The more I have read about McCain, the more fascinating his political career has been.
Democrats dismissed him during the campaign as the second coming of George W. Bush, and argued that his ill-conceived response to the financial meltdown demonstrated a temperament unfit for the presidency. At best, conservatives simply admire the man and his accomplishments -- warily -- from a distance. At worst (see: Glenn Beck), the tin-pot loudmouths on the far right think he's the second coming of Trotsky. Beck, incredibly, went so far as to say that he would be worse for the country than Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. Ann Coulter said she'd support Clinton before him because, in her words, Hillary was "more conservative." Rush Limbaugh's campaign of perpetual rants against the Senior Senator is approaching the two-decade mark. Laura Ingraham inexplicably engaged in a war of words with McCain's daughter and called her "fat."
At age 72, it would be quite easy for McCain to ride off into the sunset, particularly after two brutal presidential campaigns (2000 and 2008) that left him deeply disappointed. I'm sure most conservatives wish he would do so. However, he intends to seek re-election to his fifth Senate term in 2010, and doesn't appear to be going anywhere.
I've argued here many times -- and Newt Gingrich has said the same thing -- that the Republican Party must enlarge its tent in order to return to prominence. John McCain has voted with the Republican Party better than 80 percent of the time during his 22-year Senate career. He is a conservative. Period. But it's his (in?)famous penchant for crossing the aisle and working with the Feingolds, the Kennedys and the Liebermans that has made him one of the most admired political figures in American life (and one of the most reviled figures by the far right).
Colin Powell was dead wrong when he said the GOP needed to move toward the center and ditch the "small government" mantra if it wanted to return to power. The Republican Party does not need to sacrifice its core principles, but rather needs to be more inclusive, more accommodating, more thoughtful and more civil. There exists an incredible vacuum in Washington -- the president is too aloof and inexperienced, congressional Democrats are too liberal, and Republican leaders feel compelled to capitulate to the shrill voices on the fringe -- that is dying to be filled. Americans want solutions that the vast majority of the Democratic Party is simply unable to provide.
The GOP will be better off if thoughtful candidates who appeal to the vital center are on the ballot. Kudos to Sen. McCain for his work in this regard.