Looking For Sister Souljah

Mark Krikorian isn't taken with Richelieu's remark about McCain needing "a Souljah moment with GOP orthodoxy":

What? McCain's whole career is one long Sister Souljah moment. Now, distancing himself from Bush is necessary, because otherwise he's just running for Bush's third term, but putting some bly sky between himself and president is not what I'd call a "Sister Souljah moment."

But this, of course, is precisely McCain's problem. In a year when the GOP desperately needs a candidate who can put some distance between himself and the "Bush Republican" brand, it has a candidate who had put so much distance between himself and Bush Republicanism in the past (and pissed off so many conservatives along the way) that the only way he could win the nomination was to run a deeply cautious and conventional primary campaign, which in turn seems to be restricting his general-election options.

This doesn't mean that McCain was the wrong choice for primary voters: His rivals had the same problem to varying degrees, which is why nobody was able to pull of the deft maneuver that George W. Bush managed in 1999, when he deliberately defined himself against the unpopular Congressional GOP. (Mike Huckabee came closest to attempting something like this, with his war against the Club for Growth, but he was fighting from a position of enormous weakness vis-a-vis the right-wing establishment, whereas Bush circa 1999, as the pedigreed front-runner, was fighting from a position of enormous strength.)

But with McCain, there's the additional difficulty that his instincts often incline him toward Souljah moments - from campaign-finance reform to cap-and-trade - that win plaudits from liberal pundits but don't necessarily excite the voting public. Whereas for all the Bush Administration's weaknesses, it did seem to understand that if you're going to piss off movement conservatives, it pays to do it on kitchen-table issues like health care and education, where's there's a possibility that a little heterodoxy might actually swing large numbers of votes the GOP's way. In this case and this case only, the McCain campaign could profit from Bush's example.