John McCain lost any residual appeal to me when he revealed very clearly around 2003 that he had gotten off the Straight Talk Express and boarded the Fawning Courtier Slow Coach instead. Now he’s even managed to paint himself into the same corner that the President has, forced to look at the color orange and say that it’s actually a very pretty shade of blue. “Oh, sure, Baghdad’s got lots of safe neighborhoods. Hey, look at me walking through this market! Really, General Petraeus cruises around in a Thunderbird convertible.”
The usual argument is that it is impossible to get through the primary system for either American political party as a genuine independent. Yet paradoxically if you could do so, you’d likely have a very good chance of winning. I guess I question this conventional wisdom. I still feel that a maverick independent who was a no-bullshit, clear-talking populist without strong negatives might be able to get the Democratic nomination, even if the candidate took positions that were normally unappealing to the Democratic base. I think that would be harder on the Republican side because of the Christian right, but even there, potentially possible.
On the other hand, I have to admit I come up short when I try to think of people who exemplify the political image I have in mind who would have been viable candidates in the contemporary context. Most of the independent runs at the White House in the last three decades have been either a crazy unbalanced sort of maverick (Ross Perot) or a bloodless boutique kind of moderate (John Anderson). Some of the historical figures that people tend to think of as exemplifying this type got into political office either by appointment (Truman) or other non-electoral means (Theodore Roosevelt). (Nor is it clear that some of the often-cited examples of maverick political temperment really live up to their myth: Truman’s reputation in this regard has been burnished a bit over the decades.)
So, are there any better examples in American political history? Or any good contemporary examples of unambiguous independents who could arguably win a party primary in the Presidential race if they chose to try?