The Republican presidential race seems to be returning to the place where it started 18 months ago: with John McCain as the presumptive front-runner--despite his low standing among the Republican party's conservative base.
The conservative wing of the party continues to mistrust and even dislike John McCain.
Mr. McCain owes his success to his winning public persona, his heroic record in Vietnam and to his prescient criticisms of the White House's Iraq strategy. He had warned that the Bush administration had budgeted too few troops for Iraq--and sent them on the wrong mission. The "surge" strategy that is working in Iraq now is the strategy that Mr. McCain has advocated since 2005.
Mr. McCain, the oldest candidate in the race, campaigned harder and more fiercely than the conservative favourite, Fred Thompson. He got to the right of Rudy Giuliani on abortion and guns, while appealing more strongly to independents than Mitt Romney. He offered more national security expertise than Mike Huckabee--even as he proved himself just as quick with a joke. (Mr. McCain had the single best line of the Republican campaign. Poking fun at Hillary Clinton for trying to slip through Congress a $1-million grant to a rock 'n' roll museum in Woodstock, N.Y., the former Vietnam POW quipped: "I didn't make it to Woodstock. I was tied up at the time.")
Yet it's also true that the conservative wing of the party continues to mistrust and even dislike John McCain.
Mr. McCain is the main advocate in the Senate of amnesty for illegal immigrants and a continued high migration flow. He voted against the Bush tax cuts of 2001. His McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill of 2002 appalled conservatives with its blatant government regulation of political speech--and its unintended but foreseeable advantages for Democrats over Republicans.
Perhaps most importantly, Mr. McCain has involved himself in a series of highly personal and publicized battles with fellow Republicans and conservatives.
David Frum is a resident fellow at AEI.