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A house on fire

Great Americans can be lousy senators and terrible Republicans, and once again Mr. McCain has proven to be both

Issue: "Judicial filibuster deal," June 4, 2005

On the day John McCain engineered the "deal" that undercut Bill Frist and apparently sacrificed fine nominees to his own ambition for reputation, The New Yorker hit the stands with a lengthy profile of Arizona's senior senator. The magazine confidently predicted the senator's 2008 presidential run and quoted him as saying, "When people are in close races, I am the first Republican who is asked to come and appear for that person. I am the most sought-after of all Republicans. In this last campaign, I was the one asked by the president to travel and campaign with him. . . . When you look at the rank and file of ordinary Republicans, I'm extremely popular-it's some of the party apparatchiks who still harbor bad feelings toward me. But it is a little hard for them to do that now, because of my strong support for Bush. . . . Particularly since the 2004 campaign, there has been a great softening of dislike for me."

What a difference a "deal" makes.

Many center-right GOP activists had in fact begun to warm to Sen. McCain. He is without question a great American, whose example of valor and sacrifice inspires even his harshest critics, or ought to. His support of the war on terror has also been admirable.

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But great Americans can be lousy senators and terrible Republicans, and once again Mr. McCain has proven to be both. He has now done for the judicial nomination and confirmation process what he did for campaign finance reform. He brought the country George Soros and the scourge of the 527s, and with his leadership on the deal that threw at least two of George Bush's nominees under the bus in exchange for the most ambiguous of promises, the senator has once again turned his back on a core constitutional value in order to advance his own agenda.

Whether this was a blunder or a plan to recover from a blunder, we won't know for years. Mr. McCain at first said he would "listen to the leadership" regarding judicial nomination procedure, only to suddenly, on an apparent impulse, declare to Chris Matthews that he would vote against ending the disfigured filibuster. The backlash against him was immediate and intense. Perhaps he thought he could undo the damage to his carefully planned political rehabilitation with a bold "compromise." The result seems just the opposite. Not only is his political house on fire, so too is that of South Carolina's Lindsey Graham and Ohio's Mike DeWine.

Mr. McCain's sacrifice of good people isn't the sort of calculation that plays well in GOP presidential primaries.


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