In a small indication of poor judgment, Sen. John McCain's operatives provided a
link on his campaign Web site to the New York Times editorial endorsing Sen. McCain
in the New York primary Feb. 5.
The endorsement got more attention than it otherwise would because MSNBC's Brian
Williams, one of the moderators of the GOP debate in Florida last Thursday, threw it
in the face of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. The editorial had consisted
mostly of the editorial board explaining why they think Mr. Giuliani is an evil mean
nasty rotten guy. Mr. Williams wanted to know: how does the mayor respond to such
withering criticism from his home town paper?
Mr. Giuliani's eyes lit up like Babe Ruth's used to when he saw a hanging curve
spinning in his wheelhouse. Rudy knew, as Brian Williams evidently did not, that
for the vast majority of Republicans, to be endorsed by the New York Times is like
being endorsed by Satan.
What is curious is that Sen. McCain would consider the endorsement of value to him
in a GOP primary fight. The Arizonan has yet to win a plurality of Republican
voters in any primary or caucus. (Independents put him over the top in New
Hampshire and South Carolina.) In Florida, and in most of the primaries to come,
only Republicans will be permitted to vote. Reminding suspicious conservatives that
he's the favorite Republican of limousine liberals doesn't seem to me to be the best
way for Sen. McCain to win them over.
Most observers thought that debate was won by former Massachussetts Gov. Mitt
Romney, but Mr. Romney handed back whatever advantage he might have won with some
clumsiness of his own.
Mr. Romney received a modest bump in the polls immediately after the debate, but it
dissipated when Florida's popular governor, Charlie Crist, and Sen. Mel Martinez,
popular with Cuban-Americans, endorsed Sen. McCain. Both likely would have remained
neutral were it not for the heavy handed tactics of Mr. Romney's operatives, said
the American Spectator's "Prowler."
The Prowler reported Monday he'd been told by a consultant who's worked for both
Gov. Crist and Sen. Martinez that: "It finally got to the point for the both of them
that they just got fed up with the constant harassment. They weren't going to
endorse Romney, and under the right circumstances, one or both of them might have
chosen to sit the primary out, but the Romney people just made it intolerable."
Aggressive, obnoxious stupidity. None of the other candidates like Mitt Romney.
This is an indication why.
Rudy Giuliani may not be a favorite of the New York Times, but former Sen. Fred
Thompson, the first major dropout in the GOP race, has got to be very fond of him.
Thanks to Rudy, Sen. Thompson can no longer be said to have run the worst campaign
in modern history.
There was enormous excitement among conservatives last Spring when Fred hinted he
might get into the race. But he frittered it away by dilly dallying about formally
becoming a candidate, shaking up his campaign team several times, and then
campaigning with all the energy of a snake on a hot rock.
But the woes of the Thompson campaign pale into insignificance compared to the
shortcomings of the Giuliani campaign. Whether he throws in the towel formally or
not, Rudy is finished after Florida. How he went from leading the national polls to
also ran in six months will be studied for years by students of political science.
It's the biggest misjudgment since Saddam Hussein figured Iran was a greater threat
to him than George W. Bush.
Not all the moves in Florida have been tactically poor. Over the weekend, Sen.
McCain accused Gov. Romney of favoring a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, like
the Democratic candidates do. This wasn't quite a lie. Gov. Romney hedged about
the surge in ways Sen. McCain did not. But the Straight Talk Express took a huge
detour around the truth.
"It's so shamelessly unfair, it's the kind of thing you'd expect of Bill Clinton
attacking Barack Obama," said Rich Lowry of National Review.
But Sen. McCain's low blow is, alas, good politics. It changed the conversation
in Florida from economics, Gov. Romney's long suit, back to national defense.
Both Sen. McCain and Gov. Romney are too flawed to reunite and reinvigorate a
dispirited Republican party. There is only one candidate who can do that. And she
might lose to Barack Obama.