ABC News’ Mark Halperin Reports: Seeking to further consolidate his front-runner status for the presidency even as his party regroups after disastrous midterm elections, Sen. John McCain plans to give twin major speeches this Thursday in Washington about the state and future of the Republican Party.
In addresses to audiences of two pillars of the conservative movement –the Federalist Society and GOPAC — McCain will try to lay out an agenda for both the party and, implicitly, his planned presidential campaign.
One source familiar with the talks says the specifics of the content are still being worked out but that the rationale is simple. There is vacuum after the midterms, this source says, and McCain intends to fill it by providing an "optimistic vision" for the party, claiming that the Republican "losses on Tuesday were not so much that our principles have become unpopular, but that we deserted our principles in order to stay in power."
McCain is expected to detail what he believes those principles are and "he’ll lay out a common sense conservative agenda for the future."
These speeches will also be part of the key 2008 narrative in which McCain tries to prove his bonafides to the conservative movement without alienating the center and/or the group he (semi-jokingly) calls "his base," the media.
McCain’s advisers believe he can appeal to a conservative base on spending, on economic issues, on national security, and on some social issues, while appealing to the broadly defined center by tone, by actions of reaching across the aisle (such as his work on judges with the Gang of 14), climate change, torture, immigration reform, and other issues.
The Bush White House, which has tried to keep the 2008 contest muted for as long as possible in order to keep the incumbent president both strong and central, is likely to see these speeches as a major attempt to elevate McCain’s profile at the expense of the president.