Last night's Republican convention had so many twists and turns between past and present that my head was spinning. Speakers invoked the old McCain to applaud the new McCain. They vowed to thrown the bums out of Washington (even though Republicans have dominated it since 2000). And they reached back to Vietnam to validate their candidate. All of this is very confusing, but it gives a good glimpse of how they will run for the presidency in 2008.
The maverick McCain dared to disagree with President Bush and the socially conservative elements of his own party. To win the nomination, however, McCain backtracked on his maverick tendencies. That endears him to conservatives, but alienates swing voters and independents.
At the same time, speaker after speaker at the convention praises him as a maverick--thereby putting some distance between McCain and the highly unpopular President Bush. If this works, the GOP can have its cake and eat it: a more conservative McCain who appeals to party diehards, with a "maverick" image that wins over independents, swing voters and disaffected Democrats.
Convention speakers also praised McCain as a fighter against Washington interests. (Never mind that McCain is a Washington insider himself and the member of a party that has dominated Washington since 2000.) In this way, he might co opt Obama's call for change.
Finally, speakers applauded McCain's courage as a prisoner of war and encouraged voters to remember Vietnam. McCain was indeed brave, but I fear that there is a hidden message here.
To many Americans, Vietnam was the war that the USA could have won and didn't. For those who follow this line of reasoning, Iraq is the new Vietnam. For these folks the effort to begin a "responsible end" to the war in Iraq, as Obama argues, is to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. I think this is a very flawed reading of Vietnam, but it has an appeal to Vietnam hawks and their ideological descendants.
All of these claims suggest that the Republicans will try to capitalize on the good name McCain enjoyed in 2000, selectively deny their own record under the Bush administration, and present themselves as the party that can win the war in Iraq. There is much that is evasive, illogical and downright dishonest in this strategy. Depending on how the Democrats respond, it might be an effective strategy. You could call it flip flopping your way to the White House.