Regardless of the insane optimism of some Ron Paul supporters, most of us have come to terms with the reality that John McCain is going to be the Republican nominee. His peculiar mix of fiscal libertarianism, traditionalism and moderation on social issues may trouble some, but it is closer to a truly libertarian position than any Republican presidential candidate since Barry Goldwater. It may also be just the mix to win over angry Clinton Democrats and moderates who can't stomach the leftward drift of the Democratic Party. He's not the dream candidate for anyone, but he may be the best we could have hoped for out of the mess left behind by the Bush administration.
From his dominant position, with 300 more pledged delegates than he needs for the nomination, McCain can afford to be magnanimous to those who ran against him and held out to the very end on the basis of principle. If the McCain campaign has a weak point, it is among the grassroots of the party. Younger, highly motivated voters were attracted to Ron Paul, and McCain could really use their idealism and enthusiasm on his side in November. To win over those voters, many of whom still cling to hope for some sort of last minute miracle, McCain needs to win over Ron Paul, or at least deal with him in a way which shows that McCain embraces Paul's ideals and will incorporate them into his campaign and administration to at least some reasonable extent.
What's more, angry Paul supporters are bent on sowing chaos at the state and national Republican conventions, and party insiders are just as intensely focused on shutting them down, which will generate even more anger and resentment within the party. Although Paul currently has only 30 pledged delegates, his grassroots support is much more substantial than that number represents, and might make a very big difference in the national election. Dealing with Paul and his supporters openly and soon is the only way to turn all their energy and anger into a positive force in November and heal what might turn into a serious rift in the party. The only person in a position to rise above the fray and make a grand gesture of inclusion is John McCain himself.
McCain needs to reach out to Ron Paul and to his supporters and offer them a hand of friendship and do it soon. He needs to show them something more substantial and convincing than mere friendly words. While it would be unrealistic for McCain to offer Paul the Vice Presidential nomination given their similar ages and geographic backgrounds, McCain ought to make sure that Paul gets far more consideration than party insiders, who resent his movement, are likely to allow him. McCain should start by talking about Paul and acknowledging and agreeing with some of his ideas. They do have a lot of points of agreement, and stressing those is going to win McCain a lot of positive attention. For a start, those areas of agreement ought to end up being prominent in the party platform. McCain should also stress the need for party unity, and the fact that whatever differences he and Paul may have, the real threat comes from the statist/socialist left and its takeover of the Democratic Party, a threat which many Paul supporters ought to be able to see.
More substantially, McCain should use his influence to get Paul a prominent speaking position at the Republican National Convention. Not the kind of 2am ceremonial blow-off scheduling which party leaders will grudgingly allow him, but a position which will get media coverage and make clear to the rank and file that McCain does endorse and support some of Paul's more reasonable ideas. This might require some negotiation over what Paul would say and who he would attack. But even if Paul made his most angry, anti-establishment speech, that would still reflect positively on McCain and the party in general.
Ideally, McCain should go even further. I think he ought to offer Paul a position in his cabinet, by creating a new cabinet-level position uniquely suited to Paul's talents. One of the things they both agree on is the need to limit the size of government. Why not create a position like "Budget Czar" specifically designed to look into ways to reduce spending, cut the budget and eliminate wasteful programs, and give that job to Ron Paul? Who is better qualified to enforce fiscal responsibility than the legendary "Dr. No"?
Yes, all of this does amount to shamelessly buttering up Ron Paul to get his endorsement and win over his supporters, and while that may seem a bit self-serving and manipulative, that's what politics is all about. The question is how Paul and his followers would respond to an open offer of friendship and even alliance from McCain. Paul is an ideologue, as are many of his supporters. Would the offer of a seat at the tables of power be enough to get them to accept some compromise and grab for the opportunity they are offered, or would they rather slink back into the obscurity of self-righteous ideological purity?
If McCain were to take these actions, or something along similar lines, he would send a message to independent voters and disaffected Republicans that he genuinely stands for change and for putting the party back on the right course, even if he plans to do it with some reasonable moderation. The party needs the young, motivated voters who have been drawn to Ron Paul. It would be foolish of McCain not to try to draw that element into his campaign. Paul has more in common with McCain than he did with any of the other GOP candidates, and that ought to be something to build on. McCain is known for his ability to compromise. A compromise with Ron Paul and his supporters might be what it takes to win him the presidency.
The time to reach out to Ron Paul and bring his followers into the fold is now. The Democrats are still weak and squabbling and it would give the media something positive to focus on instead. Stealing that media attention and generating some momentum would be a very good idea with the election less than 6 months away.