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No, not if he had won last Tuesday. If he had won eight years ago, in 2000.

If he had withstood the Bush smear machine in South Carolina. If he had picked a true maverick with real qualifications, like Chuck Hagel, for his running mate. If he had beaten Al Gore fair and square, with none of the rancor and bitterness that Florida left.

If he had had the judgment after 9/11 to go after Osama, not Saddam. And got him.

If he – recognizing his limitations about economic policy – had reached out to Democrats to address financial regulations, Social Security and Medicare reform, energy independence and global warming.

If he had appointed a pro instead of a political hack to respond to Katrina.

If all that had happened – and McCain was finishing a successful eight years in office today – the economy might not be in the tank, the Republicans might not have tanked this year and Obama might not be President.

I thought of this as I talked to a Republican friend this weekend. He despaired about his party – and the stranglehold the social conservatives have. But he shouldn’t overreact. Good leaders – good politicians – make their parties strong. Bush hurt the country – and hurt his party.

2000 was John McCain’s time – for the Republican Party and for the country. The Republicans picked wrong.

Now we’ll see if we Democrats picked right.

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