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Why McCain Won't Drop Out

By Reid Wilson

At this point, it appears likely that John McCain will not win the Republican nomination, and if he did, his stance on Iraq would put him at a severe disadvantage in the general. But it is also unlikely that he will drop out before the first contests in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Fresh off his latest trip to Iraq, the Arizonan spent yesterday on the floor of the Senate trying to convince his colleagues that a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq would be a disaster.

Other Republican candidates in the race largely agree with McCain on the war in Iraq. But none can speak as passionately and as credibly as a former prisoner of war with McCain's record. Whatever McCain's financial shape, whatever his position in the race, McCain remains the most credible voice on Iraq.

The impression some get from watching McCain speak about Iraq is that he is deeply wounded by the situation in which the American military finds itself. Many times his language suggests incredulousness to the fact that others don't see the situation as becoming as grave and threatening as he does. He told an audience at Virginia Military Institute in April that General David Petraeus is attempting "to spare the United States and the world the catastrophe of an American defeat." Most successful candidates will speak optimistically about the country. John McCain sees the war in Iraq as too serious to offer anything but a call to sacrifice.

Ironically, President Bush, the man who cost McCain his shot at the Presidency in 2000, will again cost McCain his chance to serve in the Oval Office. With approval ratings in the 20s, no candidate trying to be politically expedient would hew so closely to the President's positions on Iraq.

John McCain is not being politically expedient. He knows exactly where the war in Iraq stands in the public's mind, but that doesn't seem to matter. He believes his position is right, and no poll will convince him otherwise. In fact, John McCain may be more like President Bush than he would like to admit. The only difference between the two: George W. Bush will never face voters again. John McCain will.

The war in Iraq will almost certainly cost John McCain his chance to be President. He knows that, but to him, it is too important an issue to do anything but accept his fate and fight on, straight through the Iowa caucuses, for the final cause he believes is worth sacrificing himself.

Reid Wilson, an associate editor and writer for RealClearPolitics, formerly covered polls and polling for The Hotline, National Journal’s daily briefing on politics. Wilson’s work has appeared in National Journal, Hotline OnCall and the Arizona Capitol Times. He also served as deputy press secretary for Senator Chris Dodd’s Presidential campaign. Wilson can be reached at

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