Here is a take from Iowa State last fall where Chris Matthews is questioning McCain in front of a live student audience,
...."Should gay marriage be allowed?," Matthews asks.The GOP won two elections since 9-11 on fear, and not on their policy. When forced to run on policy, post cold war, they have lost every election. There is no mystery to this.
"I think that gay marriage should be allowed, if there's a ceremony kind of thing, if you want to call it that," McCain answers, searching in vain for the less loaded phrases he knows are out there somewhere, such as "commitment ceremony" or "civil union." "I don't have any problem with that, but I do believe in preserving the sanctity of the union between man and woman." It may not be clear just what McCain is trying to say, but it's easy to see how his words could be skewed in a direction that the Republican right might not like at all.
Fast-forward to the next commercial break, during which McCain and Matthews reposition themselves from the stage to the auditorium floor to take questions from the students. McCain's longtime political strategist, John Weaver, a lanky, laconic Texan, moves in to whisper some advice. The next question is about the pending federal farm bill, and McCain repeats his long-standing opposition to certain agricultural subsidies.
But then, out of nowhere, he adds, "Could I just mention one other thing? On the issue of the gay marriage, I believe if people want to have private ceremonies, that's fine. I do not believe that gay marriages should be legal." There: he said it, the right words for his right flank. It might seem that this audience, the sons and daughters of a socially conservative and culturally traditional bellwether state, would accept, if not approve of, what McCain has just declared. But they are the Wi-Fi wave of the future, and they can smell a pander bear as surely as they can a hog lot. They erupt in a chorus of deafening boos. "Obviously some disagreement with that last comment," McCain says tightly. "Thank you. It's nice to see you."
Conservative policy do not appeal to a broad base. The GOP still doesn't get it. And their lack of getting it coupled with policies that are not in step with the swing voters is a huge opportunity for the Dems. Let's just hope they don't blow it.
McCain has lots of time to work his message to appeal to a broader audience, but from what I've seen, he hasn't made any progress since last fall.