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Why McCain Will Drop Out

By Tom Bevan

It may take weeks, or perhaps even a few months, but the odds are John McCain will drop out of the presidential race for the Republican nomination before the first vote is cast in Iowa in January. The reason is simple: what happened yesterday was much more than a "retooling" of McCain's campaign leadership. It was an outright mutiny that included his most trusted advisor, John Weaver, and it signaled that the problem with the McCain campaign is McCain himself. Sooner or later McCain will realize this, along with the reality that it's something no amount of staff reshuffling will fix.

The irony, of course, is that it didn't have to be this way. McCain spent a number of years mending fences with conservatives that he burned in 2000, vigorously supporting Bush's reelection and campaigning like a madman on behalf of Republican candidates in 2006. For a while McCain seemed to be making some headway with the Republican base in the '08 race, thanks in part to the questionable appeal of his two main rivals and for his passionate commitment to winning in Iraq and the global war on terror.

But even early on, there were signs that McCain's budding détente with the Republican base was fragile and not built to last, thanks in large part to the abiding highhandedness with which he approached certain issues and members of his party. There was the ill-advised fight with the Club for Growth over McCain's record on the Bush tax cuts. Instead of finding a way to work with the Club and recast himself as pro-growth, he attacked. Another omen: In the same week McCain announced his candidacy on David Letterman, he spurned appearing at CPAC due to a "scheduling conflict," reigniting GOP ire about his tendency to suck up to the media at the expense of the rank and file.

Finally, the Big Kahuna: immigration reform. McCain could have voted his conscience quietly, taken his lumps and moved on. Better yet, he could have found a legitimate reason to oppose what was universally considered a flawed bill without repudiating the concept of comprehensive immigration reform, as Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney did. But, as with many other things, McCain chose the worst possible political option, going out and standing with Ted Kennedy to champion the bill and then implicitly questioning the patriotism and motives of the bill's critics.

A few months back I asked a McCain staffer to explain the thought behind some of the campaign's decisions. "Sometimes McCain is just McCain," the staffer responded. That's exactly the problem. It's the reason McCain is out of money, sinking in the polls, and will probably pull the plug on his campaign before the year is out.

Tom Bevan is the co-founder and Executive Editor of RealClearPolitics. Email:

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