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February 04, 2008

The McCain Insurgency: John McCain will win on Super-Tuesday and will be the next President of the United States, argues Brendan Simms

Posted by Brendan Simms

Brendan Simms - Reader in the History of International Relations at the Centre of International Studies at the University of Cambridge and co-President of the Henry Jackson Society - makes some firm predictions for Super-Tuesday.

There has been much talk of late of the need to "reclaim" the Republican Party from the neo-conservatives. There has been a lot of debate about the way forward for the Grand Old Party (GOP) as the disparate coalition of national security hawks, anti-tax crusaders, and conservative evangelicals "fractures" in the last stages of the second Bush administration.

In fact, as the surge in support for John McCain shows, the Republican Party is regrouping in a very different centre ground to that expected or hoped for by the many critics of the "war on terror" and neo-conservatism.

For John McCain has done it again: the same "primacy of foreign policy" which won South Carolina for him, helped to deliver Florida with a clear though not overwhelming lead over the conservative Mitt Romney who carried a clear majority of the traditional Republican vote.

Exit polls show that the McCain constituency comprised a preponderance of: Hispanics, beguiled by his liberal stance on immigration; the elderly; Catholics; and the crucial military vote, which recognised his national security credentials. McCain has forged a coalition for greatness, which reflects the traditional strengths of America: its tolerance, its diversity and its resilience in the face of strategic adversity.

The point about this coalition is that it is not all driven by financial self-interest or the cultural comfort zone. To be sure, the Latinos are voting with their pockets, and there is nowhere else for socially liberal Republicans to go. But what gave McCain the edge in both South Carolina and Florida was that many who were very much not his ideological bedfellows, such as fundamentalist Christians and conservatives, voted for him in large numbers.

About a third of evangelicals in Florida, for example, backed him not because they liked his views on domestic policy, or because they thought him "consensual" - the very thought is absurd - but because they respected his claim to leadership in the war on terror. This underlines what I said in my previous piece about the role of the "primacy of foreign policy" in the McCain phenomenon.

What is so remarkable about this insurgency is that it is run on a shoestring. His victory over the big money of Mitt Romney shows that the nomination cannot be bought. The huge television advertisement campaigns made little difference to entrenched popular perceptions of McCain's quality. Famously, the vast majority of his staff - many of them high earners in the corporate and business world - have been working for free since July without any realistic chances of a payback (until very recently). Nobody of any consequence defected to other campaigns when things were bad in the summer. It is the triumph of Burke's "little platoons" over the big battalions of the vested interests.

Of course, it is likely that the Republican establishment will swing in behind McCain soon enough, and that substantial sponsorship will then follow. But big money will come to McCain because he is going to win anyway; he will not be winning because of big money. McCain will thus be firmly in the driving seat, and much less beholden to his sponsors on such crucial issues as energy, the environment, taxation and the national security priorities which will drive his policies across the board.

Now that Rudy Giuliani has pulled out, his similar though not identical constituency will surely turn the rising tide into an unstoppable flood. Because both men fought a clean campaign against each others, relations have remained very good and much of Giuliani's financial and political muscle will now swing behind McCain. His fund-raising efforts are about to take off.

Victory for McCain in most if not all states on Super-Tuesday tomorrow is a certainty not least because Huckabee will continue to divide the conservative evangelical vote. Polls put McCain well ahead with 39 points in California, and he will win New Jersey and New York by a large margin.

The next issue will be McCain's choice of a running mate. If his were a slicker operation, it would seek a younger conservative woman for the "balanced" ticket. Some might be tempted to go for Condoleezza Rice, a foreign policy professional, a black and a young(ish) woman, but she would almost certainly refuse. In any case, McCain is unlikely to have anyone associated with ancien regime mistakes in the key areas of national security.

Rumour had it that McCain is thinking of asking the centrist hawk Joe Lieberman - erstwhile Democrat Vice-Presidential candidate cast out by his own party. That would have made the Senator for Connecticut the first man to have run for the Vice-Presidency for both parties. Sadly, Senator Lieberman has ruled himself out.

What the whole discussion does show, once again, is McCain's unique ability to reach out across partisan lines and to capture the moderate, particularly blue collar Democrats, the descendants of the "Reagan Democrats" who decided the elections of the 1980s.

The foreign policy implications of a McCain victory are likely to be momentous; I shall discuss them in future columns. For now, however, the impact of foreign policy on the American domestic scene is of more immediate importance.

George W. Bush won the 2004 election against all predictions, because he cut a stronger profile than John Kerry on national security. McCain, with his robust record in containing Iran will be much the best placed to benefit from anxiety over their nuclear programme, or Iran-inspired terror in Iraq. Indeed, he will win on national security more generally.

It is no disrespect to either Barack Obama, a largely untested novice who lacks any of John F. Kennedy's military experience, or Hillary Clinton, to say that neither intimidates the Iranians as much as the man from Arizona.

Let me end, therefore, with a prediction. Teheran must know that any further provocations in the Gulf, or in the Middle East more generally, will only make McCain's electoral breeze to blow. So unless they are completely insane, the mullahs will keep a low profile until November at the very least. Not since the 1980 election, held against the background of the Iran hostage crisis, have the domestic and strategic fates of the two countries seemed more intertwined.

Dr Brendan Simms is Reader in the History of International Relations at the Centre of International Studies at the University of Cambridge and co-President of the Henry Jackson Society.

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