John McCain will never be President. Although he is increasingly likely to win the Republican nomination for President, he has essentially no chance of prevailing in the general election. Here we review the reasons why.
First, Mr. McCain's status as the media's Pet Conservative will end abruptly as soon as he faces a Democrat in a competitive race. Alex Whitlock and I explored this point back in 2005. Mr. McCain's hawkish and conservative stances right now are a silent majority, since he attracts attention only for his deviations from the party line. But a closer look, especially one guided by a well-funded opponent, would show him as the harshest sort of authoritarian conservative. Mr. McCain would run well to the right of Mitt Romney in a general election -- not by choice, but because his opponent and the press would put him there.
An inevitable consequence of this is that the tailwind of steadily favorable press coverage, which has largely propelled Mr. McCain to this point, would reverse. The press has no love for hawkish, name-calling conservatives when they are not opposing other Republicans. Its coverage of Mr. McCain would be unremittingly negative, reversing the "maverick" image he has enjoyed to date. He will be portrayed as a cranky, right-wing authoritarian, which is two-thirds correct.
As partial payment to McCain for supplying them with a stream of "maverick" stories, the press has so far refrained from excavating his closet. This also will not last. Oh, look: Charles Keating! And something tacky...
Having digested this picture, which will be on steady display from the moment McCain clinches the Republican nomination, America's legions of Hillary Clinton haters will march into the polling booths, check that the doors are securely closed, throw up in their mouths a little, and pull the lever -- for Hillary Clinton.
If Mr. McCain is obliged to run against Barack Obama, his situation will be far worse. Mr. Obama may be a party-line liberal, but he seldom ventures further to the left, so he will have an easy task positioning himself as the centrist candidate. Even attacks on his plans for the overwhelming boondoggle of nationalized health care will fall flat: he will simply announce his intention to "carefully investigate options" to see which are "affordable and fair", and Mr. McCain will look like the doctrinaire extremist who isn't even willing to investigate. Others have already made the point about how a debate between these two candidates will look.
John McCain sincerely believes he is his own man. And, as a Senator from Arizona, he is. As a candidate for President, he is the media's creation; and what they have built, they can surely destroy.
[Hat tip: Glenn Reynolds. Cross-posted to Chequer-Board.]