Principalities & Powersrnby Samuel FrancisrnA New Majority?rn”This way to the egress,” P.T. Barnumrnused to direct the stooges stupid euoughrnto buy tickets to his travehng shows ofrnbunco and blather. The “egress,” ofrncourse, was the exit to the street, wherernthe stooges should have stayed. Wouldrnthat we had a P.T. Barnum today whorncould direct us to an egress from the politicalrnhall of mirrors in which we havernfoolishly allowed ourselves to be trapped.rnThe latest clown to dance through thernhall is Sen. John McCain of Arizona,rnwho entertained the nation and quite befuddledrnmuch of its polihcal class withrnhis antics during the presidential primariesrnlast winter. Before McCain’s victoryrnin New Hampshire over Texas Gov.rnCeorge W. Bush, most observers predictedrnhe would indeed win there butrnnowhere else, though no one anticipatedrna victory as smashing as the one he actuallyrnpidled off. No sooner had the Arizonarnsolon won in New Hampshire thanrnan entire regiment of journalists andrncommentators fell into a swoon. Mr.rnMcCain beat Mr. Bush by an impressivern18 percentage points, and by the followingrnday, some pundits—particularly neoconservativernchatterbox Bill Kristol—hadrnglimpsed nothing less than the brightrndawn of political revolution.rnWriting in the Washington Post thernver’ day after the New Hampshire primary,rnMr. Kristol announced that “It is JohnrnMcCain and Bill Bradley who each nowrnhave a chance that occurs only once arngeneration — to articulate a new governingrnagenda for a potential new majority.”rnSo much for the prophetic insights of Mr.rnKristol, but while he was almost unicjuernin thinking Bill Bradley could shatter thernClinton-Core juggernaut, he was by nornmeans alone in trumpeting what Mr.rnMcCain was about to accomplish. A fewrndays later, his fellow neoconservativernCliarles Krauthammer also started boomingrnMr. McCain, assuring us that, althoughrnMr. Bush was “more reliably conservative,”rnit was Mr. McCain who wasrnthe sure winner. To the neocon mind, ofrncourse, that pretty much clinched it.rnWhy the hell would anyone support arncandidate he actually agrees with onrnprinciples when he can go with an alternativernwho’s sure to grab the power?rn”The question for Republicans,” the intrepidrnKrauthammer assured us, “is notrnwho will make the better president butrnwho is more likely to be president.”rnThe neoconservative fascination withrnMr. McCain, however, had only just begun.rnAs the Mother of All Neocons herself.rnMidge Deeter, told a writer for thernNew Republic, “We decided that wernliked McCain, then we came up with ourrnjustifications.” Nor indeed was it onlyrnthe neocons who signed on with the McCainrnfan club. Liberal John Judis wasrnsoon scribbling in the New Republicrnabout the “new voting bloc” that Mr. McCainrnhad uncovered that could carr}- therneountr)’ to a vavc of “reforms” analogousrnto those of the Progressive era. hi thernWashington Post, political reporterrnThonras Edsall glowed that the McCainrncampaign “has revealed the weakeningrnof die conservative Republicanism thatrndominated national politics from the latern1960’s into the mid-1990’s, according torna growing number of GOP strategists.”rnThe first such “strategist” Mr. Edsallrnquoted to prove his point was none otherrnthan Mr. Kristol himself, followed by arnMcCain supporter and the ubiquitousrnPaul Weyrich, who last year v’as advisingrnconservatives to get out of politics altogether.rnBy the time of the South Carolinarnpriman,’, the chatterpunks of the Beltwayrnhad not onlv all but convincedrntiiemselves that Mr. McCain would berndie next president but also written thernepitaph of the American right.rnBut as South Carolina proved, the epitaphrnwas rather premature. Mr. Bushrnsmashed Mr. McCain there precisely byrnrelying on the ver)’ “conservative Republicanism”rnthat supposedly had vanishedrninto the political gloaming. He declinedrnto demand tiie removal of the Confederaternflag from tiie state capitol binlding,rnwhile Mr. McCain blundered, at first denouncingrnthe flag as a “.symbol of racismrnand slavery” and then more or less retractingrnthat remark and agreeing withrnthe Texas governor. (The retraction didrnnot help; exit polls showed that 61 percentrnof South Carolinians who supportrntiie flag voted for Mr. Bush.) The governorrnalso huddled close to the religiousrnright tiiat has remained more powerful inrnSouth Carolina than in many otiier areas,rnand he constantiy depicted himselfrnas the “real conservative” and his rivalrnas a “liberal” interloper. Mr. Bush, ofrncourse, is no more a serious conservativernthan Mr. McCain or even Mr. Gore, butrnhis own political image was still sufficienriyrnmalleable that he and his shapeshiftersrncould hvist and mold it into thernforms they wished to be perceived, hi thernevent, the voters saw what they werernshown, and subsequent exit polls in laterrnprimaries showed that Mr. Bush consistentlyrnwon the rank-and-file members ofrnhis own part)’. Mr. McCain did well for arnfew more primaries only because hernmanaged to attract some union membersrnand independents, but his claims of constructingrna “new coalition” or a “new niajorit}-“rnfell flat. As political pollster AndrewrnKohut wrote in the New York Times,rn”Across the eountr)’, McCain backers dornnot share values or care strongly aboutrnthe same issues, and they are not dravwirnfrom a common demographic base.” hideed,rn”moral values” were more of a concernrnfor Mr. McCain’s supporters inrnNew York than his much touted (and imitated)rn”campaign finance reform.” Thern”conservative Republicanism” that Mr.rnEdsall had embalmed so easily remainedrnsufficiently powerful to reject Mr. McCainrndecisively and commmiicate to anvrnpolitician or pundit willing to hear it thatrnthe American right at the grassroots levelrnremains so strong that it cannot safely bernignored or dismissed.rnNevertheless, the epitaph writers didrnhave a point, hi his op-ed in the WashingtonrnPost the day after New Hampshire,rnMr. Kristol remarked: “leadcrless,rnrudderless, and issueless, the conservativernmovement, which accomplished greatrnthings over the past quarter-century, isrnfinished.” Mr. Kristol is usually wrong,rnbut this time he was actually half right. Ifrnthe primaries proved anything, it was thatrnthe “conservative movement” is indeedrndead, though tiie world hangs breathlessrnto learn of the “great things” it ever accomplished.rnAs Mr. Kristol remarked,rnthe three GOP candidates identified withrnthe “conservative movement” tiiis year—rnCarv Bauer, Alan Keyes, and StevernEorbes—all together received fewer votesrnin New Hampshire tiian Mr. Bush wonrnin second place, and most of themrndropped out in the next few weeks. In lat-rn32/CHRONICLESrnrnrn