John McCain, despite all odds, has threaded the needle and emerged as the presumptive Republican nominee for president.
Now comes the hard part.
McCain must shore up the GOPs conservative base without diminishing his broad appeal, especially to the independents whom the Republican candidate must attract in order to win in November.
Of course, there are fire-eaters on the hard right who will be difficult to satisfy, which assumes that they even wish to be satisfied. As McCain ally and former Senator Phil Gramm has pointed out, a fair degree of the ranting against McCain is rooted in bruised egos and a fear that the currents of political power are changing course.
Others on the right who have grudgingly faced facts have urged McCain to mollify the base by, among other things, changing his stance on global warming.
Bad advice. Such a switch would come across as a facile flip-flop, which is not in McCains nature and probably wouldnt work anyway, as a certain former governor of Massachusetts found out the hard way.
Better advice has come from Ken Mehlman, former head of the Republican National Committee, who said recently that GOP candidates should show conservatives how and why dealing with climate change is consistent with conservative values.
For example, McCain could use his street cred on defense issues to explain the security risks of letting climate change get out of hand and of continued oil dependence. He could talk about bucking up the economy with technology jobs, or borrow a leaf from Mike Huckabees theme book and talk about the moral obligation of stewardship.
Survey data gathered by Republican pollster Whit Ayres shows that Republican voters are receptive to such arguments. A significant majority of Republicans that Ayres surveyed in key swing districts last year would support a candidate who argues that reducing carbon pollution would create jobs and lower U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
It's a message that could appeal to both Republicans and independents. And as Ayres has warned Republicans, losing the support of independents cost the GOP dearly in 2006.
McCain will have to walk a fine line over the next several months as he consolidates his leadership over the party and plans for an epic fall battle against either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. He must secure the GOP base while maintaining his cross-partisan appeal.
One more time, McCain will have to thread the needle.
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