In the shower this morning, where I do my best thinking, I decided that McCain's real service to the Republican Party this year is as a sacrificial goat.
While McCain has the best chance of winning of any of the various candidates who ran in the primary--because the mainstream media likes him enough to keep repeating the "McCain Maverick" myth, no matter how many times it's disproved or how many times he flip-flops on those few issues where he did disagree with the Republican majority--that chance is somewhere between slim and none, in a year in which the war in Iraq is dragging on with no end in sight, the recession is looming larger and larger, the housing crisis continues to spread, the cost of gas keeps rising and the billionaires who run the oil companies keep getting richer.
But because of his age, McCain isn't going to be a significant player in the party for much longer. The other guys, Romney, Huckabee, maybe even Rudy, have years to go, and a humiliating defeat for one of them could damage them down the line. Nobody in the party establishment cares how humiliated McCain is because this is his last hurrah. When it's all over and his campaign goes down in flames, they can say, "Well, we never liked that guy anyway." And should he accidentally pull off a victory--which none of them expect--they're pleasantly surprised, but they know they'll only have to deal with him for a single term.
I guess his biggest problem now will be finding a running mate who doesn't mind having his future tied to a losing candidacy (or who, like John Edwards, has a plan to restore his own credibility after that happens). Right now, I'm wondering if it'll be Joe Lieberman.