Lining up against the establishmentThe Florida Republican Primary takes place today amidst an atmosphere of increasing acrimony between John McCain and Mitt Romney as it now becomes increasingly clear that Florida (and perhaps the nomination fight itself) has become a race between these two men:
“By our calculation, a family of four would have to spend about an extra $1,000 a year if McCain-Lieberman became law,” Romney said, standing outside at Texaco station at dawn and discussing the measure his rival sponsored with Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT). “And again that's because gasoline would rise in price by approximately .50 cents a gallon and natural gas would rise about 20 percent. The burden on Florida homeowners would obviously be excessive.”
"I would note that Senator McCain is noted for three major pieces of legislation. I think all of them were badly flawed,” Romney said, widening his attack to incorporate McCain’s campaign finance legislation and the immigration reform bill “And if somebody wants to know where he would lead the country you simply need to look at the three pieces of legislation with his name at the top.”
Romney is correct about the major legislation McCain has sponsored, all of which makes John McCain's conservative credentials highly suspect. McCain has been running around Florida calling Romney a liberal, but Bill Clinton himself has said that Hillary is "very close" with John McCain. It makes one wonder where he is getting some of his legislative ideas.
The party establishment is now beginning to coalesce around John McCain, who received the endorsement of Florida Governor Charlie Crist on Sunday. Perhaps most significant to Tennesseans is that the honorary national Chair of the Fred Thompson campaign, former Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker, has now officially endorsed McCain. Like every Republican in this State, I have a tremendous amount of personal respect for Howard Baker-it is hard not to admire the man who did more than anyone else in the modern era to bring the GOP to Statewide electability here. He also served as President Reagan's Chief of Staff, and there are very few of us who, if Howard Baker called us up and asked us to do something, would not do it just because Howard Baker asked. Baker is an establishment man through and through, however. He opposed Ronald Reagan in 1980 (dropping out of the race after losing to Reagan in New Hampshire), and was appointed Chief of Staff partly as an olive branch to moderates within the party. One Tennessee State legislator (not Stacey Campfield) told me privately that Baker's influence over Fred Thompson was "the worst thing that could ever happen to the Thompson campaign." I can't say whether that is true or not, but Fred's performance didn't exactly help the argument that Baker's role in the campaign was a good thing. Baker's endorsement is not a signal that McCain is the most trustworthy of conservative candidates, but merely that the politically shrewd Baker believes McCain is the most electable one.
If the Country Club circuit has really lined up behind John McCain, then conservatives may need to unite behind one candidate for the sole purpose of stopping McCain-a step that some in Tennessee have decided to take. Florida is the great test for McCain, because unlike New Hampshire or South Carolina, Florida has a closed Primary. While it is possible in theory for Democrats and independents to vote in the Republican Primary, the process for doing so is just cumbersome enough that we can safely say that the winner in Florida will be chosen by Republicans. If McCain is beaten in Florida, it is going to be very hard for him to be nominated. If he wins there, he will have proven that he can win among Republicans, and to defeat him, conservatives must unite on February 5th.