Missing the Mark on McCain: Politico's Simon Calls for Return of 'Reformer'

Let's play a quick game of word association. I say "John McCain" and "reform." You say . . . I'm guessing . . . "campaign finance" or perhaps "McCain-Feingold." Am I right? And what's one of the biggest beefs that Republicans in general, and Republican primary-voting types in particular have with McCain? Correctamundo: his championing of campaign finance reform, which Republicans tend to oppose on philosophical grounds [unconconstitutional restriction of free speech] and pragmatic political ones [increases the power of the Dem-friendly MSM].

If further evidence were needed that it's hard for MSMers to understand Republicans, I refer you to Roger Simon's piece from yesterday at Politico.com, The Reinvention of John McCain. For what is Simon's advice to McCain for the reinvigoration of his campaign? You guessed it: that he return to his reformist roots.

Writes Simon:
  • When McCain ended his presidential campaign in 2000, he became that rarest thing in politics: a person whose reputation was enhanced by losing a presidential campaign. Back then, McCain came across as scrappy and authentic, a real reformer. And he won the admiration of millions in defeat.
  • What some voters would like to see, I suspect, is the old John McCain: the exciting, fast-moving candidate, who was heavy on reform and light on organization.
  • The John McCain campaign really doesn't have to invent a new John McCain. It just has to find the old one.
Really, find the "old one"? The McCain of campaign finance reform and opposition to tax cuts? The one that Republican primary voters overwhelmingly rejected in 2000? It's probably too late for McCain to convince Republicans he's changed, but one thing is certain: McCain the old reformer would be sure to go down in Republican flames again in the 2008 primaries.

Compounding his misreading of Republicans, Simon asserts: "McCain's full-throated support for the war is hurting him with Republican voters even though most Republican voters support the war." I'd say that if anything is keeping McCain afloat, if just barely, in the primary field, it's his support for President Bush's Iraq policy. Ditch that, and McCain would be in Hagel-land: out of the race.

Roger Simon might be part of the new media now, but at least in this column, his old media roots [Chicago Tribune, U.S. News & World Report] were clearly showing.

Contact Mark at mark@gunhill.net

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