- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 24, 2000

When Alice in Wonderland famously exclaimed, "Curiouser and curiouser!" she might as well have been commenting on this season's GOP primary roller coaster. Due to John McCain's brilliant challenge to George W. Bush, it has already made history for looping the laws of electoral logic and turning political tradition on its head. Indeed, Alice could have been describing, and with surprising insight, the intriguing, if perplexing, relationship now unfolding between Mr. McCain, Tuesday's winner in Michigan (and, of course, his home state of Arizona), the unprecedented numbers of Democrats and independents who voted for him (a full 51 percent of the voters in Michigan's Republican primary were Democrats and independents), and the vast majority of Republican voters who did not.

Alice, if you recall, had just consumed one of those unpredictable "EAT ME" cakes and had begun to swell and lengthen fantastically a workable metaphor for the large (and, in some cases, temporary) numbers of non-Republican voters drawn to the karmic appeal of Mr. McCain's "reforms." Alice went on to describe her growth spurt as "opening out like the largest telescope there ever was," and it actually led her to have to say goodbye to her feet "for when she looked down at her feet, they seemed to be almost out of sight, they were getting so far off."

Now, imagine Republican Party regulars the ones in Michigan, for example, who overwhelmingly voted 3-1 for George W. Bush as those fast-disappearing feet. " ' Oh, my poor little feet, ' said Alice from a great distance, 'I wonder who will put on your shoes and stockings for you now, dears? … [You] must manage the best way you can but I must be kind to them,' thought Alice, 'Or perhaps they won't walk the way I want to go!' "

So far, you might say, Republicans aren't walking the way Mr. McCain wants to go. The bizarre fact is, the Arizona senator has become a leading Republican presidential contender without benefit of significant Republican voter support. And even in this era of open Republican primaries, winning a majority of Republican voters remains, however quaint it may seem, a condition of winning the party's presidential nomination. With each successive primary he runs in, however, Mr. McCain is receiving a lower percentage of Republican votes.

Why? The story of the Mr. McCain's Grand Old dwindling base has more than a little to do with Mr. McCain's weak hold on Grand Old Party issues another one of the many McCain paradoxes. That is, given the senator's conservative voting record in Congress, it is puzzling to tally up the number of liberal positions he has taken on the presidential campaign trail. Having endorsed a patient's bill of rights and federal subsidies for purchases of prescription drugs to name just two, Mr. McCain has, of course, also given voice to the rhetoric of class envy on both taxes and campaign-finance reform the classic code of liberalism. When it comes to his more compelling conservative themes of self-government and patriotism, Mr. McCain remains largely vague and metaphoric, so far failing to bring to ground a clear agenda of such real-world goals as restraining an overweening judiciary, repealing racial preferences, or building up a missile defense.

Because the votes of Democrats and independents will count for increasingly less as primary season wears on, it makes perfect sense that several bona fide GOP points of honor, such as "protecting the unborn" and "shredding" the tax code, actually popped up in Mr. McCain's Tuesday night victory remarks (rather mellower than Saturday's concession speech). We sincerely hope, of course, that their new and no doubt increasing prominence in his campaign means something more than that Mr. McCain, like Alice, wants only to be kind.

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