I saw it again today in Ken Walsh's U.S.News piece on the ever sinking fortunes of President George Bush (here):

"[0]nly McCain [among the Republican candidates] has made [standing firm on Iraq] a frequent talking point, which is considered one reason why he has faded from front-runner status."

Wrong Again. Republican primary voters are not deserting John McCain because of his courage in the face of declining support for the American mission in Iraq. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

What explains John McCain's troubles?

Part of it is the erroneous context in which his campaign is habitually framed: the fallen front runner. Many months ago, some beltway media types named John McCain the front runner. He wasn't. There was no election going on back then. There was some public opinion polling that asked voters to pick between John McCain and a lot of guys they had never heard of. Surprise, they picked McCain. At the same time, in the same rounds of meaningless polls, McCain showed that he would win in the general against Hillary.

What do the polls say now? The polls say that the Republicans are disoriented and looking for a Messiah. Giuliani? Thompson? And there will be others.

The same beltway types now characterize McCain as the guy who blew the big lead, which is preposterous.

By the way, McCain still bests Hillary in the national polls (as does Rudy).

Cautionary Aside: Take absolutely no hope from those canvases; those surveys are still absolutely meaningless. The Democratic candidate will kick off the campaign with a 20 to 30 point lead on Labor Day. Then things will tighten significantly.

A year ago the large contingent of McCain haters in the Republican Party went to great pains to reject the bogus pronouncements from the mainstream media that McCain was the front runner for the nomination. However, now that a fallen front runner story serves them well, most of the same anti-McCain people are quietly accepting or gleefully adopting the storyline.

Why are the MSM so down on McCain? He betrayed them. They loved him when he was the straight-talking maverick who was always a thorn in the flesh of George Bush. Now, to hear them tell it, he has made a politically motivated decision to support the President and inherit his base. And, irony of ironies, there is no base to inherit.

This is a fallacy, for the most part. McCain (like Joe Lieberman) could have gained much more by deserting the President and the policy, but he (they) proved more intrepid than expedient. McCain (and Lieberman) are great Americans; either one would make a great president. PERIOD.

The other obvious MSM reason for antipathy: the fallen McCain story advances the anti-war story.

Why do the Republicans hate McCain? That is a more complicated question to which I do not have a compelling answer. But here is an overly simplistic nutshell-type explanation: For many hardcore Republicans, they also feel betrayed: Tax Cuts, McCain-Feingold, the deal on filibuster, etc. None of that strikes me as altogether fair--but that's life.

The McCain Paradox: The Bush base doesn't like him to begin with. Therefore, fidelity to the President and the nation doesn't help him with the people who would most likely admire his courageous stand. However, his convictions on Iraq alienate all the folks on the periphery who once were inclined to follow the maverick McCain. If it was an attempt at a master political stroke, it was a poorly drawn strategy.

An Epilogue: McCain is down but not out. His great advantage is his tenacity. He will be there in Round 15 throwing punches. You never know, one might land. You can't count a McCain out until they carry him away.