John McCain in the blogger call today and in a press conference earlier in the week went to great pains to avoid saying Mike Huckabee should get out of the race. He repeatedly said that he “respected” Huckabee. (Meanwhile, McCain’s campaign manager sends around a fundraising e-mail pointing out that McCain only needs 35% of the remaining delegates while Huckabee needs 123%).
This seems to be the right tactic for McCain two reasons. Much of what seems to motivate Huckabee is a chip on the shoulder, a resentment toward the GOP establishment. His constant complaint in debates that he was not getting enough questions and his obvious delight in running against “Wall Street” suggests not just a political mindset, but a tempermental outlook. (He takes great delight in describing his modest beginnings and his ability to best those more wealthy and powerful than he.) Telling him to get lost won’t help matters, but allowing him gracefully to reach the conclusion in his own time might help hasten his departure.
In addition, McCain is trying out a new persona–the gracious frontrunner and healer of the party. Critics consider him too combative with his allies and inclined to hold grudges. He intends to prove them wrong. By offering to listen to former conservative opponents and by refusing to kick sand in the eyes of a faltering rival, he furthers that effort.
All in all, it shows a measure of restraint and political maturity that may surprise his critics.