Forget the Polls, McCain Is Struggling

Several polls coming out this week show the general election contest between Sen. Barack Obama (D., Ill.) and Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) as a very tight race, possibly a statistical tie: Gallup has Obama leading 46% to 43% and Rasmussen has Obama 47% to 46%. Word to the wise -- the early reading is worthless.

Want a relevant indicator? The only important poll right now relates to the direction of our country. In June, the AP-Ipsos poll measured the sentiment of the country and found that only 17 percent of the country believed America to be on the right track. The number hit an all-time low. Americans are clearly sounding a great desire for change. This is bad news for McCain and the GOP.

Despite the heavy media coverage of Democratic disunity in the spring, McCain and the Republicans face much more difficult challenges. The GOP has been losing members and lagging in fund-raising for the last several years. An upset in the race remains a long shot for the party.

McCain has moved from being a maverick in 2000 on certain issues like campaign finance, ethics reform and tax cuts to espousing fully the agenda put forward by President George Bush in 2008. His failure to demonstrate consistency has made him the reluctant choice of the party.

In fact, McCain only edges away from Bush on marginal issues. He has called for a summer holiday cut for gas taxes, removal of Russia from the G-8, and a league of democracies excluding China and Russia. These suggestions are impractical and without a future.

McCain firmly ties himself to extending Bush's tax cuts and proposing more, despite preaching the opposite a few years ago. Under normal circumstances, this would be a reasonable Republican strategy: small government. The elephant in the room, however, is credibility. McCain lacks it, and so do many of the other GOP members in Congress.

The size of government has surged under President Bush, growing at a pace equal to the profligate spending of President Lyndon B. Johnson -- the Democrat who authored the Great Society. This has angered some Republicans.

According to an editorial published by the Lincoln Group in the Red County magazine last week, budget earmarks exploded under a GOP Congress:
Budget earmarks, which jumped by 285% between 1994 and 2005 as their cost soared by 60%, stand as the perfect symbol of the GOP-led profligacy that drives us crazy still. In and of themselves, earmarks are admittedly a small part in the budget process, amounting to roughly 2% of the federal budget in 2005.
McCain has said he plans to assail earmarks and veto any legislation with them attached.

Sounds great, except for the fact that McCain plans to repeat the errors of the past. Cutting earmarks only reduces the deficit by about $18 billion. As I wrote a few weeks ago, his plans only add to the deficit and the debt.

McCain would do well to read the op-ed of the Lincoln Club. The club hails from the conservative bastion of Orange County, Calif., and has a 45-year history of raising funds for Republican causes.

They brought Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan to national prominence, and more recently funded the recall of the former Democratic governor of California, Gray Davis. They call on GOP party leadership to stop pork barrel projects and reduce government spending -- or else lose out on big donations.

Chip Hanlon -- a member of the Lincoln Club, president of Delta Global Advisers, and a RealMoney contributor, said in an interview: "The Republican leadership needs to get real and embrace fiscal responsibility with spending control."

I asked Hanlon if the effort was similar to the revolt suggested by Richard Viguerie, a well-known founder of direct-mail fund-raising and author of Conservatives Betrayed: How George W. Bush and other Big Government Conservatives Hijacked the Conservative Cause. Viguerie called on conservatives to stop giving money to the party until they made concerted efforts to reform.

Hanlon confirmed a revolt is brewing.

"Speaking for myself, not the Lincoln Club, there will be a better organized effort to change the leadership, the bloggers, and the message in the media after the elections next year," he said. This sounds ominous for those in the GOP who have supported big spending.

Hanlon said he's supporting McCain, who was not his first choice. He doesn't feel he could trust Democrats to cut spending and reduce government if they controlled the White House and Congress.

McCain and the GOP are in trouble this election. But if they listen to their own disaffected supporters, they would know how to get back on track: By consistently and credibly supporting small government and spending controls.

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