The Magazine

It's More Than Just a Campaign

There are a lot of ups and downs along McCain's high road

Mar 6, 2000, Vol. 5, No. 24 • By TUCKER CARLSON
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Graham has traveled with the McCain campaign for weeks, and often acts as a calming influence. In television interviews, Graham can sometimes seem simple. He's not. On stage, Graham is a compelling speaker, inspiring and cuttingly witty. (At a rally in Myrtle Beach he described McCain as "a short man who looks good in a leather jacket.") On election night, in a hotel ballroom in North Charleston, Graham takes the podium to introduce the candidate, the night's loser. Behind him on a wall is an enormous hand-painted banner with the campaign's informal slogan: "Burn It Down." Across the room, above an alcove where soft drinks and popcorn are sold, is a permanent sign. In foot-high letters it reads: CONCESSION.

But Graham isn't ready to concede. The McCain campaign, he tells the crowd, is not simply a campaign. It is not merely a political movement. It is a kind of spiritual process. "One thing we've learned," he says, "is that if you're supporting John McCain you're better for the experience. You're a better person."

McCain supporters, of course, believe that McCain is a better person, and if politeness is a measure of virtue, they may be right. Minutes after CNN called the race in South Carolina, McCain called Bush from his hotel room to offer congratulations. Bush was in a jovial, talkative mood. Two days later, when the networks declared McCain the winner of the Michigan and Arizona primaries, McCain's staff kept a cell-phone line open for Bush's call. It never came. According to Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes, Bush's silence wasn't an act of pettiness or petulance or bad sportsmanship. He simply couldn't get to a phone. "He was on an airplane," she explains.

Actually, as Hughes admits moments later, Bush wasn't on an airplane at all, but at a rally in Kansas City when the news of his defeat appeared on television. It turns out he simply didn't feel like calling. "I don't think Sen. McCain called Gov. Bush to commend him on Delaware, or on Iowa for that matter," says Hughes, referring to two states in which McCain never campaigned.

If McCain's feelings are hurt by Bush's rudeness, he isn't showing it on election night in Phoenix. McCain has spent most of the day in the living room of his house chatting with friends and watching television. The race is called at 6:30 local time, and 90 minutes later, McCain is back on the bus on the way to his victory party. Next to him is John Weaver, the campaign's political director. A tall brooding Texan who has a five o'clock shadow by breakfast, Weaver usually looks like a man who has just received horrible news. McCain, who likes to needle him, calls him "Sunny John." Tonight Weaver is obviously delighted. McCain looks at him and grins. "Even Sunny is smiling," he says, "and when that happens you know it's a cataclysmic event. I don't expect it to last more than an hour or two."

Tucker Carlson is a staff writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.