Good grief. Note to John McCain’s campaign: if you’re looking to mend fences and try to become the choice of conservative Republican primary voters, it’s best not to go around trumpeting news of an endorsement by Senator John Warner of Virginia – especially after Warner just finished spearheading an effort in the Senate to rebuke the President and undermine his Iraq policy. ~Tom Bevan

Good grief.  Note to Tom Bevan: when mocking a presidential candidate’s actions, it’s best if you mock the endorsements that will actually hurt the candidate.  Let me explain.  John Warner is assuredly opposed to the “surge” and worked to bring his own anti-“surge” resolution to the floor, while everyone and his brother knows that McCain is vehemently in favour of it and has been in favour of escalating the war for years.  Edwards dubbed the plan the “McCain Doctrine” for a good reason.  The war is the one thing on which McCain has absolutely solid credibility with pro-war GOP voters, so he has no need to reassure them that he is their man on foreign policy.  If he needs to convince them that he is supportive of the war effort, when he has been the biggest booster of this war in the Senate, he may as well quit now.   

The Warner endorsement is a way to show moderate, realist and otherwise sane voters that even fairly level-headed people such as John Warner support McCain despite all of the many reasons why you would think he wouldn’t.  It proves McCain’s supposedly broader appeal.  Of course, Warner and McCain aren’t terribly far apart in foreign policy views in reality, and their disagreement about the “surge” is one of prudential judgement about the likelihood of the plan’s success and not fundamentally over the war itself (which Warner has always supported and will continue to support as long as he is in office).  Warner’s endorsement is a huge plus and only appears as a liability to people who think that the “surge” plan was handed down by God and is therefore unquestionable.  Since Republican bloggers have made the “surge” the litmus test for all members of the party, they have come to see any opponent of the “surge” as some sort of subversive who deserves to be thrown into a deep pit, but this is, as usual for these folks, impressively unrelated to the real world.  In fact, Warner is the ultimate representative of conventional Republican foreign policy thinking and therefore his endorsement serves as a great symbol that McCain is the GOP establishment’s preferred leader on foreign policy.

But this Bevan post provides an opportunity to explain how endorsements work to those who don’t seem to get it: you get different endorsements for different target audiences, even during the primaries, as a way of building a larger base of support.  The more endorsements from a wide variety of groups that you can get, and the more varied they are, the better this is for your campaign, because it shows that you are capable not simply of being the guy likely to win the intra-party fight but also someone who can bring together the entire party after the nomination has been won.  If the only endorsements McCain was receiving were from Neocons For Greater Belligerence And More Torture and the American Association Against Free Speech, he might appear to be a fringe or factional figure with no support from other parts of the party but his own.  That would make him appear to be a less effective party leader and therefore a potentially less compelling general election candidate.  A Warner endorsement not only plays well to anti-“surge” Republican voters (there are a few) but it also plays well to the general electorate.  Because Warner is (wrongly) perceived as being somehow less than the robust internationalist-interventionist that he is, his endorsement helps McCain by making him appear more reasonable and responsible than he actually is.  If the old Pentagon-connected war horse Warner likes him, that confers GOP establishment respectability on the old “maverick” and shows that even those who disagree with him over the “surge” believe him to be the best qualified candidate. 

In short, McCain’s campaign is apparently being run by pretty smart people, and Tom Bevan will not be getting hired as a campaign consultant anytime soon.