There’s quite an irony here. Ever since his tenure as governor of Texas, Bush has cultivated a reputation as a party-builder — “the greatest Republican party builder since William McKinley,” according to the Economist’s John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge. Now, although the numbers still suggest that Republicans might keep the House in November (and the Senate is not a write-off either), it’s starting to look as if the post-Bush Republican Party might be a shipwreck. Bush could wind up having more in common as a party-builder with McKinley’s successors, Roosevelt and Taft, who failed to reconcile the GOP’s conservative and progressive wings, costing the GOP the House in 1910 and, thanks to TR’s third-party run, the White House in 1912.

If John McCain succeeds Bush, he could well both delay and exacerbate the crack-up. He’s personally popular enough to have some coattails in 2008, helping to make up for ground lost in 2006. But a McCain presidency could set off the fault lines in the party over social issues and the war in Iraq, which McCain would prosecute even more vehemently than Bush has. And he’s not exactly the man to settle the party’s internal differences over immigration that are now causing Bush so much trouble. ~Daniel McCarthy

Mr. McCarthy’s post is very good, and I agree with pretty much all of it. But I will say that Sen. McCain’s popularity is pretty chimerical and very media-driven, and it will amount to very little come the ’08 primaries.

Just as happened in 2000, Sen. McCain will get some media buzz and maybe pick up an early New Hampshire win again, but will have nothing to carry him the rest of the way. Now getting free and extensive good coverage from the media is a real advantage in modern politics, and I’m not trying to make light of that. This has a real effect on whether people respond favourably to him, but my impression is that his perceived popularity is based on the impression that he is a “maverick” (to use yet again the overused term applied to him) and willing to cross party lines. Because of this, he will never inspire the (misguided) enthusiasm from core Republican voters that Mr. Bush has, and consequently he will not get the nomination in the first place before his coattails can anyone any good.

As a recent Tribune story reported, McCain’s first venture into Iowa (he skipped visiting for the state’s caucuses when he ran for president before) was a fairly lukewarm affair and all the things that make him popular with the press (campaign finance reform, etc.) generally make him unpopular with normal people and the few things he occasionally does that are worthwhile (opposing torture) alienate him from those in Middle America who are less than anxious about how “terrorists” are being treated (call them the 24 Nation). It is amusing that one of the most strident jingoes in Congress today should ever have to worry about appearing “weak” to Republican primary voters for any reason, but it creates a real liability for McCain with precisely those voters who should respond very strongly to his über-hawkish foreign policy views.

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