Senator McCain, be careful what you wish for

I hope John McCain knows what he has gotten himself into. He is inheriting a Republican Party in a weaker state than it has been since before Ronald Reagan was elected President; a conservative movement that has become intellectually bankrupt and discredited; years of disasterous Republican goverance has left him a wildly unpopular war, a declining middle class, a weakening economy, an unraveling of the housing market and an extraordinary legacy of mismanagement, cronyism and corruption; an incumbent Administration which will continue to be big drag on his own candidacy, and, as Dick Cheney demonstrated yesterday, are unlikely to give him the room he needs to establish himself.

Three stories today highlight the difficult environment McCain is inheriting:

From today's Times -

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Friday that many Europeans were confused about NATO's security mission in Afghanistan, and that they did not support the alliance effort because they opposed the American-led invasion of Iraq.

"I worry that for many Europeans the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan are confused," Mr. Gates said as he flew here to deliver an address at an international security conference.

"I think that they combine the two," he added. "Many of them, I think, have a problem with our involvement in Iraq and project that to Afghanistan, and do not understand the very different - for them - the very different kind of threat."

The comments were the first in which Mr. Gates had explicitly linked European antipathy to American policy in Iraq with the reason large segments of the public here do not support the NATO operation in Afghanistan.

Mr. Gates's assessment was an unusually candid acknowledgment from a senior member of President Bush's cabinet that the war in Iraq had exacted a direct and significant political cost, even among Washington's closest allies.

In a piece about Mexican President Felipe Calderon's US visit, also from the Times:

In the interview, Mr. Calderón argued that the only way the Americas could remain competitive in a world where China and Europe were emerging as major powers once again is to integrate the economies in the Western Hemisphere. He warned that the United States was losing influence.

"What is clear to me is that in Latin America, and in the world, for some reason the United States has been losing friends, and it seems to me it should do everything possible to reach out to the few friends it has left."

From the AP there is this new data, coming just days after the President addressed the nation:

Bush reached his lowest approval rating in The Associated Press-Ipsos poll on Friday as only 30 percent said they like the job he is doing, including an all-time low in his support by Republicans.

There should be little doubt that managing this environment would be incredibly difficult for any Republican nominee. But by the choices he has made and the way he has conducted his politics in the Senate, it is clear McCain is a candidate who has taken this bad situation and made it much worse. For he is in the remarkable position of being both tied to a terribly unpopular President and through his past actions have made it almost impossible to imagine how he can unite his own Party. A Post headline today about the CPAC conference this week captures it all:

"History and Necessity Unite Bush, McCain: Old Rivals Need Each Other to Unify GOP and Maintain the President's Iraq Policy."

There is a media narrative that McCain will be a strong GOP general election candidate. But the McCain of 2008 is not the McCain of 2000. In the intervening years McCain has aged a great deal. His Party's governance has weakened America at home and done great damage to our standing in the world. He is now closely tied to the most unpopular President America has seen in the last 50 years. He is the primary defender of the worst foreign policy disaster in American history. His clumsy dealings with his own coalition make it hard to see how he unites his Party this year, a political situation more dire than any other example we've seen like this in modern American history. He has no real economic philosophy at a time when making globalization work for all Americans is perhaps our greatest governing challenge. His position on choice will not sit well with swing voters. He flipflopped big time on immigration in this past year, neither satisfying his own base and leaving himself capable of being villified in the Hispanic community, the most energized voting block in America today, and one he needs to win in 2008. His campaign has not adopted the new internet-based model that has been instrumental in driving the Democrat's huge increase in citizen participation - and money - this cycle.

In a year where change is the theme he is the living embodiment of more of the same, of an old politics gone bad.

The task of winning the Presidency in 2008 would have been daunting for any Republican. By his own choices, his beliefs, his decisions, his politics and his age, it sure seems that John McCain is particularly ill-suited to do what will need to be done for his Party this year, and may have been among the worst candidates the Republicans could have fielded in what will be an incredibly consequential political year.

Update: Huckabee blows out McCain in Kansas today.  Further evidence of the trouble McCain is having bringing his Party together.