Joe Tobacco at Cadillac Tight offers a nicely delivered argument that the standard conservative themes no longer resonate with most Americans, thus explaining the incipient McCain nomination (hat tip: Glenn Reynolds).
...The [conservative establishment (e.g., talk radio combined with National Review)] really think that there is nothing wrong with their ideas, their methods, or their scorn for their own voter base. Even after the 2006 “thumping” they took in Congress, they don’t see it. Rather than take a step back and consider that McCain may actually be closer to the base in terms of his policy preferences (they can, after all, always tell themselves these primaries were about “electability”, not policy), they intend to soldier on with their losing agenda, keeping a nice supply of brickbats ready to hurl at their own base when things don’t work out the way they expected them to.
At first blush, the story doesn't pass my smell test. Talk radio and the center-right blogosphere, for example, were able to instantly marshal their forces against the open-borders crowd and defeat the amnesty bill, despite every advantage possessed by the President, Ted Kennedy, John McCain and a host of other beltway insiders.
As for a "thumping" in 2006, were it not for the "macaca" kerfuffle (vastly inflated by the progressive media), it's entirely likely that the Senate would have remained in GOP hands.
And if we're going to buy into CT's argument, I'd like some metrics that can help confirm or deny the assertions.
The candidates and the campaign
The Intrade political futures market provides insight into the dynamics and trending of the race. Look closely at the market for each candidate over the hottest period of primary season (mid-2007).
Giuliani: hovering between 20% and 40% during the meat of the campaign, Rudy had grabbed many national security conservatives and centrists who admired his handling of the 9/11 attacks. As for Second Amendment and social conservatives, many had their doubts. A lack of major-league funding rippled into tactical errors that quickly short-circuited his campaign.
Thompson: gravitating between 15% and 30%, Fred was beloved by the conservative backbone of the party. A late and ineffectual start followed by a sequence of debate breakdowns -- cause by an apparent lack of both preparation and eloquence -- accelerated his fall.
Romney: ranging between 15% and 25%, Mitt had the advantage of an unlimited warchest and a professionally staffed campaign. He was repeatedly wounded by the media, which focused inappropriate attention on his Mormon background (consider: did you ever read a news story about Harry Reid's Mormon upbringing?).
McCain: listing between 5% and 20% (on the lower end for most of the race), the war hero-cum-beltway insider was too old and too damaged by the immigration debate to be considered a serious GOP candidate. Or was he?
Huckabee was simply not a viable candidate until a series of wonderfully glib debate performances propelled him to mainstream media prominence.
Examined this way, conservatives had split between three viable candidates who combined for nearly 90% of the Republican sentiment in July of 2007! Later in the race, the GOP split even further. But why was the voting public so fragmented, so compartmentalized?
The mainstream media and the GOP race
Over the course of the Republican nomination process, the ultimate barometer of mainstream media sentiment -- the New York Times -- promoted candidates certain to be weakest against Democrats in the general election. To gauge this contention, let's examine the number of mentions in the Times over the past year for each candidate.
• John McCain: 97,400
• Mitt Romney: 87,400
• Mike Huckabee: 52,800
• Fred Thompson: 21,700
• Rudy Giuliani: 18,600
Consider that Huckabee, a man with no significant backing early in the cycle, was promoted by the Times nearly three times as much as New York's former mayor, a much more well-known and local figure. Or that John McCain was publicized (in the context of the GOP nomination) approximately five times as much as either Giuliani or Thompson.
And to reiterate, much of the MSM's attention focused on Romney's "oddball" Mormon background and other attack stories.
Put simply, the mainstream media relentlessly marketed the comeback of John McCain and the viability of a no-name, no-money, no-chance candidate like Mike Huckabee simply to fragment and weaken the Republican fold for the inevitable Clinton/Obama onslaught.
An apology to Hugh Hewitt
In short, the center-right blogosphere (myself included, eighth-tier player though I may be) and talk radio both owe an aoplogy to Hugh Hewitt.
Hewitt had the right idea all along: back the man with the best executive track record, eloquence, squeaky clean background, solid (if imperfect) conservative credentials and, yes, presidential appearance as the single man who could unite the GOP.
Had Rush, Sean Hannity and Mark Levin followed Hewitt's lead earlier -- using their bully pulpits as blunt instruments, just as the mainstream media is fond of doing (only they do so in the form of analysis disguised as news) -- Romney would be the presumptive nominee.
Perhaps these are our lessons for the next go-round.
That said, many things can happen before the general election. One never knows what shenanigans the Clintons might pull with the super-delegates, for instance.