- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 1, 2000

One of John McCain's stump staples is a little rhetorical number about fear namely, why Republican voters should not fear candidate McCain. "Why should you fear a candidate who wants to reform … ?" it goes. "Why should you fear a candidate who believes … who would sign …who shares your values … ? Join us. Join us. Join us." This is a curious gambit. After all, how many political candidates have ever felt compelled to assuage the fears of their own party members? Of course, maybe Republicans do have something to fear from Mr. McCain, something that, in this mock-holy war Mr. McCain likes to call a "crusade," might be thought of as a kind of political excommunication.
Monday, it was Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell who were cast out of the ranks, not only branded by Mr. McCain as "agents of intolerance," but also likened to Louis Farrakhan and Al Sharpton. The leap of logic required to make a comparison both so ridiculous and yet outrageous practically defies rejoinder. But, for the record, keep in mind that neither Mr. Robertson nor Mr. Falwell has ever practiced the hoaxing racial arson of an Al Sharpton, nor ever preached the anti-American hate-speak of a Louis Farrakhan.
Fairness, however, was not the point of this rhetorical exercise. Deep-sixing these men of the Christian right which the McCain campaign had already conceded to George W. Bush automatically buoys Mr. McCain's standing with his true base: the media (first and foremost), liberal Republicans, Democrats and independents, all of whom he needs more than ever.
The media, for one, were enthralled. After all, Mr. McCain's bible-thumping sorry campaign-finance-reform-bill-thumping speech allowed the press to keep talking about Bob Jones University without talking about Bob Jones University. Not that Mr. McCain himself is exactly letting go, concluding Monday's remarks by declaring, "We are the party of Abraham Lincoln, not Bob Jones." (Thanks for clearing that one up.) The media then played the "agents of intolerance" story so big and bold that not only was George W. Bush's mea culpa over his Bob Jones University visit all but forgotten and let's just forget about actual issues but two other telling events of the same day were completely overshadowed.
First, although Mr. McCain enjoys waxing rhetorical about the "battle of ideas," he surprised everyone everyone who noticed, that is by withdrawing from a CNN Republican debate long scheduled for Thursday night in California, where a delegate-jackpot, of course, goes up for grabs next Tuesday. Why did he pull out? McCain mastermind Mike Murphy cited a Friday spot on the "Today" show as the reason. "I'm going for the bigger ratings, the bigger audience," Mr. Murphy told the New York Times. How nice and substantive.
The other barely reported incident of the day was that the co-chairman of Mr. McCain's South Carolina campaign resigned over the campaign's incessant attacks on his alma mater. That's right the now-former state campaign co-chairman is an alumnus of Bob Jones University. "They're growing into a national media vendetta that I cannot associate my name to," Terry Haskins told the Associated Press.
Of course, it's not just Bob Jones et al. that Mr. McCain now has in his sights. While campaigning in Alexandria before yesterday's primary, Mr. McCain called for the defeat of the "Gilmore-Warner" machine named, improbably enough, for Gov. Jim Gilmore and Sen. John Warner. As Mr. McCain put it, invoking that great statesman Arnold Schwarzenegger, "I say to the Gilmore-Warner machine, 'Hasta la vista, baby.' " Gilmore-Warner machine? No such critter. (Maybe Mr. McCain is watching too many Preston Sturges movies.) Strange, indeed, that Mr. McCain would attack Mr. Warner, a fellow Republican maverick, who, with the support of Democrats and independents, has managed to win more statewide victories in Virginia than any other Republican, both with and without the support of the state'sRepublican establishment. What's going on here? Big ratings and good clippings aside, a loose stridency is more and more marking the McCain campaign. As the race slouches toward Super Tuesday, one has to wonder whether that's any way to hold the center.

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