John McCain: Everyone’s Second Choice

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mccain_blackandwhite.jpg I know, I know, the thought-process that goes into one pundit’s endorsement isn’t particularly interesting. But Andrew Sullivan’s endorsement of Ron Paul in the GOP race illuminates something about the Republican field more generally.

The top-line summary of Sullivan’s politics is that he’s a small-government conservative. As such, it’s no surprise that he supports the libertarian in the race. What’s interesting, though, is that Sullivan’s second choice is McCain, a man who strongly supports a war Sullivan hates and is frequently at odds with Sullivan’s social views.

According to Sullivan the explanation is McCain’s integrity, a trait he shares with Paul. “They have both said things to GOP audiences that they knew would offend,” writes Sullivan. “They have stuck with their positions despite unpopularity. They’re not saints, but they believe what they say.” He lists McCain’s status as a war hero and his willingness to consider issues through a fundamentally serious and apolitical lens.

This is a phenomenon I’m seeing a lot when speaking to Republican voters here in Iowa. McCain is the second choice of many, many people. A number of folks I’ve spoken to say that they wish they could caucus for the man. Thompson supporters, Huckabee supporters, and Romney supporters have all said to me that they respect and like John McCain, but that their man wins for some other reason (usually, he’s right on the issues where McCain is wrong; McCain’s advocacy for a moderate immigration plan is often cited as a huge problem).

There is a thirst, I think, for honesty in politicians. When I ask supporters of any candidate here, Democrat or Republican, what they look for in a candidate, 75 percent of the time the first thing they say is “honesty,” or some variation thereof. That’s a rough number, of course, but I assure you it is stunningly high. The fact that Clinton supporters, Obama supporters, and Romney supporters—supporters of anyone at all—say that honesty is their number one priority indicates that people can convince themselves that basically anyone is “honest.” But somehow, deep down, they realize that John McCain is the real deal.

Sullivan and Iowa’s Republicans aren’t the only ones. I’m prey to this as well.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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