Analysis: McCain Bows Out, What Next?

July 7, 2008 - 7:25 PM

(CNSNews.com) - Arizona Senator John McCain "suspended" his run for president Thursday, but withheld his endorsement of Gov. George W. Bush, who now is all but sure to be the GOP presidential nominee. The question is now being asked: What is next for McCain's campaign?

"I congratulate Governor Bush and wish him and his family well," McCain said. "He may very well become the next president of the United States. That is an honor accorded to very few and is such a great responsibility that he deserves the best wishes of every American. He certainly has mine."

McCain's lackluster support of Bush prompted speculation that the Arizonan plans to play a major role in shaping the party platform at the GOP convention this summer. Political analysts speculate McCain could push the party to the right, frustrating Bush's efforts to win the independents he needs to beat Vice President Al Gore, the all but certain Democratic presidential nominee in November.

"I think the nomination of Mr. Bush has rendered the Republicans unelectable in November," said Theodore Lowi, professor in the Department of Government at Cornell University, and author of "The End of the Republican Era," in an interview with CNSNews.com.

Despite McCain's strong support among independents and moderates in the primaries, "he is farther right in his record than Bush was," Lowi said. "And after that primary season, the platform will be even more right wing than it was in the last couple of elections, especially on matters like abortion, school prayer, school choice, anti-gun control."

McCain will keep pushing campaign finance reform, but on much of the other issues "he'll be content to sit there and let the Christian right fry Mr. Bush. That will render extremely difficult Bush's efforts to pull the party back together again."

Bush has yet to prove he's a strong enough leader to keep together three main factions of the Republican Party, Lowi said. These include "the liberal or libertarian country club faction; the traditional, secular conservative small town faction; and the Southern, sacred conservative faction. The fault lines are getting deeper."

After a tough primary season for both Bush and Gore, Bush is left with the difficult job of winning back independents who favored him over Gore before McCain's upset wins in New Hampshire and Michigan. Current polls indicate Bush and Gore are virtually even among independents.

Bush began his campaign by appealing to independents and moderates, describing himself as a "compassionate conservative." But in Republican contests on Super Tuesday, 60 percent of independent voters backed McCain.

Bush's choice of running mate will be crucial to winning back the middle ground, and analysts predict he will look for ideological and geographic balance. New York Gov. George Pataki has been tipped as a possibility.

"One of his best prospects is New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman. It's a regional balance. She's a marvelous campaigner, and she's a proven vote-getter," Lowi said.

However, a stumbling block for Whitman and Pataki among conservatives is their soft position on abortion.

McCain's conservative allies told CNSNews.com the political tide turned for the insurgent in the primaries after he began to attack conservatives.

"What hurt McCain was after Michigan, he got off the message," John Pappas, a spokesman for Arizona Republican Rep. John Shadegg, told CNSNews.com.

"He harped on this Bob Jones incident and attacked the religious right and their influence on the Republican Party. That was off message and he really lost touch with the American people making those arguments. Whether or not he was right is beside the point. He needed to stay on message and keep talking about his agenda of reform, his conservative record and how he's a Republican and why he would be good for defense issues and national security and foreign policy. Instead he went off on these attacks and it ended up hurting him," Pappas said.