background and liabilities without piggybacking on Hill's garbled-pronunciation answer?"
Because it's not only an all-consuming fight dragging out on the Democrats' side, but a fight between two hopefuls with no ego shortage. Neither one wants to lose. Neither especially wants to be the other's No. 2. So in the resultant battle, sunny unspecific hope will begin to be supplanted by the stark truth. There will be more mud than at a Sedona spa.
And moderates will begin to see the great "unifiers"' true lefty colors.
So the next time a CNP member such as Janice Crouse of Concerned Women for America wants to know if you'd make unwed moms marry the baby's father, you're under no obligation to offer a shotgun-wedding solution. Because to win the White House, you need to be the senator that Middle -- politically, that is -- America has grown to know and respect. As the left fights it out, you can rise above by being the middleman.
Johnson is a columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS