John McCain had a blogger call this morning. You can find the details here and here.
To win in November, McCain will need to hold (and ideally energize) his party’s conservative base and outpoll his opponent among moderates and independents. Thus, I tried to listen to McCain in a detached way, hoping to gauge how he would sound both to a conservative and a moderate. To assist in this exercise, I invited a moderate/independent voter to listen with me (I hope the campaign won’t mind).
How did McCain do? Very well, I think. He had a strong, consistently conservative message across a range of issues — Iraq, spending, government regulation, detainee trials, FISA, etc. Whether this message, from this messenger, will energize conservatives remains to be seen, but it’s hard to imagine that, after hearing it month after month in the context of a campaign against Obama or Clinton, many conservatives will be so indifferent as to stay home on election day.
But how will McCain win moderates while promoting a conservative message? In three ways, I think. First, based on his reputation. Second, by always putting one or two moderate-friendly themes out. Even today, before a conservative blogger audience, McCain went out of his way to say that in choosing his cabinet he’d be looking for conservationists.
Finally, and most importantly, through tone. The McCain we heard today was the guy I traveled with in November, not the smirking, Romney-bashing fellow in the Republican debate at the Reagan library. He spoke respectfully about everyone who came up — Mike Huckabee, House Republicans, and even Barack Obama. This greatly impressed my colleague (the moderate/independent I invited to listen in), and I think it will impress such voters generally. Those of us who follow politics closely, as partisans, underestimate the yearning many voters have for a lowering of the volume and a reduction of the venom in our politics, and the premium they place on personal qualities, including civility.
Can McCain meet that yearning while energizing his base? Can he return to and remain on an even keel now that the Romney burr has been removed from his saddle? Today, at least, it seemed possible to believe that, yes, he can.
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