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The evidence is growing that Sen. McCain is trying to disembowel the
Reagan coalition while masquerading as its standard bearer. The major
media are his gleeful accomplices. How far will McCain go to win the GOP
nomination?

McCain is seeking to forge a new coalition, a “McCain majority,”
consisting of renegade Democrats, Perotista malcontents, other
Independents and hapless Republicans who have fallen for the ruse that
he is still conservative. In the meantime, he’s blazing a trail of
scorched earth over the Reagan coalition of the ’80s.

McCain has made no effort to avoid offending Conservatives in his
patent appeal to Democrats and Independents in the open primaries to
date. He has demonized Bush’s tax cut proposal as disproportionately
benefiting the rich even though it is modest in comparison to Ronald
Reagan’s cuts.

McCain has now singled out the left’s favorite whipping boy, the
religious right. After Bush won South Carolina handily on the strength
of Christian Conservatives, the McCain squads used evangelicals as straw
men in Michigan.

With apparently no reservations about the inevitable fallout to the
Republican Party, much less to evangelical-Catholic relations, McCain
shamelessly exploited Michigan’s substantial Catholic population through
fear-mongering about Bush’s appearance at the reputedly anti-Catholic
Bob Jones University. McCain deviously parlayed Bush’s strong
evangelical support in South Carolina into Exhibit A to his charge that
Bush was anti-Catholic.

After initially denying it, McCain acknowledged approving a telephone
campaign in Michigan criticizing Bush’s visit to Bob Jones. The McCain
calls stated, “George Bush has campaigned against Senator John McCain by
seeking the support of Southern fundamentalists who have expressed
anti-Catholic views. Bob Jones has made strong anti-Catholic statements,
including calling the pope anti-Christ, (and) the Catholic Church a
satanic cult.”

Monday, McCain escalated his Catholic-baiting tactics in Virginia by
portraying Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell as “agents of intolerance”
and comparing them to extremists Louis Farrakhan and Al Sharpton.

The media were more than willing to assist. Columnist Mark Shields on
the “Capital Gang” remarked that Bush had badly damaged his own cause in
the general election by “hanging out with the cast of ‘Deliverance’” in
his South Carolina comeback effort. In case you missed the movie,
Shields was comparing Christian conservatives to the dueling-banjo
strumming, sodomy-seeking Mongoloid mountain men from the wilds of
Georgia. The previous weekend, ABC’s George Stephanapolous said that
Bush had become a kamikaze Conservative by appealing to the pro-life
extremists of the religious right.

In many news stories, McCain’s strengths are trumpeted while his
vulnerabilities are ignored and Bush’s weaknesses are underscored. The
Washington Post, for example, on Sunday turned a positive event for Bush
into an overt smear piece.

At a Republican Governor’s Association meeting in Washington, the
governors reaffirmed their endorsement of Bush. The Post used the event
as an opportunity to fan the flames of doubt about Bush’s candidacy. It
gratuitously twisted the story into a negative, saying that the
governors avoided “questions” about “television evangelist Pat
Robertson’s role in the Bush campaign, about execution practices in
Texas and about the controversial racial and religious views of the
presidents of Bob Jones University, where Bush spoke earlier this
month.”

Both the media and McCain know full well that Ronald Reagan and Bob
Dole spoke at Bob Jones. They also know that McCain senior advisor
Lindsey Graham received an honorary degree from that university last
year without condemning their beliefs or practices.

Republicans supporting Sen. McCain as the “Conservative” who can beat
Al Gore in November ought to think long and hard about what kind of
damage this “conservative” is doing to their party. He is pulling out
all the stops as he drives wedge after wedge into the heart of the GOP.
He is pitting class against class and Protestant against Catholic with
Clintonian agility.

You can say what you want about George Bush, but a bigot he is not.
It is precisely his appeal to minorities and women that has McCain, the
press and Democrats so worried in the first place. If and when Bush
survives this coordinated challenge to his nomination effort, he can
give some of these naysayers a lesson in principled coalition building.
He can show them that he is not merely sloganeering when he states that
he is a uniter and not a divider. And he can point to his Texas record
to prove it.

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