For my part, I would have vastly preferred to see Mike Huckabee win this thing tonight. But McCain’s victory tonight does set us up to get an answer to an important question: just how much enmity is there for John McCain among base Republican voters?
A few days ago, Rush Limbaugh said on his radio show that “we” find John McCain “unacceptable.” Yesterday the disgraced former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said that “McCain has done more to hurt the Republican party than any elected official I know of.”
I don’t know how much juice DeLay has among Republicans these days. But as big a buffoon as he may be, I think having Rush Limbaugh saying you’re unacceptable on the radio every day is a real obstacle to consolidating the support of the Republican party. Nor is it just Limbaugh; there’s a deep enmity toward McCain, especially among a lot of the right-wing national press.
But how deep does that really cut? Especially if polls show, as I suspect they will, that McCain is the strongest general election opponent? I don’t know the answer to that question. I don’t have the cite. But a poll that came out soon after his New Hampshire win seemed to show that there wasn’t much of a core of opposition to McCain among Republicans nationwide.
I think a lot of the establishment types in the GOP would rather go with Romney. And I think it’s a very open question how well McCain will do if this becomes a head to head race between McCain and Romney.
There’s also the issue of open and closed primaries. South Carolina, like Michigan and New Hampshire, but not many of the coming primaries, is an open primary. But if you look at the numbers tonight, John McCain lost Republicans by one point to Mike Huckabee.
There aren’t many open primaries left. And to best of my knowledge McCain has not won once this year among Republicans. He loses among Republicans and makes it up with big support from Independents.
All that said, if you’re looking forward to a Democratic White House in 2009, I don’t think this was a good night. Far better had Huck taken it.