Building a Base to Nowhere

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The midterm elections take a decided turn to the left, and Sen. John McCain bolts right. Where is the logic here?

Perhaps the presidential hopeful is looking at pulling a reverse-Lieberman in '08. Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Democrat turned independent from Connecticut, tied himself so closely to President Bush and the failed war in Iraq that he lost his Democratic primary race. But then he entered the general election and pummeled Ned Lamont, who had beaten him (Lieberman) in the primary. Lesson there? Primary voters tend to be hard-liners–either right or left. Candidates who seek out the middle ground win general elections while they risk losing primaries.

McCain, the Arizona Republican, is clearly focused on the '08 primary season and is in the mood for no middle-ground risks. Just this past weekend, we saw him shift right on abortion. Although he's never been a supporter, notice the difference between McCain's position on choice in 1999 and now.

In 1999, the Washington Post reported:

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) appeared to soften his position on making abortion illegal in separate interviews in recent days, drawing criticism from social conservatives and some of his opponents for the Republican presidential nomination. Aides to McCain said perhaps he could have been clearer in comments he made to the San Francisco Chronicle and CNN, but that he had not wavered from his long-term opposition to abortion or his belief that Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, should be repealed.

"I'd love to see a point where it is irrelevant, and could be repealed because abortion is no longer necessary," McCain told the Chronicle in an article published Friday. "But certainly in the short term, or even the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe v. Wade, which would then force X number of women in America to [undergo] illegal and dangerous operations."

Fast-forward seven years, and here's what McCain told ABC News yesterday about banning abortion: "I don't think a constitutional amendment is probably going to take place, but I do believe that it's very likely or possible that the Supreme Court should–could–overturn Roe v. Wade, which would then return these decisions to the states, which I support."

What a difference a presidential primary season makes, eh?

Now here's the major question. Is McCain's position-shifting working on the audience toward which it's targeted, to wit, religious conservatives? Heaven help him if he's got to rely on this posting from a Christian website:

John McCain has lacked consistency and clarity on many of our country's paramount concerns, including abortion and homosexual marriage.

His political history is littered with flip-flops on his abortion stance, including during his 2000 presidential run when he said he would hold a "family meeting" to decide his grandchild's fate should his daughter become pregnant. Now as he considers a run again in 2008, McCain is trying to move toward the right by using pro-life language. But the voter should beware. This mid-term election proved that values voters are looking for substance, not rhetoric, and John McCain lacks substance on the defense of human life.