Who will be the John McCain of 2012? 

It may be difficult to remember, considering the savaging he received in the 2008 general election, but there was a time, not too long ago, when Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was a darling of the liberal mainstream media.

First in his 2000 Republican presidential primary campaign against then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush, and then less so in the 2008 primary, the media elites fawned over him as the great moderate hope of the GOP.

The liberal media’s game-plan here is a familiar one: Prop up an otherwise unknown or relatively unpopular “middle-of-the-road” Republican in the hopes that the candidate will either, A) manage to pull the party left, or B) plunge the party into civil war.

In 2000, campaign-finance reform/tobacco lawsuit-supporting McCain fit the bill against the allegedly more-conservative Bush. More important than McCain’s record was his willingness to attack social conservatives.

In February 2000, McCain took a not-so veiled swipe at reverends Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, telling his supporters at Virginia Beach, “we embrace the fine members of the religious conservative community. But that does not mean that we will pander to their self-appointed leaders." The liberal mainstream media ate it up.

So who will be 2012’s elite-media darling? There are three main candidates:

Mitch Daniels: Much like McCain’s February 2000 attack on social conservatives, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels angered many social conservatives when he told The Weekly Standard’s Andrew Ferguson that the next president would have to “call a truce on the so-called social issues.”

And what social conservatives hate, the elite media love. The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus, David Broder, and Chris Cilliza have all since written columns urging Daniels to get in the race.

Marcus’ is a classic, writing: “I hope Mitch Daniels runs for president. Let me go further: I hope he wins the Republican nomination. I can’t imagine voting for him.” She gets big points for honesty there.

But there is one big difference between Daniels and McCain. Daniels has a near- unblemished conservative record. He passed the largest tax cut in Indiana history, ended government unions on his first day in office, passed the nation’s largest school voucher program, and signed a bill cutting off funding for Planned Parenthood.

After going over his actual governing record, The New Republic’s Michael Kazin asked: “Given his conservative bona fides, why are some prominent liberal journalists rooting for Daniels to run for president?” That’s a very good question.

Newt Gingrich: The media elites will probably never embrace Gingrich as their favorite son, but he does seem to be auditioning for the job. How else to explain his recent performance on Meet the Press?

The liberal mainstream media has been desperately pushing the story line that House Budget Committee Paul Ryan’s Path to Prosperity 2012 budget plan is dividing Republicans.

But no prominent conservative voice had attacked Ryan’s plan. Gingrich saw the opportunity in the media elite’s hunger for a “conservative” willing to bash Ryan’s plan.

And what better venue to unveil this criticism than on the sister network of MSNBC. Fox News Sunday, after all, has many more viewers who double as Republican primary voters.

Unfortunately for Gringrich, the tactic has blown up in his face. He failed to calibrate how far left to tack, and his calling Ryan’s plan “social engineering from the right” probably sunk his candidacy for good.

Jon Huntsman: There is only one candidate in today’s prospective Republican field with the record, rhetoric, and staff to be the 2012 John McCain. That is former-Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman.

Not only has Huntsman served as President Obama’s ambassador to China, he also has also supported cap and trade, Obama’s economic stimulus, amnesty for illegal immigrants, and same-sex marriage civil unions.

He’s been endorsed by no less a far-left liberal than former-President Jimmy Carter, and he has called Obama “a remarkable leader” who provides a “brilliant analysis of world events.”

Like clockwork, the media elite are doing their part. Time Magazine has an article this week titled: “Jon Huntsman: The Potential Republican Presidential Candidate Democrats Most Fear.”

No they don’t. Democrats would love a Huntsman run. But the story line is an old favorite of former-McCain strategist and current-Huntsman aid John Weaver. It is the same story he planted numerous time during the 2000 primary campaign.

Weaver is not the only McCain veteran on Huntsman’s staff. Longtime Weaver ally and television ad consultant Fred Davis, communications adviser Matt David, spokesman Tim Miller, and media buyer Kyle Roberts are also McCain alums now working for Huntsman.

President Ronald Reagan said “personnel is policy.” That makes Huntsman the 2012 McCain winner hands down.

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Conn Carroll

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