Free-For-All 2008: Does McCain Have a Chance?

The resignation of Justice O'Connor has taken some wind out of the sails of 2008 preparation. It is inevitable that there be some breaks in the Perpetual Election, if only to perform what many think is the most important piece of business of a presidency. What's more, since Bush will replace O'Connor, his successor won't. That puts more weight in the long-term battles of politics on the present at the expense of the future.

Matt Drudge's breaking news today that John McCain has an uncredited cameo in the raunchy comedy Wedding Crashers is, as InstantReplay reader Law Abiding Citizen would say, "more evidence for the prosecution". In McCain's case, it's more evidence that he's not personally committed to Christian values, despite his Beltway harangues about crass R-rated flicks.

McCain is going to have a devil of a time becoming president. He has many advantages, most notably his high name-recognition and positive impression, which is why he keeps winning what-if polls like Zogby's from late June. His principled centrism makes him popular, but it also makes him easy to beat in the primaries, especially if the Christian Right unites behind a single candidate, as some leaders are trying to do. Today's news that the Michigan G.O.P. will be barring Democrats and Independents from voting in the Republican primary is another nail in the coffin of McCain's hope of winning a primary outright.

Would McCain be an effective president? Most likely. He's an independent, tough-minded leader. He's not afraid of his own opinion, and he's pleasant to look at and listen to. He's a centrist who would make partisans on both sides look petty, and his relationship with the legislative branch would be excellent. However, the only scenarios under which I can foresee McCain becoming president would be:

  • He runs as an independent against weak Rep. and Dem. nominees. With Hillary all but a lock on the left, that's unlikely.
  • Centrist Republicans like Pataki and Giuliani drop out of the race early, leaving McCain to sweep the center/left primary votes against a divided right. He would annihilate Hillary in the general election.
  • Hillary becomes so popular that Republicans panic en masse in the primaries and vote for McCain for his electability.
  • Hillary dies in office, and Vice President McCain succeeds her.
Here are July's chatter rankings. New York Republicans slip some more, Massachusetts is up on both boards. Hagel, Condi, and Biden recover from last month's losses, but Howard Dean drops lower than we've seen him. George Allen and Newt Gingrich prove incapable of keeping last month's interest alive. This month's overperformers included Romney, Bayh, and Biden, all of whom recently announced their interest in the presidency. Frist, Cheney, and Rice, as newsmakers in their own right, continually outperform their true status. Also notable is Hillary, who stayed in first place, but more than doubled her hits.
Rank Candidate ChatterRank
R.1 Sen. Bill Frist 1,2000
R.2 Sen. John McCain 9920
R.3 Gov. Mitt Romney 596+3
R.4 V.P. Dick Cheney 493+3
R.5 Secy. Condoleezza Rice 482+5
R.6 Sen. Chuck Hagel 447+5
R.7 Gov. Jeb Bush 331-2
R.8 Sen. Sam Brownback 320+2*
R.9 Rudy Giuliani 290-1
R.10 Sen. George Allen 246-7
R.11 Newt Gingrich 204-7
R.12 Gov. George Pataki 178-3
D.1 Sen. Hillary Clinton 3,4400
D.2 Sen. John Kerry 1,360+1
D.3 Sen. Evan Bayh 591+4
D.4 Sen. John Edwards 5680
D.5 Sen. Joseph Biden 505+3
D.6 Gov. Mark Warner 429-1
D.7 Howard Dean 333-5
D.8 Gov. Bill Richardson 245-2

Notes: The Chatter Rankings are created by searching each candidate's name plus "2008" in the Google News database.
This month's tested-but-not-qualifying list includes Russell Feingold, Barack Obama, Mike Huckabee.

* Sam Brownback was not ranked last month but would have placed 10th.

Compare this month's results to those of June and May to get an idea of candidate trajectories.