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Is John McCain losing his base in the media?--

Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post writes:

John McCain was expecting journalists to start slapping him around, and he hasn't been disappointed.

As he gears up for a likely presidential campaign, the Arizona senator knows that reporters and columnists — whom he jokingly described last year as "my base" — have to prove their independence this time around. Media folks spent so much time riding on McCain's bus and listening to his rolling news conferences in the 2000 campaign that they were often mocked for swooning over the candidate. . . .

The reasons for the chilling of the climate go beyond a desire by journalists to prove they aren't in the senator's pocket. The press has a weakness for mavericks, and McCain is running as more of a regular Republican this time, embracing President Bush on most issues, making amends with the religious right, and voting to make permanent the tax cuts he once derided as excessive.

"When loving McCain was a way of expressing a negative opinion about the Republican Party, they were all for him," says Mike Murphy, a top McCain adviser in 2000. "Now that McCain is a strong potential candidate, some fickle liberal hearts are not fluttering as much."

McCain's apparent flip-flops are fair game, of course, but some of the liberal sniping at the senator seems based on ideology. McCain has always been a conservative, antiabortion, pro-military Republican who took more moderate positions on a few key issues. Now he is suddenly being outed as . . . a conservative Republican. . . .

Why are liberals suddenly more exercised about McCain? In 2000, he was a colorful underdog running against the party establishment's candidate. He was funny, told great stories, admitted mistakes and enjoyed dining with reporters. He was endlessly available for television interviews. He championed what seemed like a quixotic crusade for campaign finance reform. He was a certified war hero as a former prisoner at the Hanoi Hilton. He was unfairly slimed in the South Carolina primary. And, in the view of the press, he had little chance of winning.

This time around, McCain is arguably the front-runner for the GOP nomination. If he runs, he could well win the White House, shutting out the Democrats for the third straight election. And that is rallying the pundits of the left.

Mark Salter, McCain's administrative assistant, says the senator "is not unhappy with the press coverage he's receiving." Of course, it is far better for him to be put through the media meat grinder now, in early 2006, than when voters are paying attention. And getting banged around by liberal columnists hardly hurts him on the right.

Still, the skeptics are right on one point: McCain's crossover appeal is built on the idea that he speaks his mind without political calculation. If he loses his media "base," that may be a sign that he has returned to the ranks of political mortals.

Betsy at Betsy's Page comments:

Well, we always knew that it would happen; it's just happening a little ahead of schedule. Now that the media is waking up to the idea that John McCain could actually win both the Republican nomination and even the election in 2008. And they're realizing, that there is more to McCain than the guy who so helpfully bashes the administration on some issues. Why, the guy is actually pro-life and supports the war in Iraq. Gasp! We can't have that, so liberals and the media are already gearing up to cut McCain down to size and soften him up for 2008. . . .

I think Kurtz is exactly right about why the media worm is turning on McCain. What they don't realize is that such attacks help McCain in his race for the Republican nomination because there is nothing Republican primary voters agree so much on as their dislike for the media. In fact, in addition to my differences with McCain on issues such as tax cuts and campaign finance reform, one of my main suspicions of McCain has been the sense that he would take positions solely to maintain his popularity with the press. So, McCain will benefit, at least in terms of the GOP nomination, by losing his "base," the press.

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