Buyer's Remorse

Jonah argues - convincingly, I think - that at least some of the anti-McCain animus on the Right is related to anti-Bush animus that dare not speak its name. I'm not sure I agree with his conclusion, though:

McCain is presented with a dilemma. How can he rally the conservatives to his flag without alienating the moderates and independents the GOP needs to win in November? As nothing in politics needs to be clear-cut, he will probably try to do both as best he can, much as he did in his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference last week. At CPAC and elsewhere, McCain insists he's an unchanging conservative. But he might do better with his right flank if he can make the case that with him, we might get a conservative in the White House, for a change.

But how would he go about making that case? The trouble is that while there are many right-wingers who admit to being disappointed in Bush's record as a conservative, there are many, many more - particularly once you leave the pundit class behind for the world of rank-and-file activists and actual voters - for whom Bush is still a hero, a conservative icon, the only politician capable of conjuring up an "ecstactic thrill" among CPAC attendees. Which means that when it comes to shoring up the conservative base, McCain needs Bush's imprimatur too much to risk directly contrasting his record with the President's. Instead, all he can do is what he's already been doing, which is to distance himself from Bush by proxy - by drawing contrasts with "Rumsfeld" on the war, and with the GOP-led Congress on spending and earmarks. As much as the McCain campaign might like it if Bush-loving, Mac-loathing right-wingers could wake up and realize that their anti-McCain ire has at least something do with displaced disappointment about Dubya, that doesn't seem like an argument their candidate can plausibly go about making in public. Psychoanalyzing the conservative electorate seems like an unlikely way to win their hearts.